Smearing Norah O'Donnell

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JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 1, 2011

Smearing Norah O'Donnell

Andrew Breitbart has clipped an exchange from today's press at conference at the White House. In the exchange, reporter Norah O'Donnell press Jay Carney by asking, "Democrats are saying, 'You gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing." Commentary has picked up the story, giving it the headline, "CBS's O'Donnell to Carney: We got nothing."

CBS’s Norah O’Donnell peppered Carney with terse, accusatory questions about the lack of tax revenue (read: tax increases) in the debt ceiling deal. O’Donnell complained about how many GOP demands were met by the deal, and then said to Carney: “You gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing.” That “we” is very telling. ...

O’Donnell, meanwhile, may have to answer to her bosses at CBS for peeling back the veneer of impartiality to reveal the liberal advocacy sitting just beneath the surface of the mainstream networks.

Amazing. They simply lopped off the part where O'Donnell was describing the position of a party and passed it off as O'Donnell talking about herself and liberal Democrats in the first person plural.

After some reporters objected, Commentary updated the story to emphasize O'Donnell's "tone" as the issue, while editor John Podhoretz took to Twitter to defend the plainly misleading story. Here's the update emphasizing "tone":

Some readers are objecting that O’Donnell was relaying to Carney what liberals are saying about the deal. If you watch the whole clip, she asks a question before this statement that is clearly in her voice, not that of agitated liberals: “Two weeks ago the president talked about shared sacrifice, and he talked about ending subsidies for oil companies and he talked about ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners. He talked about that this was a very fair deal where he was offering three-to-one, spending cuts for one in tax revenues. Where are the tax revenues?” She then asks the question where her defenders insist she is quoting others. Watch the delivery of her question–it’s both hostile and dramatic, and was made only after questioning Carney along the same lines in which there is no contention that she is speaking for anyone other than herself. Viewers can decide.

First of all, the update fails to include the full quote, and fails to inform readers that the original story misleadingly truncated O'Donnell's question. It merely switches to a less damning accusation without acknowledging it's doing so.

Second, the new accusation is itself silly. Reporters ask questions from the perspective of politicians ("They're saying...") all the time. They ask question in an impassioned, loud or aggressive tone all the time. Making o'Donnell's tone an issue is a transparent attempt by Commentary to cover for the way it smeared her.

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posted in: jonathan chait, cbs, andrew breitbart, jay carney, republican party, white house

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