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Campaign Allegation A Source of Vexation

Reportedly?

Gibson's guest, Republican strategist Terry Holt, a former Bush campaign spokesman, said that the effort could be "a despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine. We know that they are capable of doing this." But if the information wasn't linked to Clinton, Holt said, she should "disavow" it. There was no Democratic strategist on the segment, but Gibson did read an Obama campaign statement dismissing the article as false.

Gibson portrayed the controversy as an example of hardball politics: "Picture the commercial, 'Hi, I'm Barack Obama. Funny thing happened to me on my way to the White House, somebody discovered I didn't go to a kindergarten, I went to a madrassah.' This is how the big kids play politics."

Asked if Fox News was promoting unproven rumors about Obama and Clinton, as some liberal blogs have charged, Shine says: "Some on the left might think that. I don't think anybody should read anything into that."

There was a time when major media outlets refused to touch unsubstantiated allegations. When Gennifer Flowers sold her account of an affair with Hillary Clinton's husband to the Star tabloid in 1992 -- allegations that turned out to be true, at least in part -- some news organizations went with it and others shied away for days. These days, the time elapsed between a flimsy charge from some magazine or Web site and amplification by bigger media outlets is often close to zero.

Clinton, meanwhile, faces a longer-range problem with the media. Unlike Obama, whose out-of-nowhere candidacy has been celebrated by reporters and columnists alike, the former first lady has drawn skeptical coverage from the mainstream press, stemming from the battles of her husband's administration.

"She will have to show people that she is not the person her critics describe: radically liberal, ruthlessly ambitious, or ethically compromised," the New York Times said yesterday.

"She will also have to overcome her reputation for political calculation, an inconsistent stump presence and her intimate ties to the polarizing events of her husband's White House tenure," the Los Angeles Times said.

"Clinton is known for her upright bearing and her bare knuckles," the Chicago Tribune said. At this stage, at least, many journalists seem determined to take the Democratic front-runner down a peg or two.

Don't Blog About Us!

London's Daily Telegraph has decided that this blogging thing is fine -- up to a point.

Hours before Saddam Hussein's execution, Toby Harnden, the paper's Washington correspondent, filed a story saying that the former Iraqi dictator "will spend the last moments of his life hooded" before he is hanged. Hussein declined the hood, but a rewritten Telegraph piece for the final edition repeated the erroneous detail.

In a blog posting on his paper's Web site earlier this month, Harnden responded to a reader who said, along with some unprintable words, that his story was "full of inaccuracies and made-up background."

"You're right that writing about Saddam's hanging before it happened was not my finest hour. It was one of those tricky journalistic challenges . . . The doomed dictator remains forever hooded in the headline. Hey, ho," he wrote.

Harnden said nothing about the paper's management, except to praise "my industrious online colleagues" for updating his story. Still, the Telegraph responded by taking down the posting and warning its staff. According to the Guardian, the Telegraph's Web editor wrote: "Please avoid blogging about your relationship with your employer, whether the Telegraph Media Group as an entity, 'the desk,' or 'my boss,' even in jest. Such comments are frequently misconstrued and can easily backfire. Think carefully before blogging about journalists' 'tricks of the trade.' "

Says Harnden: "The whole episode was pretty unfortunate. I think some lessons have been learned about the nature of blogging and its relationship to traditional reporting as we all try to grapple with the new online world."


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