Kurtz Scolds Big Media for Not Following Glenn Beck’s Lead

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz (9/14/09) writes of the Van Jones controversy, in which Fox NewsGlenn Beck took credit for the resignation of a White House staffer:

In the Jones case, there is little question that the traditional media botched the story of an Obama administration official who, wittingly or otherwise, lent his name to those who believe that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney deliberately allowed thousands of Americans to be slaughtered. Some conservatives accused journalists of liberal bias; it is just as likely that their radar malfunctioned, or that they collectively dismissed Beck as a rabble-rouser.

Kurtz presented his evidence:

By the time White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned over Labor Day weekend, the New York Times had not run a single story. Neither had USA Today, which also didn’t cover the resignation. The Washington Post had done one piece, on the day before he quit. The Los Angeles Times had carried a short article the previous week questioning Glenn Beck’s assault on the White House aide. There had been nothing on the network newscasts.

Kurtz’s piece concluded: “The followup news pieces focused on the administration’s failure to vet Jones’ background. Perhaps the media bloodhounds should be just as curious why they failed to sniff out a story that ended with a White House resignation.”

Well, if that’s the question they’re going to be asking themselves, they’ll have to start by figuring out why they paid so little attention to Philip Cooney. Who, you might well ask? In the Bush II administration, Cooney was chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality, the same rather obscure White House office to which Jones was a special adviser; in other words, he was a higher-ranking official than Jones. Cooney, a former oil industry advocate, resigned in 2005 after a New York Times expose (6/8/05) charged him with editing climate-change reports to make them more industry-friendly. That is, he was accused of actual malfeasance in office, on a matter of global consequence, rather than of holding objectionable opinions unrelated to his job. Cooney almost immediately got a job with ExxonMobil, giving the story a newsworthy whiff of corruption.

The New York Times, which broke the story, ran a total of five news stories on it and four editorials. The Washington Post had one editorial (6/11/05) that mentioned Cooney in passing before his resignation, and one news story (6/15/05) on his new oil industry job, along with three opinion pieces that referenced the controversy; Cooney’s name also came up in a news story (8/5/05) about Exxon Mobil more than a month later. USA Today (6/15/05) mentioned him in an editorial after the resignation, but had no news coverage. The L.A. Times had a news brief (6/15/05) after the resignation, and later dropped Cooney’s name in an editorial (6/19/05) and an op-ed (6/24/05).

CBS TV didn’t mention Cooney in all of 2005, according to Nexis transcripts; nor did ABC. NBC Nightly News (6/8/05, 6/11/05) ran two pieces on the subject, and Tim Russert (6/19/05) brought him up in an interview with John McCain. (“I’m shocked,” was McCain’s response.) CNN mentioned the Bush official three times, while he came up once on MSNBC‘s Countdown (6/16/05). Cooney doesn’t come up at all in Fox News‘ Nexis transcripts, an omission that leaves me feeling as shocked as John McCain.

Note that almost all of what little coverage there was appeared after Cooney resigned–so evidently these outlets did not find documented evidence that a Bush administration official was altering scientific documents to benefit his corporate pals to be newsworthy in itself. Yet conspicuously absent from the Cooney story was any complaining by Howard Kurtz about the paucity of coverage.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.