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August 16, 2007

The cheer heard around the world

Posted by David Postman at 11:20 AM

Comments from Times Executive Editor Dave Boardman about staffers cheering news of Karl Rove's departure has become a major topic of discussion among journalists and political commentators from the left and right.

I initially wrote that it was only two people who cheered. But now it sounds like it was likely a few more than that, though not many. One of those people was an opinion writer who I suppose can cheer in the paper so maybe no one should be shocked to hear it in person. (ADD: the opinion writer is a columnist, not someone from the editorial page given that those folks do not attend the news meeting.)

But cheering should not be heard in news meetings. As the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote:

What an embarrassment.

The episode has been completely exaggerated by Rush Limbaugh. He talked to Rove himself about it yesterday. (Via blatherwatch)

RUSH: I would like to introduce you all to Karl Rove. Karl, welcome to the EIB Network. I cannot tell you how great it is finally to have you here with us.

KARL ROVE: Well, thanks, Rush. I'm honored you'd ask me and delighted to be with you.

RUSH: You haven't probably heard about this, although it won't surprise you, but I've gotta tell you something. It's a hilarious story. The editor of The Seattle Times was conducting a staff meeting when they learned of your resignation announcement, and everybody stood up and started cheering, and

KARL ROVE: Ha-ha-ha-ha! Was my wife there?

RUSH: (Laughing.)

KARL ROVE: Was my wife in that crowd?

RUSH: (Laughing.) And the editor said — this is what's funny. The editor said no politics in the newsroom. You've gotta keep this stuff to yourself. We've gotta remember there's a political year coming up. No politics in the newsroom!

At MSNBC, Joe Scarborough used The Times brouhaha to talk about booing he heard in the MSNBC newsroom during a State of the Union Address by President Bush.

And at the Stranger, news editor Josh Feit continues to show his opinions far outpace his reporting. Feit wrote yesterday about a follow-up note from Boardman. Feit wrote:

You can read the whole thing at Editor & Publisher, but there's one line in particular I found curious — especially given The Seattle Times claim on objectivity.

There's no claim on objectivity. And if Feit had read the Boardman note he quotes from he would have found this:

It's not about "balance," which is a false construct. It isn't even about "objectivity," which is a laudable but probably unattainable goal. It is about independent thinking and sound, facts-based journalism — the difference between what we do and the myopic screed that is passed off as "advocacy" journalism these days.

Feit calls the Stranger a partisan paper and says it is all but impossible for him to talk to Republicans. He does his reporting by only talking to Democrats. That's fine, but he should quit propping up this straw man of objectivity. He also should do some reporting before he gets up on his high horse. Boardman wrote this:

If we wore our politics on our sleeves in here, I have no doubt that in this and in most other mainstream newsrooms in America, the majority of those sleeves would be of the same color: blue. Survey after survey over the years have demonstrated that most of the people who go into this business tend to vote Democratic, at least in national elections.

Feit says:

Boardman is relying on some pretty out-of-date stereotypes.

He is actually relying on the most recent data. Studies after the 2004 presidential election showed what previous studies have as well: Reporters tend to vote Democratic.

Among all American adults, 33% say they are Democrats, 32% claim to be Republicans, and 22% say they are politically independent. 33% of journalists also claim to be Democrats; however, only 10% say they are Republicans and half say they are independent. Interestingly, 18% of Americans describe themselves as liberal and 18% of journalists say they are politically liberal. But while only 10% of journalists say they are conservative, 34% of Americans say they are conservative. 53% of journalists say they are politically moderate, while 40% of Americans describe themselves that way.

Finally, 68% of journalists say they voted for John Kerry in 2004, while only 25% voted for George W. Bush. Only 1% say they voted for Nader, and 5% say they did not vote.

A New York Times reporter did an informal survey of colleagues at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

When asked who would be a better president, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3 to 1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12 to 1. Those results jibe with previous surveys over the past two decades showing that journalists tend to be Democrats, especially the ones based in Washington. Some surveys have found that more than 80 percent of the Beltway press corps votes Democratic.

Here's what I like best from all the words written about those who cheered the Rove news. It's from CBS's PublicEye blog.

Face it: News reporters are not shruggers. They are committed, interested and invested in the events that surround them. They're not cyborgs, they're human — with sympathies lying in different directions. I'm uncomfortable with the political donations — regardless of where it goes — and with the applause in the Seattle Times newsroom. But what I'm more uncomfortable with is the fact that we're losing sight of the fact that reporters are people, imbued with the same angels and devils that we all are. And it's worth remembering that every once in awhile.

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