Melinda Henneberger Takes the Blogosphere to SCHOOL!


Politics Daily Editor in Chief Melinda Henneberger has further broken her silence on my firing, and given us all a valuable lesson in journalism versus blogging in the process:

Levi Johnston has told GQ Magazine that First Dude Todd Palin offered to buy his daughter Bristol a car in exchange for dumping him. (The story does not say whether we’re talking Maserati or Sebring Sedan here. Or whether young Bristol collected when they did break up, though since they’re still exchanging flirty test-messages, probably not.

Oops, that’s not the right story, but I am dying to find out what a “flirty test message” is.

No, here it is:

Playboy, Tommy Christopher, and the Lessons of Traditional Journalistic Values

That’s the title. You have to keep reading to find out about the traditional journalistic values.  Here’s one of them, following her first-person reporting on my firing:

What I’ve learned from this incident is that you can’t leave even the most outlandish untruths unanswered. But there are larger lessons to be absorbed. The founding principle of Politics Daily is to do old-school journalism in a sustainable format — old-school as in verifying facts prior to publication.

She’s referring to blogs that have covered this story, like Newsbusters and Huffington Post, but also, I guess, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, US News, and USA Today. She goes on to talk about the difference between “traditional journalists” like herself, and the factless bloglodytes that populate the interweb, like Newsbusters and HuffPo.

I agree, you should have all of the facts prior to publication, which is why she should have contacted Steve Gutowski at Newsbusters before publishing hers.  He really seems to have done his homework.  I expect Jason Linkins at HuffPo will also endeavor to help Melinda out with her fact-checking.

If you want to read about the lies and factual errors in her piece, click here for Newsbusters’ thorough report.  I prefer to challenge this notion that bloggers are somehow inherently inferior to “traditional journalists.”

A prime example, of course, is Steve Gutowski’s very well-reported story about Henneberger and me.  Off the top of my head, I would point to Ed Morrissey’s coverage of the “Adscam” story, and my own work as a White house reporter.  While I can’t hold a candle to Lynn Sweet and Carl Cannon in terms of experience, I’ll put my record of challenging Obama’s White House up against anyone’s.  Well, almost anyone’s.

That brings me to the subject of a traditional journalist who really gets this whole “blogging” thing, Jake Tapper. He realizes that it’s not enough to put a newspaper article or TV transcript into the series of tubes and call yourself “new media.”  Blogging enhances his reporting, and vice-versa.

As for breaking the big stories, a blogger from Huffington Post broke, arguably, the biggest story of the 2008 campaign.  A mere citizen journalist, no less.  The “bitter gun-clinging” story made a real dent in candidate Obama at a really bad time.  I would also point to the dogged legwork by Caleb Howe to exonerate The History Channel in the Clio Awards fiasco.

Another Huffington Post blogger, Lee Stranahan, was way ahead of traditional journalists on the John Edwards affair, and got pilloried for his trouble.  What did Melinda’s keen journalistic instincts tell her?

I think that’s how a lot of us felt, too, that particularly at a time when resources across the industry are being slashed to the bone, this didn’t seem like a high priority. I still think that’s true—but I also think John Edwards should have known the story would come out and spared his family and his party the embarrassment—and potentially, the loss of the White House.

The fact is, there are also blogs that do sloppy, fact free work, and traditional journalists who do the same.  You have to judge each case on its merits.

I think Melinda sums it up best in the closing sentence of her piece:

We intend to raise the bar on standards on the web, and this incident reinforces both how important that goal is, and all that we’re up against.

Wait, was that her way of resigning?


  1. Tommy, I have always thought, you were a very old fashioned reporter, you always got the facts. Also, I knew I could get to your point of view, on any story that was getting hot, and get the facts, you debunked so many things, I cannot even count them anymore. I knew I could count on you, to set the stort straight. Thing is, that will not change for you, only where you choose to bring such things to light has changed. I really don’t get the reasoning behind off of this firing stuff, it seems a bit askew to me, her reasons that is, to me..this is just one party taking over, and them wanting their horses in the race, been there done that many times, it happens to us artsyfartsy types.

    Im just very disappointed, that all things come to an end, and so does AOL and their political blogs, before, it seemed like people, sharing their knowledge and bringing that to others. Now, it just seems cold, sterile and bland, nothing exciting in that.

    Keep up the good work, it will happen for you no matter where you end up, something better will come of all of this, it always does.

  2. Thanks, Michelle. I won’t ever forget my longest-term, most loyal readers.

  3. …what the crap??

    I read a lot of words that Melinda typed, and I’m not getting any substance from them. It’s all air and puff.

    What I’ve learned from this incident is that you can’t leave even the most outlandish untruths unanswered. But there are larger lessons to be absorbed. The founding principle of Politics Daily is to do old-school journalism in a sustainable format — old-school as in verifying facts prior to publication.

    …implying as this does that the fact that the Playboy piece was scum and degrading and offensive to women in general was something that needed to be verified rather than obvious, and also that you do not check facts, in the same paragraph? I changed my mind, this is some brilliant shit. I’ll have what she’s smoking. And make mine a double.

    Not sure if that made sense, I’ve been on trains all day and my brain might still be located in New York.

  4. […] Tommy Christopher picks up the glove: […]

  5. Tommy,

    I am new to your work.

    I would like to recommend that you leave the issue alone and let others do the reporting on Ms. Hennenberger.

    You are a good writer and will get a new position, in the meantime go file for unemployment, which you earned. This will give you 9-12 months of support that will give you time to find a good place to use your talent.

    With the current development of blogsphere, you will find a place. But if you continue to beef with your previous employer, it will reflect badly on you. I can relate to the feelings that you have, but be the bigger person and move on and show your new readers that you are a good reporter on the serious issues that concern the world away from AOL.

    You are a proven star that can attract readers to your work, by your work. Please leave the drama to lesser people.

  6. You should blog it out tomorrow, Alex. Hope I see you in DC this week, Thurs and Fri.

  7. Those test-messages always give me a my-brain headache.

  8. BTW, blogfights always draw the biggest crowd.
    Nasty business, blogging for money.

  9. Randy would have a good point if this were a few years ago and that is great EMPLOYEE advice, but there is more to this than Tommys firing. Anybody can suck up to an employer. Besides, in her nicey nice way she hit back hard and lied and obfuscated through the whole piece

    Here is the comment I left on her article in the form that I sent to her personally.

    Hi Melinda
    In case you don’t read the comments left on your articles I thought I’d send this directly. I rarely break character and to tell you the truth I’m sick as hell of politics after that long presidential campaign, but I feel that this is too important to ignore. I keep trying to get out but man, it keeps dragging me back in. Here’s the comment:

    Hi Everybody!
    You know me as TFitz, the semi famously snotty sarcastic satirist. That’s been great, but let me step out of that role for just a moment so we can have a serious talk about an issue that I find troubling.This runs a bit long, but I ask you to please stick it out and read it through.

    Journalism has been the regulator of our republican democracy since its’ inception. Newspaper writers have done a good job at seeing that our government toes the line and follows the same laws that it expects you and I, its’ citizens, to follow. It hasn’t always worked, but I would hate to think of what our country could have become without our free press. However, over the course of the last decade or so we have seen some problems with this arrangement. You see, newspapers need access to their news sources and that access isn’t always so easy to come by. These last few years though have seen the balance go completely over to the governments side of the scale. Journalists who cooperated were the only ones allowed this access.
    The effect of this was that the government actually got to write the stories that were published about its’ own activities. In this way they were able to push patently false information through the pipe line with nobody knowing any better. It worked like this: Cheney calls Judy Miller and tips her to a juicy story. Judy needs things to write stories about that are more ‘exclusive’ than her competing journalists and she also knows that if she doesn’t cooperate with Cheney she will lose access to both him and the White House. Judy writes up the info and attributes it to a ‘knowledgeable source’ or ‘highly placed official’. The Times runs the story, happy that Judy has this ‘exclusive scoop’. The next day, Cheney goes on Meet the Press and tells them that he’s quite concerned about this story that he’s read in the NY Times. He uses this story, which he fabricated and planted in the first place, to justify actions his administration takes. In Judys’ case (and in the case of many other journalists) it was the invasion of a country that committed none of the actual offenses that Cheney had charged them with. We are all familiar with what happened. Over 4,000 American men and women killed, who knows how many Iraqi civilians killed or maimed, our countrys’ reputation ruined by horrific tales of torture, kidnapping, and even the rape of women and men (please, please let that story of those children be false) by service men and women and employees and contractors of the United States. The result of this orchestration left our country in the worst crisis of my lifetime, our beloved constitution in tatters, and the morale of its citizens at an all time low. We might someday recover from this entirely, but it won’t be for many, many years.
    As I mentioned at the outset, journalists have been keeping an eye on the workings of our government from its inception. Today we face this question; who is watching the journalists? At AOL at least, you have your answer. It’s Melinda Henneberger and all of her old friends and colleagues from the New York Times.
    I know this ran a bit long. I thank you for your time.

    Thanks for reading.

    Tom Fitzsimmons

  10. Oh yeah. That ‘test messages’ thing is pretty embarrassing. I can’t imagine how she couldn’t possibly understand that it’s ‘text’. Perhaps she was thinking ‘test’ as in ‘test tube’ as in ‘internet test tube’. You know, something you have to run through to make sure your internet tubes are clear for sending one of those emails.

  11. Aww, T, there was only one “test-message” in the article. Typo.

  12. […] Earlier this morning, I had an opportunity to talk with Melinda Henneberger, AOL Politics Daily’s editor, over the controversy surrounding the site’s abrupt removal of an article critical of Playboy’s widely-reviled piece on conservative women and the firing of writer Tommy Christopher immediately afterwards.  Henneberger responded this weekend by denying that Christopher got fired strictly because of the article.  She also criticized the response of the blogosphere in not attempting to get AOL’s side of the story before launching near-universal condemnation, to which Newsbusters responded in detail on both charges, as did Tommy. […]

  13. Uh, Melinda, remember the old saying “the customer is always right”? Once AOL’s spum you’ll need to think about it. Hard.

    Just so you know….

  14. Mr. Christopher,

    I don’t agree with probably 99% of what you write, but I find your articles entertaining. I find the censorship and your firing appalling. I am sorry that this has happened to you.

  15. Tommy,

    Glad to see you made the hypocrisy connection concerning those at Politics Daily. You are witnessing the continuing takeover of the media by those with an agenda that is designed to benefit only Obama and his administration. Censorship is the order of the day.

    Your Playboy article denounced extemely hateful behavior towards women. Shouldn’t that have been applauded? Yes, but only if the women defiled were liberals.

    There was an obvious omission at PD of any mention of the Muslim convert murdering the US soldier. Shouldn’t this have warranted a few words of concern and sorrow? Yes, but only if it wasn’t such a distraction from Obama’s quest to woo the Muslim world.

    Just when you think the bias couldn’t be more blatantly obvious, it is.

  16. I haven’t said too much on this whole subject–at least I don’t think I have. But, I am going to completely agree with Bob’s comment there about “the customer is always right?”

    Although I give Ms. Henneberger the benefit of the doubt in the explanation she posted on PD yesterday regarding this matter (I simply have been given no concrete proof to do otherwise)–her explanation is one thing, her marketing/sales strategy is whole different ball game.

    As an executive who has the final word in a corporate decision, I am aware that sometimes those I put in charge of ‘sales’ and/or ‘marketing’ sometimes error in their decisions, and sometimes those erroneous and costly decisions result (due to losses of sales) in my decision to terminate that employee. Ms. Henneberger is not the topdog at AOL–and it remains to be seen how her decision to let go Tommy and the others pans out, from a marketing/sales viewpoint that is.

  17. Ohhhh yeah. Gonna blog it out like Usher. (But tastefully.)

    Thurs and Fri? Cool. 🙂

  18. Just another reason why I’m disgusted about all of this.

  19. […] this point things get fuzzy, with charges and countercharges a-flyin’.  Henneberger’s assertion is that Christopher’s dismissal had […]

  20. […] Daily Editor-in-Chief Melinda Henneberger wrote an entire treatise on traditional media’s awesomeness, and blogging’s converse shittiness, while trying to […]

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