While waiting for the Rathergate report, the results of CBS’s internal investigation of l’affaire selectrique (and the buzz is that the report won’t released until after Christmas so that Mary Mapes, the Bush-o-phobic CBS producer who pushed the fake documents into Rather’s hands, can enjoy her last carefree Yule), I’m enjoying every delicious moment of the latest episode in the Mainstream Media’s slide down the greased tube of journalistic non-credibility: the revelation (closely followed by Drudge) that Chattanooga Times Press reporter Edward Lee Pitts coached the soldier who asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of adequate protection for vehicles used in Iraq.
That’s a journalistic no-no–reporters are supposed to report the news, not help to make it. Furthermore, it was a violation of a ban on queries from reporters during Rumsfeld’s meeting on Wednesday with 2,300 soldiers stationed in northern Kuwait and awaiting transfer into Iraq. The ban presumably applied as well to reporters’ stooges. Nonetheless, Pitts, who is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team and has made inadequate armor one of his journalistic crusades, decided to do a bit of embedding of his own by putting up a bunch of soldiers to ask about the lack of armor. Sure enough, when question time came around, Rumsfield duly called on one of Pitts’ embeddees, 31-year-old Spc. Thomas Wilson, who asked the secretary Pitts’s planted question as to why the soldiers had to dig through local landfills to find scrap metal with which to armor their vehicles. And naturally Pitts was right there to write it all up in a Press Times story.
What I love about the episode is that Pitts couldn’t shut up about it. Later that day he sent around an e-mail titled “Way to Go” to his buddies back in the Chattanooga city room in which he described in self-congratulating detail exactly how he had planted the questions (“I made sure [the sergeant in charge] knew to get my guys out of the crowd”) and how the rest of the soldiers had cheered when Wilson made his query.
Then came the best part of all, Pitts crowed to his city room pals: when a reporter from the mighty New York Times started kissing up to him after he broke the story. Here’s more from White’s e-mail:
“The great part was that after the event was over the throng of national media following Rumsfeld- The New York Times, AP, all the major networks — swarmed to the two soldiers I brought from the unit I am embedded with. Out of the 1,000 or so troops at the event there were only a handful of guys from my unit b/c the rest were too busy prepping for our trip north. The national media asked if they were the guys with the armor problem and then stuck cameras in their faces. The NY Times reporter asked me to email him the stories I had already done on it, but I said he could search for them himself on the Internet and he better not steal any of my lines.”
Yo, Pitts–you gave that NY Times guy the old Jayson Blair! But it’s always a mistake to put anything down in e-mail, and it’s always a mistake to assume that the boys in Chattanooga will uniformly enjoy reading your brag as you prime yourself for a Pulitzer. Some schadenfreude-besotted city-roomer, an embedded informant, so to speak, passed along the e-mail to Drudge–and now it doesn’t look too good for the Press Times. The journalists’ trade journal Editor and Publisher reports:
“‘He is there to write stories, not make news himself,’ [Times Press editor Tom] Griscom said of Pitts. The editor added that the recipient of the e-mail, whom he would not identify, should not have passed it along.”
Maybe not. But as with Rathergate, the Mainstream Media just don’t understand the power of the Internet.