CNBC’s Kneale Roasted for Defending Redstone in Voicemail Flap

Kneale_Dennis07222010.jpgA fight! On the Internet! Between journalists! During summertime! Crazy as it sounds, it’s happened. Again.

There may or may not be an all-important ethical lesson in the latest dustup between Reuters blogger Felix Salmon and CNBC’s Dennis Kneale, but that hardly matters at this point. After all, what better way to spend a hot summer afternoon than recount the summer’s latest journalistic-integrity flame war, right?

On June 2, The Daily Beast’s Peter Lauria wrote a story about Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s attemt to force MTV to air an “unwatchable” show about comely ladyband the Electric Barbarellas. Redstone evidently didn’t like Lauria’s story, and so the 87-year-old made a gangster move — calling Lauria to demand the identity of the source of the story. Redstone promised in a voicemail that in exchange for turning Benedict Arnold on a source, he would be “well-rewarded and well-protected.” Also, Redstone promised not to kill the source. (Has an unsolicited “We’re not going to kill him; we just want to talk to him” ever sounded convincing?)


In response, Lauria cheekily posted the audio from Redstone’s message to The Daily Beast. This was regarded by many as a fun move.

Not so for CNBC’s Dennis Kneale, who found Lauria’s publication of the Redstone voicemail to be a step over “some invisible line.”

Peter Lauria now ranks as one of the bravest (and one of the rudest) media reporters anywhere. He may never again be able to have lunch at Michael’s, the midtown Manhattan media mecca. And no one will leave him a long voice mail.

[…]

This latest flap won’t contribute to better in-depth coverage of Viacom and CBS. It isn’t likely to affect the underlying value of the companies. It’s a great one-off, a one-hit wonder, but was it worth it, guys? Maybe a little buzz is the only thing that counts these days.

Leaving aside the question of whether lunch at Michael’s is a true testament to one’s journalistic valor (we’re obviously conflicted about this), Kneale’s assertion that Lauria has traded future access for the scoop — and that this is a bad thing — is certainly debatable. (For the record, we will back Kneale’s characterization of The Daily Beast as a “saucy Web site.”)

Enter Reuters reporter and seasoned Twitter warrior Felix Salmon:

Of course Lauria violated no confidences here, and really just did his job: if you leave a voicemail for a journalist with no indication that it’s in confidence, and that voicemail is newsworthy, then the journalist is pretty much obliged to publish it.

And:

Kneale reveals himself to be a consummate player of the game, saying that it’s “unwise” to “burn sources” (by which he means the likes of Redstone, not the likes of Lauria’s original source). … It’s an integral part of the CNBC formula, which regularly gets CEOs onto TV so that it can flatter them by throwing them softball questions and making it seem as though the markets really care what they say.

There was, naturally, the requisite Tweet fight to accompany the blogwar.

Salmon wasn’t the only one to take some cracks at Kneale. Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum calls Kneale a “poster boy of Access Journalism.” And later, “You have to work pretty hard to be as wrong as Kneale is here.”

Perhaps as a peacekeeping gesture, it’s been 24 hours since Michael’s Restaurant last Tweeted the name of a guest.