Media Blog

Media Double Standards

Remember the media’s “gotcha” moment when Donald Rumsfeld resigned mere weeks after Bush announced that he wanted Rumsfeld to stay on for the duration of his presidency? CNN said Bush “fudged”. CBS said Bush “reversed course”. ABC and NBC said Bush had “misled” the press about whether Rumsfeld would be departing.

This particular “Bush lied” meme didn’t really get traction, however, as most normal people understand that sensitive personnel discussions often require those involved to say one thing in public even though the opposite might be the case in private. Certainly no one would expect the press to hold New York Times editor Bill Keller to the same standard as Bush, even though he just got caught in a “lie” of his own:

Keller Wants Baquet to Return to ‘New York Times’
January 17, 2007 1:30 PM ET
NEW YORK Almost from the moment that Dean Baquet lost his job at the Los Angeles Times last fall after challenging the paper’s plans to cut staff, speculation arose that he would return to The New York Times, where he spent nearly a decade in the 1990s, rising to national editor before leaving in 2000.
There might just be something to this. Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, met with Baquet less than two weeks after he was fired and made it known he wanted him to come back to New York. “He and I had lunch and I made it clear I would love to see him back at the [New York] Times,” Keller said Wednesday, adding that Baquet was in New York at the time for a Committee to Protect Journalists dinner.

That’s not what Keller said back in December:

Baquet could be eyeing spot at New York Times
December 14, 2006
Ousted Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet is considering taking a top management position at the New York Times as prospects fade for his return to the Los Angeles paper, according to several of Baquet’s confidantes. […]
Although it’s unclear exactly what job Baquet, 50, would fill at the New York Times, he has told several associates that he would like to run its Washington bureau — a post that has been a launching pad to the top rung of the paper, which is generally regarded as America’s finest.
Baquet would not comment. Through a spokeswoman, New York Times Editor Bill Keller said, “We have not offered Dean a position.”

Baquet was fired in early November. If Keller offered Baquet a job less than two weeks after he was fired, that makes his statement in December a lie (although he might not have offered Baquet a specific position at that point, his statement was “misleading” at best).  
Will the media be holding Keller accountable for this ”lie”? Of course not. Nor should they. Anyone who’s ever watched their favorite team try to hire a new head coach knows that these sorts of obfuscations are a routine part of high-profile personnel changes. My point is that, regarding the timing of Rumsfeld’s resignation, it was unrealistic for the media to hold the president to a standard they don’t expect anyone else to meet, least of all themselves.