The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Blog Post in Which I, Stacy McCain, Defend Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller

Posted on | January 7, 2011 | 4 Comments

You never expected this day would come and, frankly, neither did I. But Mary Katharine Ham just Tweeted this:

BREAKING: DailyCaller gets story tip, looks into it, decides not to publish. Escandalo de hermanos de Koch!

That shortlink is to a Salon story in which Alex Pareene tries to gin up a scandal story based on reports that the Daily Caller tried to . . . uh, gin up a scandal story.

It’s what you’d call a “long run for a short slide,” so I’ll summarize it: Jane Mayer of The New Yorker wrote a story about the Koch brothers’ funding of various free-market operations that have supported the Tea Party movement. Someone sent a tip to Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller claiming that Mayer had committed plagiarism. He spent a week investigating the allegation, which didn’t pan out. End of story.

That is to say, it would be the end of the story, except that Pareene tries to turn it into something sinister:

According to a knowledgeable source, Tucker Carlson was heard saying that the reason the story needed to go up this week, specifically on Monday or Tuesday, was because the National Magazine Awards submission deadline was on Thursday. Apparently, Carlson wanted to throw the New Yorker into enough of a panic that they wouldn’t submit the Koch story for an Ellie.
If this is true, the Caller story looks a lot more like a political smear campaign than “traditional” reporting.

Whoever Pareene’s “knowledgeable source” is, Tucker Carlson needs to hunt them down and beat them to a bloody pulp. The editorial decision-making process of a news organization is proprietary information.

What you publish is what you publish, and nobody outside the newsroom should ever learn what goes on behind the scenes — the sausage-making process of journalism, as it were — except when the boss decides to make it public. If you’re going to go blabbing newsroom secrets in such a way as to expose your employer to ridicule, you are the lowest form of scum on earth.

Staffers who go telling tales about whose story got spiked, et cetera, are working against the organization that pays their salaries, and such treacherous insubordination cannot be tolerated or it will destroy newsroom morale.

If you’re gonna work for Tucker Carlson, you had best by God be working for Tucker Carlson.

UPDATE: Let me explain a bit about how stories sometimes don’t pan out. In the newspaper business, you get used to dealing with The Nut in the Lobby — somebody who walks in with a crazy story they expect the newspaper to investigate. Some of these people are mentally ill, and some are just “concerned citizen” types. But all of them have seen a few too many TV dramas where “investigative journalists” are portrayed as superhero crusaders for justice.

OK, so one afternoon when I worked at a newspaper in Georgia, the receptionist called back to the newsroom to report the latest Nut in the Lobby, and I volunteered to fall on that particular grenade.

When I got to the lobby, the nut turned out to be a sweet little old lady who explained to me that she always tries to “buy American” and that the local Family Dollar store was perpetrating a fraud. The lady had purchased a package of dish towels (3 for $1) that was clearly marked “Made in USA,” but when she took them home and opened the package, the towels were tagged, “Made in China.”

The lady had brought the package of towels with her, which she showed me as proof and — given the importance of the textile industry to the local economy — I could see why she was outraged. And she was a really sweet old lady who reminded me of my grandmother, so I kind of felt obligated to check out the story.

Well, I spent a couple hours that afternoon making phone calls and leaving messages. And when I came back in the next morning, I started making more calls. But when I told my editor about it, he derided it as a waste of time, saying that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. So I dropped the story, and had to call the little old lady back to tell her I wouldn’t be following up on her tip: “I’m very sorry, ma’am, but . . .”

What I didn’t tell her was that my editor had openly mocked the story as “TowelGate,” and that my sincere effort to investigate this clear violation of federal law — it’s illegal to mark foreign-made goods as “Made in USA” — had made me the butt of cruel jokes from some of my newsroom colleagues. (Neither the first or last time for that, BTW.)

The point of that story is this: In the course of doing what’s called “enterprise journalism,” sometimes you waste time pursuing a tip that turns out to be a wild-goose chase. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, it’s the boss who sends you off on a wild-goose chase. The editor calls you into the office and says, “Hey, I’ve got a hunch I want you to check out.” Depending on how strong his hunch is, the boss may expect you to really dig hard, and so you spend three or four days chasing a story only to find out it’s like Gertrude Stein’s famous description of Oakland: “There’s no there there.”

Stuff like that goes on all the time in the news business. And none of that kind of stuff is anybody’s business outside the newsroom. The staffer who badmouths his editor or his colleagues to people outside the newsroom is guilty of sabotaging his employer’s reputation.

If somebody on the payroll at the Daily Caller is dissatisfied with Tucker Carlson’s editorial decisions, that’s nothing unusual. Every newsroom I’ve ever worked in was a seething cauldron of frustrated ambition. But an employee’s loyalty to his employer is essential to newsroom morale, and making sure newsroom business stays inside the newsroom is a necessary component of that arrangement.

Unless and until you’re ready to quit your job, don’t go telling tales, gossiping and backstabbing, because nobody likes a backstabber.

“If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him.
“If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him–speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution that he represents.
“I think if I worked for a man, I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give an undivided service or none. If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. . . .”

Elbert Hubbard, “Get Out or Get in Line”


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