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                                       politics + culture

Friday, March 07, 2008

Marc Ambinder crosses the line

I understand that it's important for journalist/bloggers to convey that the information they are privy to is truly "inside," hence we'll sometimes get instances where a blogger will characterize, generally, what "people they are talking to" are saying.

However, I think Marc Ambinder stepped over the line today, and inserted himself into the Democratic nomination race in a way that crossed a basic line of journalistic ethics...moving himself from honest reportage and into the territory of innuendo.

Let's start with taking a look at what Marc Ambinder said:

I speak daily with aides, senior and junior, from both Clinton and Obama campaigns, and I can say, without revealing confidences, that the level of personal antipathy they express, the level of complete distrust, is extreme and in many ways alarming. One public example: when Obama's chief counsel, Bob Bauer, crashed a conference call held by Clinton advisers on Tuesday night.

The stress created by the interpersonal tension, and by the long hours, is taking a heavy toll. Many of the public faces you associate with your favorite campaign have worked 16 hours a day since January 3 with, maybe, three days off.

If Clinton wins the nomination, there will be many Obama staffers, particularly mid-to-high-ranking aides, who will refuse offers to help with the general election. The walk-away rate will be unprecedented.

That statement moves from the informative (both sides express distrust), to the explanatory (long hours take a toll), to a one-sided and unethical assertion as fact couched in a barbed hypothetical (Obama staffers will refuse to help with the general election.)

I have no problem with Marc's first two paragraphs there. I don't know how he can, however, given those two paragraphs, support making the assertion he makes in his final paragraph. His stage-setting in the first two paragraphs, in fact, would indicate that private, off-the-record conversations with aides on either side of this nomination struggle are frankly not good indicators of what they will do down the road, at all. In fact, everything that Marc is telling us in the lead up to his hypothetical assertion points against that.

Now, if Marc wants to write a story with that "refuse to help" assertion as the lede, he is welcome to do so. But, and here's my point, he's going to have to have some on-the-record basis for doing so, because what he's given us now is strictly off-the-record hearsay. And, yeah, that's unethical. In particular, it's unethical to leap from the insidery "the campaigns are tired and mistrustful" to the blanket assertion that one side's aides won't work with the other side's as a point of fact. Finally, if what Marc is saying in the first two paragraphs is true, I find it hard to believe that either side would be eager to go on the record as willing to work the other right now.

Now, Marc Ambinder's reporting has had a distinctly pro-Clinton angle at times (promoting a right-wing distortion of an Obama video clip on the front page of his blog w/o comment and having later to correct the record), so a pro-Clinton slant is no surprise. But that doesn't excuse what is a clear lapse in journalistic ethics. Scene-setting from off the record impressions is fine and welcome; stepping beyond that is unethical.

Marc Ambinder owes the Obama campaign a retraction and a clarification. And the Obama campaign should make Marc off limits at this point until he does just that. He crossed the line.


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