WaPo’s new rule of journalism?


November 17, 2009

The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray (11/17/09) wrote a profile of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D.-Ark.) as one of the Democratic senators most likely to break with the rest of the party on healthcare reform. The article seemed to invert the advice Deep Throat once gave to the Post’s Woodward and Bernstein into a new rule: Don’t follow the money.

Headlined “A Centrist in Healthcare Debate, Lincoln Hears It From All Sides,” the piece presented Lincoln’s stance as something of a puzzle: “Hundreds of thousands of Lincoln’s constituents are low-income and lack insurance, the very kind of voters expected to benefit under the Senate bill.”

Murray described the senator as facing a dilemma:

The low-profile centrist is being pressed by both sides. Democratic activists are incensed that she has turned against the public option, an idea she once supported. Republicans are casting her cautious approach to the healthcare debate in starkly political terms, saying that she is unwilling to put local interests above those of a president who lost the state by a resounding 20 percentage points.
She even acknowledged the forces lining up against the politician:
In the process, Lincoln has riled liberal groups including MoveOn.org, which is targeting her with radio ads, direct mail and rallies outside two of her Arkansas offices. Perhaps more ominously, MoveOn–working with the liberal group Democracy for America–has amassed $3.5 million in pledges to fund primary challenges against any Democratic senator who sides with Republicans to block an up-or-down vote on a bill with a public option.
That would seem to raise another question: Who’s keeping her IN power? The Center for Responsive Politics has some background on that from the second quarter of this year–information the Post apparently doesn’t consider important:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has brought in the most from the health sector so far this year at $394,400, followed by Senate Finance Committee member Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who collected $324,350, and former Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who brought in $266,100. All three senators are up for re-election in 2010.
Of all the lawmakers on the five committees debating healthcare reform, Lincoln has brought in by far the most money from the healthcare sector–26 percent more than the runner-up, Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), who took in $257,400. For the 2005-10 election cycle, the healthcare sector has been Lincoln’s most generous source of support, giving her a total of $763,000 from individuals and political action committees.
The Watergate-era lesson to “follow the money” is supposedly part of modern journalistic culture–a motto of the savvy journalist who understands that large amounts of money have the power to influence people’s behavior. But as FAIR’s magazine Extra! recently showed (11/09), coverage of healthcare reform in the corporate media has generally failed to document the links between industry largesse and the political maneuvers of “centrist” Democrats like Blanche Lincoln. If the newspaper that got the message directly from Deep Throat doesn’t follow his advice, who else will?

Ask Washington Post ombud Andy Alexander why the paper’s November 17 profile of Sen. Blanche Lincoln, which focused on her position on healthcare reform, neglected to mention Lincoln’s financial support from the healthcare industry.

Washington Post
Andy Alexander, Ombud