Professor Mark Feldstein received a slew of negative e-mails last week, a few months in to his sabbatical leave. Why, he wondered, was he – seemingly out of nowhere – receiving such vitriolic messages?
Junior Joe Sangiorgio – one of Feldstein’s former students – gave him the answer. Comments Feldstein had made had been discussed on FOX News’ The O’Reilly Factor a few days prior, and suddenly, Feldstein said, everything started to make sense.
On Tuesday, Bill O’Reilly and guest commentator John Stossel had bashed a New York Times article in which Feldstein described Stossel’s speaking engagements at forums hosted by Americans for Prosperity – a conservative advocacy group – as “pretty shameful.”
Feldstein, a longtime investigative journalist, was asked by The New York Times to comment on Stossel’s relationship with a partisan group, and was quoted as saying it was “pretty shameful” by traditional standards of journalism, adding, “But I guess we’re no longer in an age of tradition.”
On The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly questioned Stossel – a journalist who works for FOX – about Feldstein’s assertion, saying, “Your speaking to a partisan group was ‘pretty shameful.’ Why – why is it shameful?” During O’Reilly’s questioning, a photo of Feldstein, labeled with his name and that he works at GW, was displayed on screen.
Stossel responded, “I guess they believe that all reporters have no opinions, no point of view.”
After the episode aired, Feldstein said he received a half-dozen anonymous e-mails blasting his beliefs and personal character.
Calling them “semi-literate,” Feldstein shared a few with The Hatchet.
One read, “Your racial and biased opinions against the right. The right has equal opportunity to their opinions, as does Stossell[sic]. The right has done more for democracy, please get a clue.”
Another, longer message from the self-proclaimed “Papa of Journalism,” blasted Feldstein for his criticism of Stossel, who he called “a journalist who is fair.”
The e-mail read, “Maybe you want attention or think that you are better than everybody who really listens and reads the news. You need to come down from your horse, Mark. Nobody asked you to get up there. You’re a professor who supposely[sic] teaches ethics, free speech, and the freedom of expression. If I was one of your students, I would leave your classroom and sign up with a real expert in Media history and ethics.”
Speaking about the televised exchange, Feldstein said, “As I teach my students, all journalists have opinions, but you keep them out of your journalism.”
Sangiorgio – who previously interned for FOX – said he is on Stossel’s side about the issue, but felt the e-mails Feldstein received were unfair.
“Prof. Feldstein is a first-rate journalism professor and a stand-up guy,” Sangiorgio said in an e-mail. “His perspective is a welcome addition to this very important national discussion about the role of the media in our society.”
Feldstein said he was simply asked by the New York Times what he thought of Stossel’s decision to speak for and accept payment from the group.
He added that the hateful e-mails didn’t really bother him, they simply came off as rather passé to the long-time investigative journalist.
“I don’t feel hurt or upset by it,” Feldstein said. “I was a public figure on air for too long, and I used to get hundreds [of e-mails] when I was doing stories where people would end up in jail. You develop a pretty thick skin.”
Feldstein does feel that the use of his picture, with his name and place of employment indicated alongside it, during O’Reilly’s segment was a “low blow.”
“I do wonder at them plastering my mug up on screen, like a wanted poster,” Feldstein said. “I wonder if plastering it up with your name and place of employment isn’t an overt or covert attempt to generate some kind of response.”
Ultimately, Feldstein believes his quote to the Times was misrepresented by O’Reilly and Stossel, but maintains that he bears no grudge toward them or FOX.
“I think it was a bit of a low blow, wrenching it out of context,” he said. “But I still have friends at FOX, and I’ll still try to get my students internships there.”