Its not very often that I have a Pulitzer winner criticize a blog post I wrote. But since that is what occurred this weekend, I suspect it might be a good time to respond to some outstanding issues concerning journalism, new media and the press.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist at the Miami Herald. This weekend, he published a piece titled Truth: It’s a big deal. Somebody (I didn’t see it, so I don’t know if it was Pitts himself) then discussed this on CNN. The column is a tortured attempt to make it appear that I said the “Truth is no big deal,” when I said nothing of the sort.

Putting aside the irony of someone whose commitment to the “Truth” begins with a vigorous defense of Roger Ailes for a moment, let’s take a closer look at the brouhaha.

Pitts commentary is off base, and contains numerous factual inaccuracies. First off, I did not, as Pitts implies, say “Truth is no big deal.” Consider misstating a sentence about (capital “T”) Truth even more irony.

As I wrote last Sunday, I was chatting with someone who stated that Roger Ailes had canceled to be the keynote speaker at their conference. According to this person, Ailes’ people blamed it on an imminent indictment – ostensibly on felony charges of obstruction of justice (see Roger Ailes to be Indicted).

This was precisely what it appeared to be. Me passing along words from someone who appeared to be hearing these things first hand. As the post made it clear, it was a credible piece of information about a public figure, and so I repeated this discussion.

That is the truth of what occurred, and it is what I posted on this blog.

In the hierarchy of journalism, I don’t know if you would call this exactly a formal piece of investigative reporting. Rather, I repeated what I heard informally, from someone I determined to be a credible person. It seemed like an accurate piece of information from a person whose knowledge of the facts – Ailes canceled an appearance to speak – was first hand. On the grand scale of journalism, I would place this above a tweet, but below the Pentagon Papers.

Note that on this blog post, I never suggested that this was inside dope from a prosecutor’s office, nor was it implied that anyone in law enforcement was associated with this discussion.

If I were writing in the NYT or WSJ or the Miami Herald, where Pitts’s column appears, that is what would have been required before publishing such a statement. That is what the formal rules of MSM journalism requires. But Blogs do not have those rules – and probably could not work if they did – and so do not adhere to this standard.

The reach, recognition and official record of the MSM does follow these standards, and they should. For this, they are accorded greater credibility.

At least, they used to get that benefit of the doubt. There are far too many examples of the mainstream media either missing the big story or simply getting it wrong; it is a large reason why blogs exist – to fill the void that the MSM left as they slashed budgets for experienced reporters and gave up on long form investigative journalism. That is a topic perhaps best saved for another day.

As regular readers of this blog know, I endeavor to uncover the truth about markets, the economy and Wall Street that the MSM regularly overlooks or gets wrong. I try to verify what I write where possible. And as my track record shows, I am right far more often than wrong about such things.

But speaking of the rules of journalism – when Justin Elliott of Salon was curious as to the origins of my blog post, he emailed me. I wrote back, we spoke on the phone, I told him what I knew (including a few things off-the-record that I could not say publicly). And as he reported my attitude in writing the post was “passing along what an informed person had said.”

Leonard Pitts Jr. could not be bothered with such trivialities. In his rush to “comfort the comfortable” about this heinous violation of the rules of journalism, he could hardly be bothered to follow them himself. Some will defend this omission as unnecessary, as his column is commentary (but blog posts apparently aren’t).

My read of his Miami Herald piece defending Ailes was straight up disingenuous commentary; I guess he was trying to capture a little internet lightning in a bottle. Then again, I am not objective.

I do manage to agree with Pitts about one thing right – his headline: Truth: It is a big deal. But in his mangling of what I wrote, Pitt reveals it is not really a big deal – at least not to him.

Speaking of truth: I went to his Miami Herald page as well as the Miami Herald archives (1982 – Current) to see what else Mr. Pitts has written about Roger Ailes.

If you were interested in defending the truth, then chief of Fox News must be a pretty big target of some of your columns, right?

Only . . . not so much.

Category: Financial Press, Legal

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

35 Responses to “Comforting the Comfortable, Ignoring the Truth”

  1. Janeway says:

    Why do you care what anyone at the Miami herald writes? They will be gone in 5 years.

  2. sinful mistress says:

    He, “doth protest too much”.

  3. KD says:

    That’s big time! Congrats on pissing off the head of Fox News! Why else would they sic a low level pissant on you?

    It looks like they fear you, and that means you have more influence than you realize. Keep poking at these bastards — you are hitting close to their nerve.

  4. heh heh Looks like the vast right wing conspiracy is out to get me!

  5. RW says:

    Pitts normally does pretty good work: Odd to see him get so sloppy. Not only does he misquote he questions character and attributes intent; ironic that he would end his column with an imputation that Ailes has grounds for libel.

  6. BusSchDean says:

    I read that piece at the time and it was clearly not presented as truth. Pitts found the sharing of the rumor to be inappropriate and should have called it as such. No doubt you built a following precisely because of your credibility. Insinuation, obfuscation, and demonization are tools used by those for whom the truth works against.

  7. contrabandista13 says:

    Who is this Pitts guy anyway…. I’ve never heard of him….

  8. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Hey, Leonard Pitts Jr:

  9. VennData says:

    If the straw men the GOP media machine constructed were… say… as powerful as they claim their enemies were… but they’re not, they’re straw.

    Throw out a “…some might say…” and you’ll be even.

  10. Aeroscout840 says:

    fugthatjagoff BR

  11. louis says:

    heh heh Looks like the vast right wing conspiracy is out to get me!

    BR I would pay some serious money to see you and Whalen go up against Greenspan’s cronies and some investment banker’s on how this shit all went down.

  12. Raleighwood says:

    Please keep “disturbing the comfortable” so that I can cling to the last shreds of hope that my kids future isn’t entirely fucked.

  13. franklin411 says:

    Silliness. Informed rumor, chatter, and the observations of the well-connected have *always* been part of the process of journalism. I have notes on conversations that Walter Lippmann, the father of modern opinion journalism, took while at dinner parties with highly-placed European statesmen in the years before WWII. That chatter was incorporated into Lippmann’s columns. Developments proved some of it right, and some of it wrong, but I can’t imagine any journalist who would attack Lippmann for his use of such sources.

    I bet that cockroach (channeling Scarface!) Pitts doesn’t even know that his field–opinion columnists–was founded by Lippmann in the 1930s.

  14. Widetrack says:

    I believe, therefore I know the truth.
    Find fault with this logic?

  15. esb says:

    I suspect your handling of the rumor was heavily colored by your contempt for what the Republican Party has become and what it seems to want to do to our country (concentrate essentially all of the national wealth in the hands of a very small group of ruthless manipulative economic actors) and the role Roger Ailes plays in the mass mind control requisite for the completion of the mission.

    Contempt can rise to such a level that it colors just about everything one feels, thinks and communicates about the object(s) of contempt.

    One needs read no more than the blogs and op-eds of Paul Krugman to understand where the contempt for all things “R” can carry a person.

    If indeed you have taken a first step down that dark road it is best that you stop.

    If indeed you have come to contemn Ailes and all things “R” then just come out honestly and express exactly why.

  16. “Who is this Pitts guy anyway…. I’ve never heard of him….” — contrabandista13, above


    “…I guess he was trying to capture a little internet lightning in a bottle…” — BR, from the Post

    objective, or not, I’m thinking you’re spot-on..

    and, if that dude, Pitts, cares about “Truth”, why doesn’t he dig into, and report on, some of..
    “Comforting the Comfortable, Ignoring the Truth”


  17. gman says:

    Great job Barry! There is data out there on how misinformed people are depending upon where they get there new. Fox is at the bottom of the heap. Its viewer are the least informed on the topics of the day. ie Sadam was behind 911, global warming is a hoax, tax cuts ALWAYS pay for themselves, we found the WMD, etc It is sickening. Democracy and capitalism are based on the free flow of information. MSM in general is bad and FOX is the worst!

  18. bman says:

    It’s great you’re getting noticed… Things could get interesting. My suggestion to you Barry, Try to formulate an answer to the question: What do you think and how do you think things should be taxed and regulated, stimulated and or bailed or not bailed in the future.. ie. in three or four platform planks what do you think should be the economic policy of the US of A?

  19. b_thunder says:

    The guys from the “old” media too often don’t “get” the new media, but they scared of it more than of any plague!
    And even if this blog was not up Pitts’ own ” high journalistic standard” – remember, this is a BLOG!

  20. Andy T says:

    For you sake, I hope Ailes gets indicted…otherwise we’ll be talking about Barry Ritholtz, “the guy who said Roger Ailes was getting indicted.”

    Perhaps every “upper East Side Democrat’s” words in an airport aren’t worth repeating on a blog read by (at least) tens of thousands of people.

  21. Andy T says:

    Sinful Mistress@5.09

    “He ‘doth protest too much.”

    To whom are you referring? Barry or this Pitt’s character?

  22. kurtwestphal says:

    Barry nicely written piece… as Fox is quoted as ‘makin’ shxx up’ … this seems just more of the same.. i have yet to see ambitious truth and fact finding at Fox that isn’t partisan or O’R apologizing for being wrong, getting the facts incorrectly or being too emotional … Murdoch and crew are also destroying the modicum of objectivity the WSJ exercises…. not sure what to do with em… maybe just ignore em… that investment in MySpace is really working out right.. here’s to truth. its said the truth will set you free… so Fox and it’s surrogates will go wanting for perhaps an eternity or 3…

  23. Hugh says:

    Looking back at the original piece and the 56 comments it provoked it’s clear to me that you gave full on orgasms to 50% of your readership, whilst another 45% were jerking off to the rumour.

    I would forget about Truth and focus on Pleasure going forward. It’s so much more rewarding.

  24. sinful mistress says:

    @ Andy T: The Pitt’s character.

  25. derekce says:

    This is why I don’t read MSM stories or columnists except for international stories, like Libya, which new media still doesn’t cover as well. Columnists now resort to trying to create controversies hoping it will strike a nerve and generate hits. I refuse to read the article and give him his wish. With all the potential stories from the recession and now federal and state budget crisises you would expect juicy investigative pieces. Instead we get tired political hit pieces. Newspapers are a dying industry and will go the way of the buggy whip maker.

  26. Well Barry, the good news is that at least Fox News is still unable to broadcast in Canada.

    Canada’s Radio Act forbids a licenser from broadcasting “any false or misleading news” – a law we used to have in this country until Reagan repealed it in 1987!

    Conservative PM Stephen Harper tried to repeal the “truth in journalism” law but, strangely, Canadians decided it was one they wanted to keep and thus – no Fox in Canada.

  27. curbyourrisk says:

    Gman…Get a fucking grip. Most of those things you list have been argtued BOTH ways and BOTH sides have legitimeate things to prove they are correct, EXCEPTfor Saddam being behind 911. I no NO ONE who argues that. Global warming IS a hoax. WE DID find MWD, just was never proved til years later, AND tax cuts do pay for themselves if you allow markets to work. Our government won;t allow that to hapen, as they feel the need to manipulate things.

    Stop injecting your OPINIONS into an arguement Barry clearly laid out. Damn I wish the board would stop being so freakin political and get back to talking Economics. Thats the problem with most people….ECONOMIC decisions need to be made without considering the politics…. When I run meetings here at work, the first thing I do is tell people CHECK YOUR POLITICS AT THE DOOR. It is the only way people realize WHAT NEEDS to get done, not what SHOULD get done.

    Yes, I hate the democrats, but if OBAMA actually makes some real decisions and does what NEEDS to get for this economy to get going again….I WOULD NOT ONLY VOTE FOR HIM, I WOULD CAMPAIGN FOR HIM. SCREW the politics…. Let’s work together and make the HARD decisions.

  28. zenospinoza says:

    Wow, unfortunate that deluded, incoherent posts like that from curbyourrisk can’t be purged. The price of freedom, I suppose.

    I remember being very surprised by the post on Ailes but saw immediately that it was hearsay (because BR said it was – duh!). So I looked for confirmation. I guess somewhere, someone grabbed a pitchfork.

  29. IS_LM says:

    Wow, unfortunate that deluded, incoherent posts like that from curbyourrisk can’t be purged. The price of freedom, I suppose.

    Each one is a little gem, to be admired from near and far.

  30. Kort says:

    GMan, if you are going to play the ‘global warming’ card, at least call it by its new name, ‘climate change’…

  31. Jim67545 says:

    You guys don’t know how to spell. It’s Faux News not Fox News.

  32. DeDude says:

    If that clown worry more about a blogger passing rumors one time, than about Fox news doing the same thing on a daily basis, he is just a right wing hack. The idiot pulled the pants down on himself and in the process disrespected the truth he proclaimed to be so concerned about.

  33. sir magneto says:

    Pitts’ piece is clearly making something out of nothing. Perhaps the only thing you might have done different is to end the title of your indictment post with a question mark . But to be fair it is maybe a bit of a stretch to read his piece as “vigorous defense of Ailes” . He’s hardly a Fox cheerleader, noting the “bias of the supposed new organization” Ailes runs. No “fair and balanced” columnist would ever suggest Fox has a slant…

  34. Fred C Dobbs says:

    Sorry Barry, you blew this one. Being a lawyer, you know you can say anything about a “public figure” in the US without fear of imprisonment or judgement against you for libel or slander. You can say anything you want about them, true or false, hearsay etc. They are defenseless. A public figure is legally “forced to stand in the middle of the ring, with his arms by his sides, and let any fool sucker punch him with” one lie after another until his gets tired of it and moves on, which can take a long time. They can say anything he or she may want about you, and, as a practical matter, you can’t fight back, for, if you try, you only give the slanderer/libeller another chance to say anything he or she may want about defenseless you. This why the Media gets away with outrageous remarks about politicians. Depending on your political prejudice or bias, all politicians are ‘fair’ game. The only practical limitation on the slanderer/libeller is his or her conscience, if they have one, and, if not, there is no limit on what they may say about you. Truth is a casualty when you are a ‘public figure’ in the U.S. The fact that you ‘hit’ on someone with a story tells us a lot about you. For example, you hesitate not to pass on, presumably as true (you wouldn’t pass on anything untrue would you?) anything someone tells you about someone you don’t like, and spread it. If you had guts, you would have taken credit as the source of the information, and take your unnamed friend off the hook (for all we know is a fictitious person), for the possibility of being disgracefully wrong. Time will tell whether there is any truth to your rumor, but if it is untrue, neither you or anyone else you have stirred up will say they are sorry for spreading false, and untrue statements about a public figure, for being un-American and jumping to conclusion, without the benefit of facts. No doubt you and your stirred up friends will say there is some conspiracy out there concealing and suppressing the ‘real’ truth. You blew this one. Learn and move on.

  35. Joe W says:

    Dear Mr. Ritholz,

    I am not signed up for your blog, but I do read it, and I did want to send a note of support regarding the Pitts column.

    It was obvious to me, at least, that your note about Ailes was hearsay, a rumor, and not reporting in the sense of what the mainstream media use to do/is supposed to do.

    It is also very clear to me that you are deeply concerned with the Truth. From, “Science: It Works, Bitches!” (oh, how I long to use that phrase in my lectures on evolution & ecology!) to “Agnotology” (my new favorite word), it is one of the reasons I look forward to reading you on a daily basis.

    Your readers value you exactly because you spend so much energy dragging festering agnoses out from behind the curtains of popular perception that they might die shriveling in the clean light of Truth.

    Keep up the good work,