Meet Frances Martel, former College Republican, trailblazing sports writer, and the young reporter who single-handedly damaged a nascent new media brand. Martel’s breathless rush to reprint a tabloid rumor about President Obama would be bad enough on TMZ (which by the way didn’t bite,) but this time, the site that grabbed the “scoop” is run by a respected legal analyst who used to be the news boss at MSNBC.
Mediaite editor Colby Hall and founder Dan Abrams (formerly of MSNBC) spent valuable time on Saturday defending the post by Ms. Martel, listed as the site’s contributing editor, which dutifully recounted a National Enquirer story “claiming that President Barack Obama was caught having an affair with a former campaign staffer at a Washington hotel, and they might have the tape to prove it.” No sooner had readers (and Twiterers) begun slamming the story, which smears the president and a former finance chair with zero factual evidence, over a six-year-old story that apparently was passed on during the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign by every major television news outlet and even the notoriously anti-Obama website Newsmax, and which even the British tabloids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot poll, than Abrams posted in the comments section, throwing the responsibility to Hall:
Dan Abrams says:
I just woke up to the usual blather that somehow I am the puppeteer behind all controversial stories on Mediaite. As I have said many times, Colby Hall is responsible for the editorial content on this site.[Emphasis added]
After that, Abrams got down to business:
With that said, @politicalglutton you say “If this is NOT true then the credibility of this new and promising site will be all but destroyed.” Huh? How does this line vouch for the credibility of the story: “. . .the fact that it is the National Enquirer reporting it makes the matter highly questionable, especially in light of their previous attempt at launching an Obama sex scandal. ” Hmm. The author, Frances Martel, is reporting it as a significant story, at least about the media, now that Drudge linked to it. I may not entirely agree with Frances’ reasoning as to why that makes it significant, but there is no question she is right that with Drudge’s millions of eyeballs, it should be covered by a media site. If we were reporting this story as a fact or even suggesting it was likely true, then the criticism would be valid –of course it did not. These days, a media site should not just ignore a story about the President of the United States that is being seen on the website that many newsrooms around the country use to mine for stories. I understand those who say that just because Drudge links to the Enquirer that does not make it news. True enough. But when Drudge links to a story suggesting the President of the United States might be having an affair, that is at least a -media- story for a media website.
To summarize: since so many lazy newsrooms mine Drudge for their stories, we should do it too. Nice reasoning, Dan. After that, Hall took to the site himself to rebut the “progressives on Twitter” who were harshing the site for running with the story, and putting it at the top of their page for hours. Wrote Hall:
We have a smart audience of savvy media watchers who will know that when Drudge picks up a story, that in addition to his base of readers, media decision makers will also be seeing it and making difficult decisions about what to do with it. The days of a paternalistic media protecting the populace from questionable information has passed. Good or bad for the country and the world, it is. That is where we are today.
The original story laid specific questions about the Enquirer’s anonymous sources and the existence of surveillance footage that might corroborate the otherwise questionable story. Originally, the writer Frances Martel claimed that a link on the Drudge Report added “credibility” – that has since been changed to “significance and impact,” which I stand behind.
In many ways Mediaite is a site that reports on which the stories the media is discussing. And I assure you they are more than discussing this one.
But while Hall may stand behind the demotion of the Drudge link from “lending credibility” to lending “significance and impact,” Martel herself seems to be sticking with the former. From her Twitter account, comes proof that not only does Martel think the Drudge link “adds credibility,” she firmly believes that the underlying story is true:
And Ms. Martel has come to that conclusion based on exactly two sources: the National Enquirer, and the Drudge Report. Some reporter.
And after all the sturm and drang, Mediaite was forced to post the following “update” to its original “bombshell,” which I still refuse to link to, at 4:37 p.m.:
The National Enquirer, which published a report this morning that “investigators are attempting to obtain a tape” that proved an illicit rendezvous between President Barack Obama and former US Senate campaign staffer Vera Baker, has updated their story this afternoon to retract the claim that there is video evidence of the affair with the alleged testimony of an anonymous chauffeur.
Looks like the National Enquirer Obama sex scandal is unraveling rather quickly.
No shit, Martel.
And as to why the story is “important”, Martel originally posited that it would “energize the far-left ahead of the 2010 elections,” something that was changed to “far-right” in the independently posted “update.”
And then, she added this:
Truth or not, the story proved to be the first major test for the tabloid since it accurately reported the John Edwards affair, which restored public faith in the tabloid and resulted in the reaction to the story we saw last night. The major publicity that they elicited from that proved their one powerful foray into journalism was enough for the media to react with slightly more respect this time around given the subject at hand, and that was the reason the report surfaced here– not that the Enquirer published it, but that it had the journalistic capital, so to speak, for such a wild story to demand attention. As a news and media analyzer and curator, its our mission to report stories that are being reported. [Emphasis added]
First off, I’m not sure whose faith had been restored in the Enquirer, which the last time I checked, is still regarded as a cheesy, supermarket tabloid — albeit one that after years of “Al Capone’s vault” level stories, finally got one right on the John Edwards affair. And since no credible media outlet picked up the story — not ABC, not CBS, not NBC, not even the Reaganites at Politico … the story can’t even be found on the Fox News website for God’s sakes … it seems that the only person who’s “faith” in the Enquirer had been restored was Frances Martel’s, and the only “news” outfit that ran with the story was Mediaite (UPDATE: see Colby Hall email below for who else ran the story. And get a humorous take on “why if the Enquirer reported it, it must be true,” from Gawker.)
And not for nothing, but Ms. Martel and Mr. Hall both seem to hang on quite strongly to the idea that if Drudge links it, it must be news. You know who one of the biggest drivers of link-based traffic to Mediaite happens to be? The Drudge Report. Nothing incestuous about that…
So who is Frances Martel? I’m still waiting for confirmation from Mediaite’s editor, Colby Hall, has confirmed that she is but she appears to be a recent Harvard grad who made a name for herself by getting a writing gig at the boxing site Ring Talk, becoming the site’s lone female reporter before she even graduated. At Ring Talk, Martel earned the ire of some boxing fans for her zealous disdain for boxer Manny Pacquiao, whom she apparently believes is on steroids.
At Harvard, Ms. Martel distinguished herself as a writer for the Independent newspaper (full disclosure: I briefly did cartoons for them when I was a freshman) and for being, in her own words, “the Ann Coulter of the class of 2009.” Martel had her own blog at the Independent, on which she pursued her passions, which included finding evidence of communism in Beyonce lyrics.
Posts about Martel on the Ivygate blog referred to her as “our favorite Ivy League Republican sorta anti-Semite who is not Ann Coulter,” and harshly criticized her for apparently harshly criticizing Israel. Martel may or may not be Cuban-American, but her father, who also has a blog, writes frequently about the Communist dictatorship in Cuba. Martel reportedly clashed with fellow members of the Harvard College Republicans, and lashed out at her treatment as a “non-WASP member.”
As for her reporting skills, Martel might want to head back to school.
So why does Ms. Martel’s background matter? Because there’s a real question with this story, of whether her hard-right background, and self-described desire to emulate the likes of Ann Coulter, fed into a zeal on her part to believe a story like this. Did Ms. Martel’s own bias lead her to buy into whatever Matt Drudge finds important enough to link to? Dan Abrams, for the sake of his reputation, should ask.
UPDATE: Martel has seven of the nine bylines up on the Mediaite homepage as of 5:54 p.m. on Saturday. Obviously they have a great deal of faith in her.
UPDATE 2: Colby Hall responds. I emailed Mr. Hall to find out if he was aware of Martel’s history of right wing activism, and if he supported Ms. Martel’s claim that the story was “picked up by media” even though no major news outlets ran with it. Here’s his response:
the National Enquirer picked it up, as did National Review Online and Drudge. We didn’t support the claim that NE made, and when they walked back the claim and removed the surveillance footage claim, we reported that and gave it equal prominence on the site.The story is relevant given that NE was recently mentioned as Pulitzer nominee worthy in many outlets because of their John Edwards story. She used some hyperbole in her initial report that I wasn’t terribly comfortable with, but I stand behind her decision to do a piece – we are a site dedicated to media news and analysis and I felt this germane.And yes, I know of her conservative politics – though I believe that she define herself more as a libertarian. But I think she’s smart and a great writer, and she offers balance to our site where many writers are either unabashed liberals or have a left of center bent.
Flashback: Mediaite fast becoming one of Glenn Beck’s favorite websites.
UPDATE 3: This isn’t Ms. Martel’s first shot at smearing Barack Obama with flimsy sourcing and no facts. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert took her to task in April for yet another “bombshell,” this time blaring in a “Mediaite Exclusive” that “Censored Portions of Blago Subpoena May Implicate Team Obama.” As Boehlert pointed out then:
Mediaite concedes it doesn’t have faintest idea if “Team Obama” will be implicated by censored portions of subpoenas with regards to the soggy Blago story that was thoroughly beaten into the ground by the Beltway press in late 2008.
But that doesn’t stop Mediaite from posting an exclusive because it has a non-legal hunch the Obama team may be implicated.
This on a site founded by a lawyer who happens to be the son of the great Floyd Abrams. I guess we’ll have to revise our theory about falling apples. And of course, it turned out that not only was “team Obama” not implicated in the Blago case, the judge in the case denied “Team Blago’s” request to call President Obama to the stand. As Pooh might say, “oh bother.”