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Media Notes

When Private Passions Meet Public Journalism

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; Page C01

Should Fox News keep relying on a political reporter who privately mocked John Kerry as a well-manicured "metrosexual"?

Should MSNBC continue to use a pollster who has worked for prominent Republicans?


Fox News's Carl Cameron was reprimanded for his mocking of Sen. John Kerry as a "metrosexual" in a private comment that became public. (Fox News)

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After Blogs Got Hits, CBS Got a Black Eye (The Washington Post, Sep 20, 2004)
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Should the Wall Street Journal deploy an Iraq correspondent who privately described the situation there as "a foreign policy failure"?

Should the Nashville Tennessean keep publishing a columnist who accused journalists of distorting news in Iraq without any proof?

Political passions are running high these days, and plenty of media people are feeling under siege. In an era of partisan Web sites and attack e-mails, what might once have been dismissed as a minor misjudgment or harmless joke becomes, in the eyes of some critics, a capital offense.

Although the temperature is hottest for CBS over its botched story about President Bush's National Guard service, other journalistic brush fires have broken out across the country.

Officials at other networks say their reporters would be barbecued if they pulled the kind of stunt that Fox's Carl Cameron did in making fun of Kerry -- and would certainly be yanked off the campaign. Angry Fox executives made no attempt to defend their chief political correspondent, with a spokesman saying he has been reprimanded for his "stupid mistake." The New York Daily News says Cameron should be put in the "hoaxer hall of shame."

No one is defending Cameron's poor judgment, but his satire wasn't intended for public consumption. He had sent it to a producer, and someone at FoxNews.com mistakenly posted it as a story. If every journalist who privately ridiculed a candidate had those remarks broadcast, there would be plenty of red faces in America's newsrooms.

Frank Luntz's situation is far different. No one at MSNBC has questioned the pollster's work. But the network refused to carry his planned focus groups two days before the presidential debates began amid complaints that he is viewed as a GOP partisan.

Luntz, who once helped Newt Gingrich sell the "Contract With America," initially told The Washington Post he had taken on no Republican clients since 2001. He said last week he had forgotten that he worked for California gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon in 2002 and for the effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis last year.

Asked how this squared with his MSNBC role, Luntz said he was working only for the network during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. "If they want to identify me as a Republican, I don't care," Luntz says. "I just want to do the work. . . . Where in the work is there a bias?" He said he sometimes speaks to Democratic groups as well as Republican ones. "I will present information to anyone who seeks it," Luntz says.

One person he has briefed is Kerry senior adviser Tad Devine. "I certainly have no complaints about Frank," Devine says. "I've always found him to be a very smart guy, insightful, doing a straight-up job in terms of research." For the moment, though, Luntz is sidelined at MSNBC.

Farnaz Fassihi of the Wall Street Journal has written a moving account of life in Iraq -- in an e-mail to friends that got splattered across the Web. Noting that a recent car bomb blew out the windows in her house, she says life in Baghdad "is like being under virtual house arrest. . . . Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come. . . .

"One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if anything could salvage it from its violent downward spiral."


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