MONDAY’S LETTERS: On BALCO, Propaganda and the White House Pool Party

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By: E&P Staff

In today’s letters, a challenge to identify those reporters who attended Bush’s off-the-record pool party.

Re: Allan Wolper’s column Who Really Broke the BALCO Story:

Thank you for noticing that many reporters — not just those at The San Francisco Chronicle — have helped bring the BALCO steroids story to national prominence.

It’s terrific that you gave Dana Yates of the San Mateo Daily Journal her due. She’s smart as a whip and an example of someone who did important leg work on this story early. Elliott Almond at The San Jose Mercury News has been even more influential, writing literally hundreds of stories that have explained and advanced the scandal. And The New York Daily News has added important elements, especially when TJ Quinn overheard Barry Bonds giving grand jury testimony.

For our part, ESPN Magazine has been part of the mix since the summer of 2003. After the raid on Victor Conte’s BALCO office, my colleague, Peter Keating, did an exhaustive profile of the mystery man in the middle. In June 2004, I tracked Conte’s relationship to the world’s fastest man, Tim Montgomery. And six months later, I developed a relationship with Conte that led to a groundbreaking first-person interview in our pages (on the Web here). In it, Conte alleged for the first time that he gave Marion Jones performance-enhancing drugs.

None of this diminishes the achievements of the Chronicle or the many awards that it has won covering BALCO. But it’s wrong for anyone to think that a single publication “owns” the story. A lot of us have worked hard to make sure that the truth emerges. Thanks for pointing that out.

Shaun Assael
Senior Writer, ESPN Magazine


Re: Steve Outing’s column Modernizing the Editorial Page:

Steve, if you write about the editorial page again, you might want to talk to Scott Milfred, our editorial page editor here in Madison. Last year, we created what has been dubbed the “people’s editorial page.” It’s actually called Spectrum. We took a cover of the features section and we give the space to readers who either do a pro and con or who flesh out an important community issue. Some of the issues have been stunning. We find that readers are very interested in some topics, such as the increase in the speed limit, but very uninterested in other topics. It’s been an education.

Ellen Foley
Editor, Wisconsin State Journal

Ed’s Note: More comments related to Outing’s column have been appended to the column itself.


Shame on the Press

As a longtime journalist now pursuing another life, I’ve watched with horror the timidity of the U.S. press in its coverage of the politics surrounding the war. Stenographic reporting, a failure to question (what later was proven to be fabricated) factual assertions, deference to official sources and unattributed spin-meisters, passivity in the face of administration bullying, in short, a complete failure to challenge, document, and present the complete picture, loud and clear, front and center.

This isn’t partisanship. The Democrats have done a horrible job of providing any alternative view. When the loudest voices of condemnation begin coming from within the ruling party, it’s a sign. The press needs to hold up the American public the hypocrisy of its elected leaders, on both sides. It has done nothing of the sort, instead wrapping itself in the flag and reporting with rah-rah fervor our local troop deployments, breast-beating solemnity the funerals of those who return in a box, and sentimental cheer the well-meant efforts of locals to send care packages, erect monuments, and slap yellow ribbons on cars in tribute to the troops.

Journalism, like the administration, has betrayed the public’s trust. The administration should be impeached. The press should be … ashamed.

Stuart Watson


Re: Berkeley Breathed On His ‘Jailed Journo’ Comic Strips:

Who are the publishers afraid of? Is it the advertisers that demand that they censor the news? Please help me to understand.

Paula Bushkoff

Ed’s Note: Berkeley, care to clarify? Send a note to our Online Editor.


Re: Greg Mitchell’s recent column, Tipping Point on Iraq:

“At this critical moment, it’s time for newspapers — many of which helped get us into this war — to use their editorial pages as platforms to help get us out of it. So far, few have done much more than wring their hands. Now, it’s literally do-or-die time.” –Greg Mitchell, Editor and Publisher

It is not the job of newspapers or their editors to “get us into” or out of wars. It is the job of an ethical media to report the news and provide a forum for the deliberative process in America. It is not the job of editors to advance an agenda or influence direction of policy. What you are advocating is propaganda, which is defined in the following ways, according to Garth Jowett in “Propaganda and Persuasion”:


1) organized persuasion

2) the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.

3) when the use of propaganda emphasizes purpose, the term is associated with control and is regarded as a deliberate attempt to alter or maintain power that is advantageous to the propagandist.

4) spin, referring to a coordinated strategy to minimize certain information (such as the positive effects of the Iraq war) while emphasizing other information (such as the Iraq body count) that allows the propagandist to reach a stated goal.

Mr. Mitchell, my disgust for the media, which has abdicated its moral imperative to inform, grows as I have seen it become more insular, more politicized, and more derisive of the people and their elected leaders.

You, sir, are part of the corruption so many Americans — according to Pew Research’s polling on media bias — recognize in the media.

L.B. Samms


Re: President Holds Bash for Reporters, ‘Pool Report’ Takes on New Meaning

I’d really like to know which members of the White House Press Corps attended the Bush Party in Crawford? Seems to me a list of these supposed journalists would be in the public service.

Betty Layport
Unionville, Ohio

Ed’s Note: Compiling a list of reporters who attended an off-the-record briefing is no easy task. The three-paragraph Associated Press story on the event did not carry a byline. Dan Froomkin at The Washington Post had a few more details in his column Friday, but did not list any of the attendees. There was this tantalizing bit though: “One Bush touch particularly appreciated by the working media: Invitations were sent out at the last minute, so that only the reporters and photographers already in the area could attend — preventing any bigfooting by the media elites in Washington or New York, or on vacation themselves.” If anyone wants to rat out their pool-partying colleagues, send an e-mail to our Online Editor Jay DeFoore.

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