Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek?" 

A headline I saw this morning:
Newsweek retracts story that killed 16
A headline I am unlikely to see tomorrow:
Islamists retract riots that killed 16
This is the sad aspect of life: words can be corrected, but deeds cannot be undone. As all those who have been falsely accused or defamed know, the mud sticks. Accusations get the screaming headlines on page one, erratas are proverbially published on the bottom of page 54. As Ronald Reagan's secretary of labor Ray Donovan said upon his acquittal, where do I go to get my reputation back?

Free press and independent judiciary are essential parts of democracy, and the consequences of their often costly stuff-ups is the price we pay for their otherwise positive overall contribution to the public good. The problems arise when the press and the judiciary start pursuing agendas of their own, or when their work is used by others to pursue their agendas. The best two paras written on the problem with the mainstream media – over to you, James Taranto:
It's not just that the media are biased against conservatives and Republicans, though they certainly are. It is that they see every war as another Vietnam and every supposed scandal as another Watergate--at least when Republicans are in the White House, which they usually are.

The obsession with Vietnam and Watergate is central to the alienation between the press and the people. After all, these were triumphs for the crusading press but tragedies for America. And the press's quest for more such triumphs--futile, so far, after more than 30 years--is what is behind the scandals at both Newsweek and CBS.
Many in the media are trying to downplay the "Newsweek" incident because the US has already such bad image around the world that it couldn't possibly get any worse - or as "The Los Angeles Times" editorialized, "For all the administration's huffing and puffing about Newsweek getting the story wrong, it has produced such a catalogue of misdeeds at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that almost any allegation is instantly credited abroad ... The US has already been convicted in the court of world opinion for its treatment of its prisoners, and that's the administration's fault, not Newsweek's."

According to the "LAT", the solution was simple: "Shutting down Guantanamo and giving suspected terrorists legal protections would help restore our reputation abroad. Crowing over Newsweek's mishap won't."

A more balanced coverage wouldn't go astray either. After spending the last three years reducing the American war effort to Abu Ghraib, Gaunatanamo and assorted other incompetence and brutality, to complain that America's image worldwide is so poor that people will now believe anything smacks somewhat of the chutzpah of a man who killed his parents and pleaded to the court for leniency on the account that he is now an orphan.

Meanwhile, Matt Drudge reports that the White House press corp did not take too well Scott McClellan’s telling off "Newsweek":
Q: With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?
Well, with respects, the media, who made you the elected politicians and military leaders to tell them how they should run a country and conduct a war? It seems another great case of a glass jaw - the media likes to dish it out but can't take it. It’s only to be expected, thought, that in an adversarial climate where the media consciously or subconsciously considers itself a political force (that's, after all, is what being the Fourth Estate is all about), a sort of permanent opposition to the government (particularly, as Taranto noted, when it's the right that's in power), the same rules will be applied to it as to all the other political players – including scrutiny and criticism.
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report...

Q: Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?
God forbid that that anyone could actually think that the American military is great, or that there might be two sides to a story that are worth printing.

In a related development, Dan Rather has received journalism's highest recognition, the Peabody Award, for the work of "60 Minutes" on a story exposing conditions within the Abu Ghraib prison:
Rather received extended applause after telling the crowd, "Never give up, never back up, never give in while pursuing the dream of integrity filled journalism that matters."
Well said.


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