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Profile: Duncan Black
Duncan Black was a participant or observer in the following events:
Thomas Friedman. [Source: Fred R. Conrad / New York Times]The media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) holds up one of the New York Times’s most prominent foreign affairs columnist, Thomas Friedman, as an example of a highly respected political pundit echoing the Bush administration’s predictions of success in Iraq past the point of all credibility. Friedman’s mantra: Iraq will be settled in a few months, so Americans must be patient and let it happen. At least fourteen times over three years, Friedman has made essentially the same prediction. FAIR notes, “A review of Friedman’s punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 315, 401-402] In January 2007, the Huffington Post will note the popularity of the phrase “Friedman Unit,” or “FU,” originally coined by left-wing blogger Duncan Black, referring to Friedman’s seemingly endless predictions referring to a six-month period being required to determine the outcome of the war. [Huffington Post, 1/2/2007] Friedman’s predictions include appearances on NBC, CBS, PBS, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and numerous mentions within his own columns (see November 30, 2003, June 3, 2004, October 3, 2004, November 28, 2004, September 25, 2005, September 28, 2005, December 18, 2005, December 20, 2005, December 21, 2005, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, March 2, 2006, April 23, 2006, and May 11, 2006). He will attempt to explain the logic behind his predictions shortly after FAIR publishes its analysis (see June 11, 2006). He will abandon his position shortly thereafter (see August 4, 2006).
The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin takes NBC bureau chief Tim Russert to task for “enabling” White House and other governmental officials. Froomkin is responding to Russert’s testimony in the Lewis Libby trial (see February 7-8, 2007); Russert told the court that whenever a governmental official calls him, their conversation is presumptively “off the record” unless he specifically asks permission to use a particular bit from the conversation. Froomkin asks the rhetorical question: “If you’re a journalist, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public?” Froomkin’s answer: “Not if you’re… Tim Russert.” Froomkin says of Russert’s practice: “That’s not reporting, that’s enabling. That’s how you treat your friends when you’re having an innocent chat, not the people you’re supposed to be holding accountable.” Russert, who Froomkin says is one of “the elite members of Washington’s press corps,” joins his fellows in seeming “more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy ‘sources’ than in informing the public.” Froomkin notes that in testimony from Cathie Martin, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former communications director, Cheney’s staff viewed going on Russert’s Meet the Press as a way to go public but “control [the] message” (see (July 11, 2003) and January 25-29, 2007). Froomkin writes, “Sure, there might be a tough question or two, but Russert could be counted on not to knock the veep off his talking points—and, in that way, give him just the sort of platform he was looking for.” Froomkin notes that after Russert’s testimony, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington told an interviewer: “This assumption that somehow any conversation with a government official is automatically assumed to be highly confidential… gives the sense to the average citizen that this is a kind of club, to which government officials and major news reporters belong. And that anything discussed between them is automatically off the record, no matter whether it is of public interest or not.” Froomkin also notes that media observer Eric Boehlert calls Russert and the Washington press corps “timid,” and quotes Boehlert as saying the reporters are leaving the tough investigative work to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald while they carp from the sidelines (see February 6, 2007). [Washington Post, 2/8/2007] Liberal blogger Duncan Black, who posts under the Internet moniker “Atrios,” responds to Froomkin’s article by writing: “I’ll be generous and say that as much as we’re all horrified by the generally ‘we’re all friends’ attitude of the media and the rest of official Washington, I’ll acknowledge that some of this is inevitable and I don’t think journalists should always be playing ‘gotcha.’ But we’re not talking about assuming stuff is off the record at social events, or something, we’re talking about assuming stuff is off the record, by default, even when it’s clear that Russert is in his role as a journalist. Journalism ceases to be about bringing truth to the public and becomes official court stenography. Russert only reports what people agree to let him report.… By essentially running administration press releases through a guy like Russert, they launders [sic] the information and give it the stamp of truth from a news guy that people inexplicably trust.” [Duncan Black, 2/8/2007]
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