Unethical Quote of the Week: Yahoo Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian

“[Mitt Romney and the GOP] are happy to have a party with black people drowning.”

Yahoo! Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian, caught on an open mike during the Republican National Convention and broadcast live. Chalian was promptly fired.

I didn’t believe it, to be honest. When I stumbled upon Rush Limbaugh ranting about how the broadcast media was trying to make the case that the Republicans should cancel their convention because of Hurricane Isaac heading to Louisiana, that it was callous and insensitive for them not to, I thought Rush was having one of his increasingly frequent paranoid moments. Yet incredibly, he was not. I personally heard the theme echoed on ABC, on CNN, on NBC and, of course on MSNBC, the latter repeatedly. How “awkward” it was going to be for the GOP to be “having a party” while people were again suffering in New Orleans. How hard it was going to be to explain, how “bad it would look.” Then came Chalian’s gaffe, which was, it is clear, not a sudden Pazuzu moment, but a symptomatic one, as he felt comfortable enough in a thoroughly hateful anti-Republican media culture to make his absurd and insulting comment.

In addition to being shameless and totally unwarranted race-baiting, Chalian’s comment and the media’s “The GOP is playing while people suffer” theme is certifiably ignorant. Organizations work, and work hard at conventions. There are parties, yes, but more crucial work gets done at organizational conventions than at any other time of the year, because everyone important is in close proximity. I have run conventions and participated in them, and one convention week accomplishes more of substance than any four months of the year.

A political party’s convention, held only every four years, is more essential yet. It sets agendas, organizes the troops, clarifies mission and strategy, and, of course, is a critical public relations vehicle that is irreplaceable. No organization cancels its convention, which requires a year of planning or more…for anything. I ran a convention for a large association that was begun right after the beginning of Desert Storm. We all flew to the convention site with terrorist threats at high levels, scared out of our wits, ready to be blown out of the sky. People were being killed in battle by bombs and guns as we landed. Yet the organization didn’t even discuss or consider cancelling or postponing the convention. No organization would. The costs to the organization, financial and otherwise, would be devastating. You can’t reschedule such a huge event: there are issues of venues, accommodations and the schedules of very busy people. It cannot be done, and it shouldn’t be done.

So why is the news media beating the drums, insinuating that there is something mean and unseemly about the Republicans not cancelling a Tampa convention because of what was happening in New Orleans? There are two possible answers. One is that these people are unimaginably naive and stupid, and really don’t understand conventions or how organizations work. They really do think a convention is all fun and games. If that is true, then broadcast journalists are so jaw-droppingly incompetent and incapable of informing the public that they are a genuine menace to the civic health of the nation. The other alternative is that  the broadcast media is desperate to tilt the election to the Democrats, and are throwing all caution to the wind, trying any tactic imaginable, even ridiculous ones, to place Republicans and Mitt Romney in a bad light.

My guess is that both are true, because neither makes any sense without the other. Can anyone qualified to report or comment on the news also be so stupid as to sincerely and objectively believe that the Republicans should cancel their convention because of a hurricane elsewhere? President Obama has continued campaigning and making speeches during Isaac without criticism. Major League Baseball is playing all its games; the NFL’s exhibition contests are going on; CBS is running “Big Bang Theory”; NBC is showing jugglers and dancers on “America’s Got Talent;” Jay, Conan, Dave and (yuck) Jimmy are still making jokes on late night TV; Jon Stewart hasn’t shut it down; I haven’t, you haven’t—but somehow the Republican Party is morally obligated to cripple itself before a national election while having no effect on the hurricane or the residents of New Orleans whatsoever. This idea is too moronic to take root without a heavy, heavy boost from the fertilizer of bias. Journalists like Chalian hate the Republicans so much that they have been lobotomized by confirmation bias. Yes, the convention is continuing only because Romney and the GOP hate black people. Of course!

If you think Chalian’s sentiment was an aberration, you haven’t been paying attention. Sure enough, one of Obama’s most shameless shills in the media, PBS’s Gwen Ifill, immediately tweeted her support:

Really? If a Fox journalist had made a racist comment that was similarly overheard, would Ifill be so forgiving? Would  Ifill  really be stooping to the “one mistake” excuse, one of the most desperate and transparent of the rationalizations for wrongdoing, the straw of last resort for defenders of Bill Clinton, molesting Catholic priests, Joe Paterno and Todd Akin, if the target of Chalian’s slander wasn’t Mitt Romney, but, heaven forbid, the hero of Ifill’s own book, Barack Obama? The man she calls “God’s gift to political journalism” shows he is biased to the core—and she shrugs it off? Fascinating. What does that say about the state of political journalism? About Ifill’s standards of fairness and objectivity? And what does #IStandwithDavid mean, in this context?  Does Ifill “Stand with David” on his race-baiting?  That’s how it reads to me. If NPR had any integrity or was properly concerned with its own reputation for fairness, it would fire Ifill too.

Chalian’s mistake was more than a mistake. It was a smoking gun, and not the first. I mean this sincerely: I don’t know why any American, right or left, Democrat or Republican, is willing to tolerate the sick and vicious level of anti-Republican bias poisoning coverage of the 2012 election at all levels. It threatens the integrity of our democracy by dividing and misleading us all. And it will only stop when good and fair people stop defending or denying it.


Facts: Boston.com

Source: NJ 101.5

Graphic: 3.bp

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

8 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Yahoo Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian

  1. Jack, this is a devastating critique. Too bad we won’t see it in the New York Times or Washington Post, or among the outlets most afflicted by anti-Republicanism.

    I wonder what the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would have said about the incident were he alive today? My suspicion is he would have rejected it forcefully. At least, I choose to believe that.

    Alas, we can only speculate about that.

        • Wackaloon definitely sounds crisp and crunchy. With maybe some sweetened, flaked and toasted coconut added.

          “…too moronic to take root without a heavy, heavy boost from the fertilizer of bias. Journalists like Chalian hate the Republicans so much that they have been lobotomized by confirmation bias.” SO well said! I’ll probably be laughing over and over for the rest of the day, thanks to that. No wonder why Limbaugh can tie half his brain behind his back, just to make it fair (another laugher, but for other [but not entirely dissimilar] reasons).

          Last report I saw, there’s been one death due to Hurricane Isaac. Guess we’ll have to wait and see what the victim’s skin color was…

  2. “thoroughly hateful anti-Republican media culture to make his absurd and insulting comment”

    …that’s a fairly unethical remark. Really it depends on who you watch. I suspect you wouldn’t similarly lambast Fox et. al. for a ” thoroughly hateful anti-Democrat media culture”.

    The real ethical issue to be debated is that there are a nontrivial number of media outlets that can be clearly defined as overwhelmingly Republican or Democrat. The fact-choosing, skewed reporting and presentational bias that results on all sides of the media presents a systemic threat to the ability of politicians in this country to know that they act with integrity, balancing multiple polarised viewpoints moving forward, as opposed to being consistently told by the press to which the choose to subscribe that they represent the one true light.

    • Your comment is too forgiving, and the claim that there is anything approaching balance in the media on this score is an example of what my post described. Address Ifill’s tweet, for example. The trope about the GOP partying while New Orleans sank appeared on at least four networks while I was watching them, which belies your attempt to accuse me of selective observation. Once outlet, MSCNBC, literally dedicated its entire convention coverage to its theory that Republicans are racist, even establishing a new low by cutting away from every minority speaker at the convention prior to Condi Rice. Fox’s transgressions I address elsewhere—we’ll see how they cover the Democrats. But the network’s “fair and balanced” tongue and cheek motto still rings true—if NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR refuse to be fair and objective while claiming otherwise, Fox’s clear skew to the right is arguably justified.

      The total effect, however, as you say, leaves integrity in the dust.

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