In all my years as a reporter and as a writer about journalism, I have never seen such a display of naked political bias in major newspapers. In the last few days, both the Washington Post and the New York Times went to their readers for help —not for something innocent, like a subscription drive, but actually to help generate content for the paper.
“Over 24,000 e-mail messages to and from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin during her tenure as Alaska’s governor will be released Friday,” explained the Washington Post in a column called The Fix. “That’s a lot of e-mail for us to review so we’re looking for some help from Fix readers to analyze, contextualize, and research those e-mails right alongside Post reporters over the days following the release.” Unctuously, The Fix adds: “We are limiting this to just 100 spots for people who will work collaboratively in small teams to surface the most important information.”
Over at the New York Times, the pitch is titled “Help Us Investigate the Sarah Palin Emails.” “On Friday,” reads a notice at the Times’ Caucus column, “the State of Alaska will release more than 24,000 of Sarah Palin’s e-mails covering much of her tenure as governor of Alaska. Times reporters will be in Juneau, the state capital, to begin the process of reviewing the e-mails. . . . We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight. . . . Join us here on Friday afternoon and into the weekend to participate.”
The WaPo calls this interesting new M.O. “crowd sourcing.” I call it irresponsible. Has the Post vetted any of the 100 people who will be “working right alongside Post reporters”?
And how can the “newspaper of record” justify such a naked display of lust for dirt (oops, I meant “interesting and newsworthy” material) on a particular political figure? Did they call out similar reinforcements to, say, scour Charlie Rangel’s income-tax filings?
What’s next, asking for volunteers to stake out Palin’s house?