ALL HAIL MAGGIE HABERMAN, THE UNERRING GIMLET EYE AFFLICTING THE COMFORTABLE
There's been some fallout from that Maggie Haberman New York Times article that oh-so-journalistically wondered if Hope Hicks was too hot to obey the law. The media elite furrowed their brows, thought long and hard, and concluded that we are all idiots who don't know how lucky we are to have regular access to access journalism.
Michael Shear and Jonathan Martin are both Haberman's colleagues at the Times. They also sound like our mother on leftovers night: "Stop complaining! You're lucky to get any news at all. Now sit down and finish your sloppy journalism."
Haberman's defenders like to point out what an important role she plays. As the saying goes, "with great power, comes great responsibility," and it's irresponsible to cover the ongoing corruption of the Trump administration as if you're writing celebrity puff pieces for Vanity Fair.
The Hicks piece wasn't even that complicated. Back when The Times had a public editor, this drivel would've earned a followup critique, maybe an actual apology. The public editor might've scrutinized the cozy relationship between Hicks and Haberman. Haberman's colleagues think she deserves a Nobel Prize for serving as a reliable PR flack for Hicks, but the less gullible suspect that Hicks or anyone in Trump's orbit only leaks information when it's in their best interest.
The Times ditched the public editor role in favor of a "reader center." Notice what publisher Arthur Sulzberger promised us would happen.
Sulzberger argued that the Public Editor is now superfluous because "our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office."
Yeah, that worked out wonderfully. Readers serve as a "modern watchdog" who are put down whenever we dare criticize what we think is shoddy reporting. Nothing is more empowering than having our legitimate concerns dismissed as "insane rants."
We also recognize that Haberman doesn't publish the Times alone from her home office. There's plenty of blame to go around. Michael Schmidt and Peter Baker, for instance, have done no favors for the Gray Lady's dignity. There's also a lot of solid reporting at the Times. It's not all bad. They get scoops but they
sometimes often pay a hefty price for their access. Pointing this out shouldn't mean that we're waging a war against a lone lady reporter. We know enough not to expect a whole lot from "Morning Joe," but honestly, they literally spent air time apologizing to Haberman for how she was "treated" over the weekend.
It's tiresome to see all these appeals to authority -- "Where's your Pulitzer Prize, smart guy?" -- and dogmatic declarations of Haberman's undeniable awesomeness. Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine wondered why the left "hates" her. Well, we don't. And if we did, that'd actually prove Chait's point more convincingly than a roomful of shiny journalism reach-around prizes. No one should like you if you're actually holding powerful people accountable. If you want to win popularity contests, apply for a job as Reese Witherspoon.
Haberman herself can't be bothered to address the criticism directly or honestly. She correctly pointed out that Hicks's glamour shot wasn't her doing. Times reporters don't choose the photos. But if she had nothing to do with the picture or even the use of "existential" in the headline, then the backlash isn't personal. It's not about Haberman at all but the Times itself. All she can say is that she "regrets" that she became part of the story.
HABERMAN: It is never comfortable when we become the story.
That is so annoying. Lady, you regularly appear on television to discuss your stories. This is like a politician complaining that they've "become" their policies. She also conflates criticism of her work with personal criticism.
HABERMAN: I regret when a story becomes this much of a controversy if it's not about the merits of the reporting.
WTF? The merits of the reporting was the primary source of the controversy.
HABERMAN: We are not above criticism. The tenor has gotten extremely personal. That's unfortunate.
You know, maybe we were wrong. Reese Witherspoon handles criticism of her work better than this. And unlike the Hicks article, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde got a bad rap.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.