The Players: Neil Munro, reporter for The Daily Caller--a news site founded by Tucker Carlson; Jennifer Preston, Social Media Reporter for The New York Times
The Opening Serve: On Friday morning, after President Obama's call to tweet, Jennifer Preston tweeted at two White House aides asking if there was a particular Twitter hashtag that White House officials were using. Macon Phillips, the White House's new media director responded, with "#compromise" minutes later. This caught Munro's eye. Shortly before noon, and a little over an hour after Preston's tweet, his story went up. "Times's Jennifer Preston suggested that administration officials might create a hashtag," he wrote in his piece, which accuses Preston of "prompting" the White House. "So tweeting Democrats could jointly target Republicans who are now trying to pass their own debt ceiling plan." At the conclusion of Munro's brief he writes "For Preston, the entire episode is much ado about nothing, but the experience shows how easy it is to be misinterpreted in messages that are limited to 140 characters." Minutes later, the Daily Caller's Twitter feed pointed to Munro's article. "Hmmm.....New York Times reporter advises White House media staff on Twitter," it said, accompanied by the a "#media #bias" set of hashtags.
The Return Volley: The story of Preston's perceived advisement caught fire. Drudge Report linked to Munro's story, Fox News ran "New York Times Helps Obama Alinsky Republicans on Twitter" as a headline and Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times wrote "A New York Times reporter this morning offered White House communications folks an unsolicited tip on using Twitter to drive improved public support for President Obama's stance in the debt ceiling negotiations. And within minutes they took it."
Erik Wemple, of the Washington Post, defended Preston. "Daily Caller cheap-shots the New York Times..." his headline reads. "Yes, it’s possible that the White House hadn’t considered what hashtag to push out there," he wrote. "It’s also possible that Preston’s tweet awoke staffers to that omission. If so, that’s not Preston’s fault. Politicians and their aides are allowed to be edified by a reporter’s smart inquiry."
This morning Preston issued a defense of her tweets. "As the social media reporter at The New York Times, I use hashtags to set up streams on Tweetdeck to follow the conversation on important news events," she wrote. "After President Obama asked people to use Twitter to contact lawmakers about the debt ceiling on Friday, I needed to find out what hashtag to follow." She points out that she didn't suggest any hashtags, and asked the White House aides like she had asked everyone in her Twitter circle. She also questioned Munro's fluency as a social media reporter. "Mr. Munro's uninformed knowledge of Twitter not only questioned my integrity but unleashed a torrent of ugly attacks from right-wing and conservative Twitter users," she wrote. Preston recalled a conversation with Munro's editor the day the story was published: "[Munro's immediate editor]Dave (I can't remember last name) who sounded very nice on the phone, apologetic even, told me that he would correct the Daily Caller story," she wrote. "He acknowledged his reporter was not familiar with Twitter and that might have been the problem here. I also alerted Andrew Malcolm of the LA Times on Twitter and via email that he got it wrong. Meanwhile, the damage was done."
What They Say They're Fighting About: If The New York Times showed a bias and advised the White House. Munro argues that Preston's question was a suggestion, and that White House staffers needed the nudge from Preston to organize Obama's call to tweet. Munro's broader suggestion is that Preston's transgression is just another example of media bias at The New York Times. Preston argues it's her job as a social media reporter to ask questions and that Twitter is her pressroom. Preston wrote that she "can't think of any other reason [behind Munro's article]--except to take a cheap shot, as the Washington Post reported."
What They're Really Fighting About: Their jobs. Both Preston and Munro feel the other is lacking when it comes to being journalists. Munro thinks that Preston's tweets stray into interfering with the stories she covers. Preston believes Munro's inaccuracies and lack of knowledge on the topics he's reporting make him an irresponsible journalist.
Who's Winning Now: Preston, but it's a slight and perhaps hollow victory. The key factor here is the conversation between Preston and Munro's editor. Munro's editor acknowledges that there is a problem and admits his reporter may not have been fully comfortable with the subject or language he was reporting. Munro himself says how easy it is to misinterpret 140 character messages. That's problematic, especially since the charges handed out by Munro weren't light. While Preston's defense is solid and holds up to Munro's accusations, most of the damage is already done.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.