Oh Boy! Ombudsmen!


(from left to right: Getler, Howell, Kalb, Calame, Dvorkin)

Last night at the National Press Club, the Kalb Report (celebrating its 50th episode) convened the ombudsmen (or as host Marvin Kalb called them, “the inside/outside person of journalism who knows the good, bad and the ugly”) from the New York Times (Byron Calame), the Washington Post (Deborah Howell), PBS (Michael Getler, formerly the Post’s ombudsman) and National Public Radio (Jeffrey Dvorkin) for a discussion on their roles within their respective news organizations and the state of newspapers generally.

Kalb asked their opinion on some hot issues, from Cartoon-gate (only Michael Getler thought it appropriate to run the cartoon) to Plame-gate to the Washington Post’s story on “black sites” in Eastern Europe to the New York Times’ decision to hold James Risen’s story on NSA’s domestic surveillance.

When the discussion drifted to the actual on-the-job machinations of the four ombudsman, it was hard not to get the sense that all four ombudsmen found readers to be, well, quite a nuisance, especially the feedback generated by website driven email campaigns.

Getler: “Viewers tend to write in about one particular show and don’t take a look at the cumulative programming.”

Calame: “People see it only from their perspective.”

Howell: “Some people only want to read stories that satisfy their own beliefs.”

Dvorkin: “You know pretty quickly what is an email campaign and it gets to the point where it gets dismissed….It’s an exercise in democracy but at what point is it self-defeating?”

Calame: “I get hundreds and thousands of emails that are inspired by blogs and that are made easy by one or two clicks. Discounting those…”

Getler: “It’s hard to tell what the email campaigns really represent.”

So, I hate to break it to you MediaMatters, Media Research Center, and the rest of you: You’re largely being ignored.

More pictures and quotes after the jump…


(above, L to R: Getler, Kalb, Calame)

Dvorkin: “I worry about journalism becoming so even-handed as not to provide any context.”

Getler: (Referring to the NSA spying and “black sites” issues) “Some of these issues get turned on their head and become press issues rather than a debate about the issues.”


(above, L to R: Howell and Kalb)

Howell: “The Post is a local newspaper.”

Howell: “Neither the Times nor the Post will give up a source under pressure.”


(above: Howell)

Calame: “The trial of Libby is when the real trouble begins. Any journalist could be asked under oath in an open court any number of questions about sources.”

Dvorkin: (on why the U.S. government likes to use press coverage as a scapegoat for setbacks in military missions, i.e. Vietnam, Iraq, etc) “It’s a grand tradition and it’s worked many times in the past, so why not go with what you know?”


(above, L to R: Getler, Howell, Kalb, Calame [barely visible] and Dvorkin in forefront)

Calame: (on the decision by the New York Times to not reprint the controversal Mohammed cartoon) “It was a decision based on ‘what do our readers need?’ The description of the picture was enough. How you perceive what the reader needs is the tough part.”