Fox News yesterday told the Erik Wemple Blog to be ready to discuss the very broad topic of media bias and the 2016 election on our appearance last night on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Instead, host Tucker Carlson wished to discuss the appearance in The Washington Post of native-advertising supplements promoting Russia — what he termed “paid propaganda” for the Kremlin. He folded this offense into the larger context of discussions about fake news.
So this was purposely deceptive ambush journalism. So what?! From watching a great deal of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” it’s clear that blindsiding his guests and keeping them from issuing fully formed answers is the official MO. Plus, this blog has been critical of Carlson’s work, both at the Daily Caller and at Fox News. There was no question that he was using the smokescreen of a vague topic to blast away at the Erik Wemple Blog. Deal with it.
Another level of deception occurred on air, when Carlson alleged that the Erik Wemple Blog fails to provide accountability coverage of The Post. In contrast to Carlson himself — who doesn’t referee Fox News’s mistakes and formerly ordered his underlings at the Daily Caller not to criticize Fox News — this blog has repeatedly criticized The Post over a number of journalistic and management issues. News outlets commonly don’t allow such internal scrutiny.
We pointed out to Carlson that we’d written a critical piece of The Post just last month, after the newspaper stumbled by inaccurately reporting that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electrical grid. Our post explored the mistakes and what we viewed as the insufficient explanation for them.
In our chat last night, Carlson didn’t view the post as a work of accountability. “You didn’t interview the reporters who wrote the story and then you end with this, ‘the missteps mar an otherwise spectacular run for the Post.’ Now when you write something that brown nosy, do you feel guilt?”
Since we had no idea Carlson would pursue this line of argument in the segment, we didn’t have the post in front of us. But we did remember that we didn’t “end” the post with those words. So we implored Carlson to provide the context necessary to properly inform the viewers eager to see the Erik Wemple Blog bloodied on live television. Now to the transcript:
CARLSON: Now when you write something that brown nosy, do you feel guilt?
ERIK WEMPLE BLOG: No.
CARLSON: Do you feel like I’m doing my job as a hard-hitting media reporter, a spectacular run of my own publication, my own employers?
ERIK WEMPLE BLOG: Finish the post, Mr. Carlson. Read till the end, please.
CARLSON: That’s actually the last — that’s the end of it, and then you go —
ERIK WEMPLE BLOG: No, read until the end. Read the entire last paragraph, please, for me.
Carlson declined to do so, choosing instead to deflect the request.
The notion that we chose to “end” this post with these words is an out-and-out lie. Have a look at the the following paragraphs of the post, which include the ending. Bolding is inserted to highlight the words that Carlson decided to pluck for his broadcast:
So there’s a duel going on at The Post’s website — between a more recent story that features correct information and a more dated one that oversells the hacking threat. The result is a clicky version of Russian roulette: If you choose the wrong version, you get the wrong news.
A number of critics have blasted The Post for its handling of the story, and this blog will forego a laborious reconstruction of the affair.
What stands out about the incident, however, is that the newspaper published its salacious story based on the accounts of the “officials,” though without input from the utility folks. Burlington Electric executive Neale Lunderville told Vermont Public Radio, “It could have easily been corrected, well first, had this federal official not leaked this information inaccurately, and second had the news outlet got in touch with us to confirm it or deny it, and we would have told them, ‘Not so. That’s not the case.’ And they could have printed a correct story the first time around.”
The Erik Wemple Blog today asked top Post officials for interviews on the screw-ups, though we didn’t get any sit-downs. Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for the paper, issued this statement: “We have corrected the story, prominently displayed the correct information after further reporting, evaluated what transpired, and had the appropriate discussions internally to make sure something similar does not occur again.”
“Again” would be the third time, considering that The Post was forced to publish an editor’s note over a Thanksgiving-weekend story fingering Russia for assisting in the spread of fake news.
The missteps mar an otherwise spectacular run for The Post, which nailed exclusive after exclusive in the presidential campaign. With traffic surging and editorial ranks growing, The Post, you might suppose, would have the self-confidence to sit for an extensive interview about its occasional failings. Apparently not.
Selective editing is a scourge of news production, and one that has frequently angered conservatives vis-a-vis mainstream media outlets. Think of NBC News’s handling of the 911 call in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin incident or the extremely legitimate complaints about how a Katie Couric gun documentary slimed Second Amendment advocates.
Though the Erik Wemple Blog makes no claim that we’ve endured the same degree of distortion, there’s one thing that generally knits together these instances. The unmolested record, that is. On the one hand, we have Carlson’s statement that he read the end of the post in question; on the other, we have the post itself, which refutes his claim in a consequential way. The material before and after his quote provides critical coverage of this newspaper. The lesson here about “Tucker Carlson Tonight” is that — surprise, surprise — it’s all about in-the-moment entertainment. The folks who have filled our Twitter mentions with TUCKER-DESTROYED-YOU messages, after all, don’t seem to care much about the actual circumstances. They got the fact-challenged presentation that Carlson so reliably and brilliantly delivers.
Not all of Carlson’s fans, however, bought the presentation. One viewer from Maryland emailed the Erik Wemple Blog last night:
I saw your interview on Tucker Carlson show tonight and was intrigued by the back and forth you two had on the Vermont power plant story.
I’m a big fan of Tucker’s and think he usually brings up some interesting points and unique takes on the day’s events. I wanted to see what you had written and if you were as critical of your own paper’s reporting as you had claimed, so I went back and reread your piece.
I was shocked to see how wrong Tucker was on this topic. He really did cherry pick some points on his claims that you did not interview the reporters of the story without mentioning their unwillingness to answer your questions. It would be harder to be more critical of anyone’s reporting as you were of these reporters, let anyone reporters who write under the same banner as you.
I commend you for maintaining your composure during that onslaught of an interview. I’m sure you’re aware of the type of interviews Tucker likes to conduct and how we would try to frame you as a typical liberal media operative, and yet you still went on to defend your work.
I write this as someone who usually agrees with Tucker’s points but felt you really got railroaded on this segment tonight.
I also write this as a subscriber to the Washington Post and reader of your columns, and just want to thank you for putting out honest writing in the face of such a combative and divided atmosphere.
1:28 p.m.: Updated to include reader email.