Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jake Wagman Fails As a Reporter

During the elections, I was mildly critical of Jake Wagman's puppy love of Ed Martin and unprofessional vendetta against Congressman Russ Carnahan. But after seeing his pattern of lazily reprinting Ed Martin press releases continue even after the election, it's now obvious that Wagman can no longer be considered a trustworthy source of information. Wagman's bias combined with the fact that he really just does not work very hard at his job creates a putrid mix: people who rely on him for news will for all practical purposes be less informed than those who ignore the Post-Dispatch entirely, because they'll be getting their information through a filter that's too blinded to get both sides and too lazy to check facts. I saw Wagman on election night and he told me that he doesn't take any criticism personally because it's just part of the business. He's right. It's not personal. He's just a bad reporter.

The latest example of Wagman's desperate plea for approval from "cool kid" Ed Martin is his "report" (read: paraphrasing what Ed Martin told him on the phone) about the security firm hired by the St. Louis City Board of Elections. The story is that a security firm hired by the Democratic chairman of the board was not voted on by the rest of the board, and that other members had complained about the decision. Now, this certainly seems like a reasonable news story and there's nothing wrong with passing this info on to the public (although it's an interesting choice considering just how much important information floats by Wagman as he's "busy" tweeting about the Cardinals and writing his 1 or 2 blog posts a day). But what's particularly defective about the story is the information that Wagman leaves out, which naturally plays into Ed Martin's story of a "cheated election." Wagman starts off his article with a false dichotomy:
When Republican congressional hopeful Ed Martin complained that the St. Louis Board of Elections hired a security firm that had worked for his opponent, it was easy to dismiss his concern as sour grapes by a candidate who lost a close election.

But e-mails obtained by the Post-Dispatch show that the chairman of the Election Board, a Democrat, hired the firm despite the objections of other board members, including a warning about the perception of a conflict of interest.
Actually, Ed Martin knew on Wednesday, November 3rd, that there were not enough disputed votes to change the election results, but he nevertheless refused to concede until the following Monday. So whether or not there was a dispute about hiring someone at the Election Board, it clearly was "sour grapes" for Ed Martin to wait a full week to concede, while sending out his tea party followers to scream "Voter Fraud!" and "Stolen election!" and generally to try to create the impression that something was untoward about the election (BTW, Wagman was also too lazy to note that the exact same people screaming outside of the Board of Elections were the Ed Martin supporters at his press conference). But more importantly, the fact is that two people in plain clothes "hanging out in the lobby" (which is all that's alleged) obviously had nothing to do with the outcome of an election that Carnahan won by 4,500 votes. Yet nowhere in Jake Wagman's article does he mention that this had no bearing on the election results, which is what Ed Martin was implying from the beginning.

Furthermore, compare Wagman's breathless "reporting" on Ed Martin's pet story with an election where one might actually have reason to question the results. Democratic State Senate candidate Barbara Fraser lost by less than 180 votes, while Washington University students in that district were apparently illegally purged from voter rolls and denied provisional ballots. The St. Louis Beacon reported on this. The local public radio reported on this. But Jake Wagman was too busy tweeting about the Cardinals. Or maybe Barbara Fraser just didn't seem "cool" enough for him. Either way, the fact remains that while Wagman pushed Ed Martin's bogus "voter fraud" story in an election that was decided by 4,500 votes, he completely ignored an election decided by 180 votes with numerous reports of disenfranchised voters.

Now, I suspect Wagman is the type of reporter who'd rather repeat the beltway tripe that "if you're getting criticism from both sides you must be doing a good job" than actually honestly consider any criticism. In fact, he'd probably use my criticism to try to pretend how objective he is. But if he does subscribe to that view, then what does it say about him that the St. Louis Tea Party (which says that the NAACP is "racist," that NPR needs to be defunded, that Fox News, Andrew Breitbart, and James O'Keefe are "objective journalists," etc.) has had nothing but glowing praise for Wagman for the past two months of election coverage? Consider:

Honestly, if you go two months of election coverage getting nonstop praise from a tea party that bases its whole philosophy on the Andrew Breitbart/ James O'Keefe model, you might want to reconsider your standing as a journalist. And there are so many other examples of Wagman's bias in this past election. He refused to ask Ed Martin certain questions, even when Charlie Brennan noted that Martin was being evasive. He didn't get quotes from the Carnahan campaign and from Democratic officials on many occasions. He would refuse contact from Democratic officials on multiple occasions. He wouldn't bother to get quotes from relevant parties during smear pieces on Carnahan. He refused to ask how the tea party was funded. He refused to ask what role St. Louisan John Burns played in James O'Keefe's plan to sexually humiliate a CNN reporter. He was too lazy to point out the St. Louis Tea Party's support of Roy Blunt, reported by his own colleague Tony Messenger, or to point out that their "criticism" of Blunt lasted approximately 2 days, exactly as much time as it took to get written up in the Post-Dispatch. And on...and on....and on.

Now, just to be clear, it's not quite as simple as saying that Wagman has a "Right-wing bias." In fact, Wagman has Democratic politicians he sucks up to just as much as Martin. His main criteria seems to be trying to impress the members of the good old boys club. But this sucking up to power comes at the expense of good journalism, and prevents him from doing the kind of honest reporting that is needed for a well-functioning democracy.

I realize that it's not a great idea to be so critical of a reporter at the only major daily newspaper in town. However, sometimes it's better to get things out in the open that many people are willing to say only in private. The reality is that Jake Wagman does not do a adequate job covering politics. St. Louis deserves better.


  1. You called Wagman on the carpet. Its war now! great job.

  2. It's not a great idea to be critical of a reporter at the only paper in town? It's a GREAT idea. Wagman is an epic fail of a reporter. Red Herriings do not equal good journalism skills.