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May 19th, 2004 The Nose | The Nose
 

The "Immaculate Confession"

     
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"The [Oregonian] has been dogged by questions--from inside and outside the newsroom--about why it was scooped and then seemed to allow its catch-up coverage to be spun by Goldschmidt."
What a bizarre week.

Now, the Nose had nothing to do with THE story. He read it when the rest of the world did, and, like you, the Schnozz was floored.

For a few days, the Nose felt like an emotional pinball, caroming off the bumpers of abject sadness and feeble rationalization, and ultimately, rolling down the same alley, time and time again--the one that leads to the unknowable question: "Just who the f--- did he think he was?"

Once the shock wore off, the Nose became aware of another story: The backlash against The Oregonian. First, for missing the story. Second, for behaving less like a pillar of the First Amendment and more like a silly dupe.

The backlash doesn't come just from Lars, who found more errors in the O's conduct than on George Bush's college astronomy final.

No, the Nose is talking about more mainstream news shops from coast to coast, all of whom could whiff the panic being exhaled from the biggest media organization in the Northwest.

KINK radio, a station with more of a reputation for easy listening than attack journalism, broadcast an editorial saying:

"We are also troubled by The Oregonian's Goldschmidt coverage. The paper repeatedly used the word 'affair' to describe what happened.... The paper also did not mention until the 31st paragraph of its story that Willamette Week had been about to expose Goldschmidt. Someone just getting their news from The Oregonian could reasonably think that one day Goldschmidt simply had to get the matter off his chest and decided he had to tell The Oregonian and the public, a kind of immaculate confession."

Ouch.

The Daily Astorian called the daily's coverage "one more example of The Oregonian's small, unprofessional behavior." In a May 7 editorial, the locally owned coastal paper noted that while "The Register-Guard of Eugene and the Statesman-Journal of Salem published strong, unequivocal editorials" condemning Goldschmidt's conduct, "The Oregonian accommodated Goldschmidt by publishing his prepared statement on the front page. It also managed to burn up some 20 inches of space in an editorial that said relatively little and gave Goldschmidt a pass. "

Ouch again.

On Friday, Oregon Public Broadcasting produced a special report devoted entirely to why The Oregonian missed the story. It also reminded listeners of what a few insiders still call the "Packwood plague" at The Oregonian: That's when, during the early '90s, The Washington Post came to Oregon and broke the story of Senator Bob's indiscretions. It cost him his job and shamed The Oregonian, which brought in a new editrix to run the state's biggest newspaper. It even inspired bumper stickers that read, "If it matters to Oregonians, it's in the Washington Post."

Then, the Sunday after the story broke, The Oregonian slipped once more. It ran an op-ed piece by a Goldschmidt defender who, WW revealed a few days later, actively tried to help the ex-governor hide his secret for the past 18 years. In so doing, the O committed the only journalistic sin worse than being wrong.

Being clueless.

The Big Boys of the national press have begun to pile on. The Los Angeles Times published a story last week. Poynter.org, a leading website for journalists, put together a package of stories under the title "How Oregonian missed the Goldschmidt sexual abuse story."

And in Sunday's Washington Post, media critic Howard Kurtz had this to say:

"First the Oregonian admitted it shouldn't have used a headline about an 'affair' in reporting that former Oregon governor and Portland mayor Neil Goldschmidt had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s. Then it ran a column by Bob Burtchaell, a self-described close friend, lauding Goldschmidt as another John F. Kennedy. But rival Willamette Week, which broke the story, said Burtchaell had served as Goldschmidt's intermediary with the girl.

"'It would have been nice if he had disclosed it to us,' said Oregonian editorial-page editor Robert Caldwell."

The next day, The Washington Post ran on its front page a lengthy story about the Goldschmidt scandal, including the following:

"The [Oregonian] has been dogged by questions--from inside and outside the newsroom--about why it was scooped and then seemed to allow its catch-up coverage to be spun by Goldschmidt."

Double ouch.

In his Sunday column, The Oregonian's public editor, Michael Arrieta-Walden, threw his hands in the air. He offered explanations for much that had gone wrong and, looking back to the very beginning, said his newspaper failed to break the Goldschmidt story for many reasons, including that, "at the same time the newspaper was pursuing several other important stories."

Not an unreasonable explanation.

Then again, it's not quite in the league of Joseph Pulitzer, who in 1907 said a newspaper should "never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty."

'Course that's easy for the Nose to say. He doesn't run the largest and most indispensable newspaper in the Northwest.

 
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