Sure, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is all kinds of loopy. On long election nights, even his thinning blonde hair gets crazed and flops all over the place. He purposefully spouts off outlandish ideas on a near daily basis. And he’s not the easiest TV journalist to interview. He’s image conscious. And paranoia reigns supreme.
But he did not deserve the poor treatment he received over the weekend from The Washington Post‘s opinionated media blogger Erik Wemple, who claims his section involves actual reporting.
Has Wemple forgotten the basic ethics of reporting?
Over the weekend, Wemple ventured out to the Barnes & Noble in downtown Washington to hear Matthews speak about his new book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Only instead of asking Matthews about his boring book, he asked about his MSNBC colleague Martin Bashir, who recently said on national TV that someone should poop in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin‘s mouth. Bashir thought this form of punishment was reasonable, since Palin compared the national debt to slavery and well, this was among the ways slaves were punished back in the day. Bashir later apologized profusely.
Still, somehow Wemple thought Matthews should have to opine on the matter. Only he didn’t. He wouldn’t reply and explained that he worked for MSNBC. Wemple hazed Matthews a little, saying, “Well, it’s just a question, though. I mean, he’s a colleague, he said something. You have opinions. You’d have an opinion if someone else worked at another network.”
Here’s where things get hypocritical.
Some weeks back, Evan Gahr, an investigative journalist covering the David DeJesus case against The Washington Post for age and race discrimination, called Wemple and asked for his thoughts. DeJesus is a sales employee at the Post. Not only did Wemple not comment, but he hung up on the reporter.
At least Gahr told Wemple who he was. In Wemple’s case with Matthews, he never informed Matthews who he was or where he works. Has Wemple forgotten the basics of journalism? And if he won’t comment on his own colleague, DeJesus, why should Matthews give the “Erik Wemple Blog” a comment?
When Matthews told Wemple that he is not a media critic, which he’s not, Wemple blasted him, saying, “Oh, yes you are.”
Matthews was right. He’s not a spokesman for MSNBC and has no business commenting on Bashir any more than Wemple should have to comment on a pending lawsuit against the Post. Matthews is a progressive, bombastic TV host. That doesn’t make him a media critic any more than it makes Wemple a lawyer in the DeJesus case or a publicist for the Post.
In his story, Wemple fully disclosed that he never fully disclosed to Matthews that he was associated with the “Erik Wemple Blog”, saying, “Though we didn’t disclose our affiliation with the Erik Wemple Blog, Matthews was speaking at a public event.”
That’s weak, Wemple. Very weak.
The Mirror posed questions to Wemple by email and here’s how he replied:
1. Was that you who attended the book event and approached Chris Matthews or someone else working for WaPo?
Wemple: “That was me.”
2. Why didn’t you or the person say who you were or where you worked? That seems rather odd and a very basic requirement of the industry.
Wemple: ”This was an open, on-the-record presentation by Matthews. It was a public event. At public events, speakers know that what they say is public, on the record. The disclosure in the item that I hadn’t said, ‘Hey, I’m with the Washington Post,’ was included out of an abundance of caution.”
3. Why should Matthews comment about Martin Bashir when you would not comment about David DeJesus for Evan Gahr. You would no more speak for WaPo than Matthews would for MSNBC. Except you seemed to set another standard for him than you have for yourself.
Wemple: ”I don’t think there’s much equivalency here at all. Gahr’s story related to a complicated workplace lawsuit on the commercial side of the Washington Post. Though I work at the Washington Post, I have no idea of the circumstances over there, nor do I know the ins and outs of the complaint. By contrast, the Bashir thing was as public a spat as there is: The guy said something vile on air, and apologized on air. So it’s not too much to expect Matthews to have a take on things.”