J-School Professors Gone Wild

1197472736Boston University journalism professor Chris Daly has created a firestorm after he wrote an entry on his blog that bashed a story by Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post. (Link via Romenesko.) Bacon’s story addressed the rumors that Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is Muslim. Daly took issue with the story and its writer, and in turn the media has taken issue with Daly.

Bacon’s piece, which appeared on the front page of the Post, had come under tremendous scrutiny from media watchdogs, including the Post’s own ombusdman. Daly weighed in on the matter yesterday:

I have been holding off writing about this, but I can’t avoid it any more. It pains me to see such horrendous reporting, writing, and editing in a paper I used to work for.

The front-page story by Perry Bacon Jr. connected Barrack Obama and Islam so tightly and so frequently that it really doesn’t matter what else is in there. The message was: Obama=Muslim. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And not that religion even belongs in politics.)

Daly’s criticism would have just added to the fire if not for making an issue of Bacon’s age.

Who is Perry Bacon Jr.? I don’t really know, but in two minutes of Googling him, I learned that he graduated from Yale in 2002, so he is approximately 27 years old. Since when does the Postassign 27-year-olds to write Page 1 presidential campaign pieces?

On his blog, Seth Mnookin calls Daly out for his ageist attitude.

This appears to be a good example of the maxim, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Whether or not Perry Bacon should be writing page 1 political stories is a question I can’t answer; I do, however, know that his age has absolutely nothing to do with it. To give some points of comparison:

Age at which Bob Woodward was assigned to Watergate: 29.
Age at which Carl Bernstein was assigned to cover Watergate: 28.
Age at which Charlie Savage won a Pulitzer for his investigation into President Bush’s use of “signing statements” to bypass provisions of new laws: 32.

Boston Daily called Professor Daly to get a comment, and he didn’t return our call. He did, however, write a follow-up post responding to yesterday’s brouhaha on his blog.

In my commentary on the Post’s story about Barack Obama’s religion, I intended to focus on what I consider an institutional shortcoming. I did not mean to suggest that there is some minimum age requirement for writing about national politics. As a professor of journalism, I work with dozens of talented young people every year, and I know just how capable they are. I also know that they often need guidance, backgrounding, and careful editing. I regret leaving the impression that people in their 20s are somehow inherently unqualified to cover presidential politics or anything else.

What is going on with journalism professors in this town? It seems they can’t leave campus without starting a media storm lately.