Leonard Pitts and journalistic integrity


Hey, long time no type. So there has been a lot happening and I just haven’t had time to put all my shower-ranting into blog form. But for right now, I just had an email exchange that I wanted to share.
First, background. Governor Rick Perry was indicted a few weeks for abuse of power. Let me pause for just a moment and clear this up right quick: The governor was not indicted for issuing a veto, he was indicted for using his veto power to do corrupt things. There is a difference. Anyway lots of people didn’t get that difference and spouted off, jumping to erroneous conclusions based on that faulty premise. One of them is Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald. He posted a huffy column about the criminalization of politics and used the Perry indictment as the most recent example.
Except it’s total poppycock. He did eventually publish what his staff calls a “clarification,” pointing out that in fact there wasn’t any Democratic official involved in the indictment process. The ones who would have normally been involved rightly recused themselves for perceived conflicts of interest. It’s a long story (that’s not even half of it).
I’ve been trying to get Mr. Pitts to step up his game but his staff is clueless. He posted a clarification, they say wondering what the problem might be. When I explained (again!) they said well, maybe if the story continues he’ll write about it again. And maybe he’s not the type of journalist I thought he was. Well, here’s my response to that.
I see. I certainly don’t blame y’all for my paper not running the “clarification” but I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s probably true that there are quite a few people like me across the country who would have had to search out Mr. Pitts’ “clarification.” I did so because I knew he wrote more often than just the one time a week he’s published in the American Statesman and I wanted to make sure I knew all the facts before I accused him of anything. This is the same kind of thing I expect from columnists, reporters, any kind of journalist really. Actually, that’s the kind of behavior I prefer from people generally. When people jump to conclusions based on erroneous statements (as Mr. Pitts) did, they end up looking foolish at best. At worst, they perpetuate lies. Now, there are people all over the country–even the ones who did see the “clarification”–thinking that Governor Perry is a victim of some kind of witchhunt, because that’s the last thing Mr. Pitts said on this topic. “If the story continues”? Why isn’t Mr. Pitts interested in continuing the story himself, since he’s one of those responsible for disseminating the false story in the first place? See, the type of journalist I used to believe he was is one of those with some integrity. Perhaps he isn’t that type of journalist. Perhaps he’s the same type of “journalist” they have over at Fox News. You know the kind. Mr. Pitts knows the kind. The kind that dismiss or ignore or misreport facts that are uncomfortable for them. Or, as in this case, not bother to ask incisive questions and then jump to unfounded and erroneous conclusions. Mr. Pitts really dropped the ball on this. And so, every time from now on that he makes disparaging comments about “Faux News” which I saw him do recently, the only thing I think is “What a hypocrite.”

I’m willing to believe that it’s not because Mr. Pitts is some kind of tea party wingnut, but the effect is the same. So while I agree with the thesis of his original article (Courts no place to overturn defeat at the polls), the Perry case is no example of this. The “clarification” did nothing to counter this statement by Mr. Pitts: “One is not usually disposed to think of Texas’ swaggering governor as a victim, but darn if this indictment hasn’t turned the trick.” Rick Perry may be a lot of things, but a victim he is most certainly not. Now, I do think it’s reasonable for people to disagree on whether this case involves a “recognizable crime,” but is it really so unreasonable for Mr. Pitts to go on record that maybe the people of Texas have a right to hold their Governor accountable for actions that look suspiciously like he jumped on an opportunity to hobble public corruption investigation in the state of Texas, a state where he has appointed every appointable office at least once? Is it so unreasonable that Mr. Pitts at least apologize for sticking his nose into a question he knew less than nothing about (less than nothing in this case means the things he thought he knew were wrong)? Is it really so unreasonable to report the actual facts of the case beyond the one “clarification” that there weren’t any Democrats involved? I don’t think so. Mr. Perry’s corruption may not be so blatant or recognizable as that of Rod Blagojevich. I think it’s even more insidious, in the same way that AIDS is insidious in attacking the very system that is supposed to protect us.

Another statement by Mr. Pitts that was not addressed in the “clarification:” “His crime? He issued a veto.” No, that statement is completely false. It is what Mr. Perry is hoping people across the country will believe because it does make him look like a victim, but the fact of the matter is that he was indicted for trying to force out a duly elected official–to be replaced by the Governor himself–an official in charge of an on-going investigation of certain other Perry appointees over millions of dollars of misappropriated funds. Read the links. Mr. Perry has a reputation for trading favors with his appointees. Those of us who have been watching the governor for the past decade and a half have no problem believing that he was hoping to be able to put someone in that office who was beholden to the governor and not the people of Travis County so that he could protect his cronies. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s tried to disrupt an investigation with an appointment (the Cameron Todd Willingham case). Now, I will admit, I’m not sure that what happened was technically illegal (it certainly ought to be), but I’m absolutely in favor of letting the Texas Justice system figure that question out. I would appreciate it if outsiders who know nothing of the situation stay quiet, and if they just can’t do that, could they at least apply a little bit of Journalistic professionalism and learn something about the topic first? And if they can’t do that in the first place, could they apply those journalistic ethics in the second place and correct the record? I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But then, perhaps Mr. Pitts isn’t the type of journalist I thought he was. That, actually is the saddest part of this whole mess.

I have plenty more to say on this whole situation, but I’ll stop here for now.

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