Thursday, May 19, 2005

In Defense of Newsweek: Other Voices

In the wake of the usual slings and arrows launched at Newsweek, I wanted to share a few thoughts from some other folks ...

Keith Olbermann weighs in:

"Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about 'media credibility,' I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

"Whenever I hear this White House talking about 'doing to damage to our image abroad' and how 'people have lost lives,' I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will -- and at what human cost.

"Newsweek's version of this story has varied from the others over the last two years -- ones in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations -- only in that it quoted a government source who now says he didn't have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye). All of its other government connections -- the ones past which it ran the story -- have gone from saying nothing like 'don't print this, it ain't true' or 'don't print this, it may be true but it'll start riots,' to looking slightly confused and symbolically saying 'Newsweek? Newsweek who?' "

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) is far from my favorite congressional Democrat, but we give him props on this letter to White House apologist Scott McClellan:

"... This attempt to tie riots to the Newsweek article stands in stark contrast to the assessment of your own senior military officials. On May 12th, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff had reported on his consultations with the Senior Commander in Afghanistan about whether there was a causal relationship between the Newsweek story and the riots thusly: '[h]e thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.' The only conclusion that can be reasonably drawn is that, in contrast to career military officers, political operatives sought to score cheap political points by spreading falsehoods about Newsweek. The appropriate course of action is clear: you and [Pentagon spokesman Larry] DiRita should immediately retract your exploitative comments."

Finally, Harvard University media scholar Marvin Kalb, noting to The New York Times, "This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic. They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war."

Amen, brothah.

We find it bemusing and sad that Newsweek is being accused of such unfogivable slipshod journalism. The most unfortunate aspect of the infamous "Periscope" story, that of embellishing a single unnamed source into "sources say" -- is more than commonplace in news (trust me on that one). Spare us the phony indignation.

Like any profession, the history of journalism is littered with many, many, many mistakes and lapses in judgment. What makes today's stumbles by the news media seem comparatively so egregious is a post-9/11 mindset inculcated by the Bush Administration. In this brave new world, every instance of poor or questionable journalism undermines America. Every instance of poor or questionable journalism puts American lives at risk. Every instance of poor or questionable journalism is an affront to freedom-loving people everywhere.

You've got to hand one thing to the Bushies; they're mighty sharp at media manipulation -- mighty sharp.

It's not enough to put media commentators on the government payroll, or upgrade right-wing male prostitutes into White House press corps members, or saturate airwaves with video news releases disguised as actual news. No, critics of the administration -- whether it's an entity as serious as CBS News or as inconsequential as Bill Maher -- becomes Public Enemy No. 1. The White House attack machine is the Nixon White House on Red Bull and steroids. Consider the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. If Karl Rove had been in the West Wing back then, Daniel Ellsberg and Neil Sheehan undoubtedly would've found themselves in some faraway jail cell, naked and bleeding from orifices that don't even have a name.


At 9:54 AM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...

Nicely presented, Chase. It is beyond belief that an article in Newsweek, no matter how provocative, could spark a riot in a vaccuum. A single publication is not responsible for setting up the circumstances for this event. It took the concerted effort of years of the Bush/Cheney government to bring us to this point. Molly Ivins has a few points to make in this regard. Hat tip to Mainstream Baptist for this article.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Dr. Pants said...

Ah, yes -- sourcing. Like those "well-sourced" Iraqi exiles that swore Saddam had WMDs. And that little mistake didn't cost any lives, did it?

Funny (and sad) story from the journalism world. Reporter told me the other day about an unauthorized change to a story, when a woman was quoted as saying something she hadn't said.

The change came, apparently, because the paper could not say the woman didn't have to look for parking spots just because she rode a bike to work every day. So an editor decided to attribute it to the woman, who had no said that, without checking with the reporter to see if it was true.

There ARE problems in the media, no doubt, just not ones that can be solved with censorship.


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