How not to respond to criticism

Here is a journalist with 20 years experience illustrating how not to respond to criticism.  The email is so bad that one might think he was either drunk or it was written by an impostor.  Here's the story.  Greenwald wrote a post on his blog, Unclaimed Territory, about the fawning tone of CNN correspondent John King's interview of John McCain.  You can read that here (it's short), but here's a sample question:

* KING: As you know, one of the issues you have had here in South Carolina in the past is either people don't understand your social conservative record or they're not willing to concede your social conservative record. There's a mailing that hit South Carolina homes yesterday. It's a picture of you and Cindy on the front. It says "Always pro-life, 24-year record." Why do you think you still, after all this time, have to convince these people, "I have been with you from the beginning"?

I'm sure you get the idea.  Not exactly critical journalism (follow Greenwald's links for more).  Here below is John King's response.  For the sake of clarity, I'll insert comments in brackets (courtesy of Glenn Greenwald)

From: King, John C


Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM

Subject: excuse me? [a more neutral subject heading–e.g., response to your blogpost]

I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game. [this is somewhat self-contradictory: either the post was not "biased uninformed drivel" (and so not worthy of the charge) or he does read bias uniformed drivel.  In either case, that's a pretty serious compound charge–biased and uninformed.  One is sufficient for dismissal.

But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings. [Now they're "ramblings"–biased uninformed drivel ramblings–that's four insults]

Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe you forgot that good lawyers to a little research before they spit out words. [The site says Greenwald is a lawyer]

Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.) [Notice how King responds to his own rhetorical question.  Aside from that, it's irrelevant to the criticism.  Besides, it suggests that King agrees with Greenwald about the fawning tone of the questions and suggests that CNN edited it to appear that way].

Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No. [More extra-textual irrelevance].

Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No. [He now seems to be conceding the point.  Besides, fawning questions to the other candidates would only reinforce the point that they're not real questions.  Asking fake questions to other candidates doesn't make them any less fake].

Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No. [So he definitely agrees, but thinks Greenwald has been unfair–there's a context that explains it].

McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years. [So these are not contentious questions.  But King, an ad hominizer, sees others as he sees himself–attacking the person.  His having asked "contentious" questions in the past doesn't make, however, the questions of the other day any less silly].

But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test. [Now he really misunderstands the nature of the criticism.  And again it's ad hominem: He suggests Greenwald wants him to ask mean, irrelevant questions about McCain's childhood.  If that is King's sense of a real journalistic question, then it's worse than Greenwald suggests].

The interview was mainly to get a couple of questions to him on his thoughts on the role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates. [Like in comedy, it's not funny if you have to explain it–unless you make the explanation funny–which this isn't.  I think.].

The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs — so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity. [It's always nice to have someone point out your rights.  I find it difficult, however, to follow King's point.  He agrees (or seems to agree) that questions he asked were soft balls, and that they were made a public document, but he charges that because Greenwald did not examine the non-public aspects of the interview (including the journalist's personal history of skepticism regarding McCain), that the analysis is wrong.  That seems really messed up, to put it bluntly.  CNN hires journalists, pays them to ask questions, and then airs the segment.  But we the viewing public are supposed to consider all of the things in the interview that were not aired before we draw any conclusions.  That just seems to undermine the whole point of airing the interview in the first place.] 

You clearly know very little about journalism. But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective. [Another irrelevant ad hominem coupled with an auto-pro-homine: an "I'm awesome and you're jerk."]

That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV. [Ah yes.  You're just saying that because–the ad hominem circumstantial.  You don't have reasons for what you say, you just say that to get noticed!]

The truly silly thing about this response is that King never challenges any one of Greenwald's points.  He concedes them in fact,  repeatedly, and from several different angles, but he alleges that Greenwald is a jerk for not knowing that no one is supposed to take King's work seriously.  This reminds me of something Krusty the Clown said when he was running for Congress: when you react like that (to his racist jokes) it means he was kidding.


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