There's a new case of poor (or no) fact checking by the mainstream media. This time, the culprit is CBS News, which posted a column by blogger Ben Domenech calling Solicitor General Elena Kagan "gay." Kagan is considered to be a front-runner candidate to fill the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens' spot on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The column was originally posted April 11 on Domenech's Web site, New Ledger, of which Domenech is editor-in-chief.
Domenech wrote a rumor as fact. Then CBS News took that rumor and re-posted it, clearly without fact-checking. “He heard it somewhere, he wrote it, and now with the power of CBS News behind him, his assertion has been trumpeted to the world,” Media Matters wrote.
Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post that Dan Farber, editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com, said that "Domenech's column 'just got through our filters' and that if his staff had seen 'a controversial statement like that, we'd want to get more evidence of its accuracy' before publishing it."
Kurtz reported that former White House communications director Anita Dunn said "The fact that they've chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010."
Dunn, who is working with the White House as they fill the Supreme Court vacancy, also is reported to have said that Domenech was “applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers.”
Kurtz wrote that Farber said that once the column was out there, "the better approach is just to address it head-on rather than trying to sweep it under the rug."
However, it appears the approach used by CBS News was to defend, and then to delete.
The White House told CBS News to remove the post, New York Magazine wrote. As The Washington Post reported, CBS News stood by the posting at first because it was in the opinion section. Then, once Domenech said it was a rumor – not fact, CBS News deleted the post.
Joe Gandelman wrote April 16 on The Moderate Voice that “saying that an allegation that violated traditional journalism standards is OK because it was opinion doesn’t cut it.”
Domenech used to write for The Washington Post’s Web site, but left in 2006 after allegations of previous plagiarism surfaced, as Media Matters reminded readers.
Domenech is a former Bush administration aide.
Chris Rovzar wrote in New York Magazine April 16 that the White House made what “looks like a tactical error” by getting CBS to remove the Domenech's column. Rovzar argued that Kagan's sexual orientation will be discussed by the media, and that the White House is "putting themselves in a bad position by giving this story line credit, and making their denials that she's gay a story in itself." He continues:
"At the end of the day, it's unattractive of the White House to react to someone calling Kagan gay the way they would if someone had said she did something illegal or amoral. And by doing so, they've called much more attention to the issue than they would have if they had just let a random opinion blog post on CBSNews.com stand. Are they going to go after every news outlet that alleges there's something gay about Elena Kagan? That's not going to work, and will only make the situation worse.”
Media Matters also wrote that Domenech has backed down from his original claim that Kagan is gay and called it a rumor.
Domenech, in an update to the column on his Web site, apologized to Kagan if she's offended but offered:
“But if I were her, I’d feel pretty good about the fact that the White House specifically responded to this — it seems like a clue as to who the pick will be, doesn’t it?”
In Domenech’s post, while he acknowledges that calling Kagan gay is “repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post,” he never says she’s not gay. In a piece on The Huffington Post April 16, Domenech wrote that his description of Kagan as gay was "intended to highlight a political positive."
StinkyJournalism has contacted CBS News and will post any response.