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Lame but not crazy too

How does a member of the mainstream media report on the bizarre spectacle of Rachel Maddow’s latest attack on the Koch brothers? John lucidly exposed Maddow’s attack as a bizarre piece of fiction in “Rachel Maddow is crazy, too.” One of the virtues of John’s post is that one comes away with a deeper understanding of important phenomena: MSNBC, a certified left-wing media star (Maddow), the Democrats’ war on the Koch brothers, the crossover between the mainstream left and the sick left, and the institutional support for Democratic talking points.

I’ve been curious to see whether the mainstream media would itself take a look at the story and what MSNBC would have to say when asked. So far as I am aware, the story has generally been greeted with a discreet silence, with the exception of Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple. Wemple turns to the story in the long post “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow hunkers down on Koch Bros. Claim.”

Wemple holds himself out as hosting “a reported opinion blog on news media.” His Maddow post follows a traditional reported format, withholding his own opinion and leaving the conclusion somewhat in doubt. He adds an update, for example, asserting that the connection alleged by Maddow between the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability and the Koch brothers is “tenuous,” which is almost right. He’s getting there. He’s close.

Deep into His post, Wemple circles in:

Important distinction: Maddow didn’t allege that the Kochs pushed for the Florida law. She merely stated that a Koch-affiliated group did so. But just how affiliated are the FGA and the Koch brothers? Melissa Cohlmia, director of corporate communication for Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, says that “Koch has not contributed to the Foundation for Government Accountability. We have had no involvement whatsoever with FGA or the Florida law.”

The Maddow show’s bridge between the FGA and the Koch brothers comes from the State Policy Network (SPN), a group that supports “state-focused think tanks that promote and safeguard the principles of limited government, rule of law, property rights, personal freedom and economic liberty.” According to Cohlmia, the Kochs have given SPN a total of $40,000 spread out over five years between 2002 and 2012. In turn, SPN has worked with FGA. “Ms. Maddow makes a giant leap if that’s the connection she’s pointing to,” says Bragdon.

As NewsBusters’ Noel Sheppard has noted, Maddow didn’t treat her readers to an explication [sic] of just how she made the connection between FGA, SPN and Koch. Salon reported last year that Comcast has contributed to SPN, which might just make the FGA a “Comcast-affiliated group.” Comcast is the parent company of MSNBC.

So where does Wemple come out? He doesn’t quite say. He does, however, show us his reportorial inquisitiveness:

The Erik Wemple Blog has presented MSNBC with questions on this matter: What’s the standard for calling a group “Koch-affiliated”? Is it any free-market, libertarian or conservative interest group? Is it any group that has a first- or second-generation funding or affiliation relationship with some Koch entity? Or is it a more strict standard? Holden notes that David Koch has given generously to the Lincoln Center, as well as to the Smithsonian. “Are they Koch groups?” asks [Koch general counsel Mark] Holden. “Where does it end?”

It is a virtue of Wemple’s post that he lets us hear from Holden/Koch. Indeed, his post is framed around Holden. But what is Wemple’s judgement? C’mon, man, you’re hosting a blog. What’s your opinion? Why so shy?

Wemple gives the intelligent reader sufficient information to draw his own conclusions, but we come to a blog for a little bit more than the he said/she said routine. Over at the Weekly Standard, the Scrapbook shows how it’s done in “MSNBCrazy”: “At this point, expecting a modicum of integrity from anyone at MSNBC is probably expecting too much.”

Two more elements of Wemple’s post reflect the standard reportorial routine, but they have their own bite in this context. Wemple answers my question about what MSNBC would have to say when asked: “Attempts to get comment from MSNBC were unsuccessful.” And he concludes his post with the obligatory parenthetical: “(Disclosure: Maddow is a monthly Post columnist).” Which kind of says it all.

UPDATE: PunditFact weighs in here.

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