City Paper is not for tourists
Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher has a nice, long blog post about a story that appeared in the Loose Lips column of last week’s Washington City Paper. That column exposed e-mails sent between Post city hall reporter David Nakamura and the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The trail of electronic communication unearthed by columnist Mike DeBonis showed a wonderful working relationship between reporter and the mayoral press apparatus.
Fisher, ever a smart and engaging columnist, comes to the defense of Nakamura, saying that even though the e-mails reveal some coziness, Nakamura was doing the yeoman’s work of a beat reporter, working his sources.
No argument there.
But what drives me crazy about Fisher’s piece is that he misses the bigger point. By confining his discussion to the enterprise of Nakamura and its ethical dimensions, he shows a high degree of denial over the real point of the column. And that’s that the Fenty administration served up a big story to the Washington Post on a silver platter.
At the time the Post exclusive came out last June, there was a lot of talk about how hard people were working. The suggestion was that the press outlets who didn’t have this story got outhustled by Nak. Well, the e-mails paint that line of thinking as pure bullshit.
The real story of the e-mails is not that Nak was doing anything unethical; not that there was some monster breach of the firewall (though that whole Rudy Crew thing does sound suspicious) ; not that the Post has sold out.
No, the real story is that the Fenty people were tripping all over themselves to make sure that the Post got the news first, before even the D.C. Council, before the activist, before less people in the administration.
As much as I love Nak—and I do, simply because he always picks up the phone when he’s called upon to defend his easily defensible journalism—I cannot conclude that his scoop here was the result of some heroic act of beat reporting. After all, how hard is it to take a direct feed from the mayor’s communications director?
It’s too clear that the Fenty people wanted the power of the Post—the news pages as well as the editorial pages—behind them as they announced their choice of Michelle Rhee as the new schools chancellor. There’s nothing wrong and everything right with the Post‘s leveraging its standing as the premier supplier of news in this region.
But that’s what was happening here—nothing more.