In ironic twist,
on each other
David Carr, columnist at The New York Times. Click image to enlarge.
IT HAS BEEN a remarkable summer for journalism and those who practice it.
Not only has the public been informed of some huge hitherto secret government spying programs of major significance, but the whistleblowers at the center of it have been the subject of intense coverage.
Now the spotlight has turned back – on the journalists themselves, both traditional and non-traditional.
In a remarkable analysis of the enmity among certain journalists, War on Leaks Is Pitting Journalist vs. Journalist in The New York Times on Monday, David Carr – who writes the Media Equation column – lays bare a behind-the-scenes look at the kerfuffle.
CARR REPORTS SOME almost intimate details about the relationship between former NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – it was rocky at best. But this is not “news” – it has been fairly widely known since Keller has publicly expressed his distaste in various forums previously.
Bill Keller, former Executive Editor of The New York Times. Click image to enlarge.
(Ironically, I missed Carr’s column in print on Monday; I found it through a link in Glenn Greenwald’s current piece available at the Guardian, Ongoing NSA work where you will also find my comment thanking Greenwald for the tip-off.)
In fact, after the first document dump and a less-than-flattering profile in The New York Times, Assange broke off his relationship with the NYT, providing the third round of Bradley Manning’s documents only to The Guardian, which then shared them with The Times.
“Mr Keller said the relationship with sources and competitors has always been fraught with peril,” Carr writes, “but technology has created significant disruption to both the business model and the practice of journalism.”
At the core of Carr’s treatise, however, is that other journalists – most notably David Gregory of “Meet the Press” who very publicly attacked Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald for “aiding and abetting” Edward Snowden – are turning on non-traditional ones like Assange and Greenwald and impugning their motives and questioning their credibility.
Those like Gregory and Jeffrey Toobin of CNN, claim the journalists are acting like “stooges” for the leakers, whom they paint as criminals of the first order.
All of these critics, including Carr and Keller themselves, have overlooked the biggest “stooge” of all time who was suckered by her anonymous sources into producing articles of dubious veracity which were then, with Mr. Keller’s explicit approval, published on the front page of The New York Times.
Glenn Greenwald, journalist at The Guardian, who now lives in Brazil. Click image to enlarge.
She is no stranger to readers of In the (K)now: her name is Judith Miller.
We first mentioned her when Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote, in early May, about the fiasco at The Times in the months leading up to the Iraq war.
In Who caused more harm at The New York Times in 2003 we said that Miller most certainly did, because the stories she wrote based on anonymous sources (later revealed to be Iraqi defectors and the Office of the Vice President) turned out to be totally false.
And the entire country was misled into supporting George Bush’s (in truth, Dick Cheney’s) disastrous adventure in nation building.
This particular factoid from history is missing from Carr’s otherwise brilliant analysis.
It is germane, however, because it highlights another aspect of the story, hinted at in Keller’s comments in the Carr piece.
The use of anonymous sources by traditional journalists has always been problematical. By granting them anonymity, the reporter is in effect substituting his or her own reputation for that of the source.
There are no consequences to the source (remember Scooter Libby, folks!) for lying. Ahmed Chalabi was rewarded handsomely by the CIA for years for doing so.
So Judy Miller and the entire institution of The New York Times said, in effect, to readers: “Trust us, we trust our sources.”
Oh boy, what a mistake that turned out to be.
THE OTHER DEBATE at the core of Carr’s analysis is the role of non-traditional journalists (what a clumsy term; couldn’t we call them, perhaps, guerilla journalists?) using non-traditional media and methods.
Is Glenn Greenwald truly a journalist? What about Julian Assange? They both have publicly acknowledged their “agenda’s” – something the mainstream media has struggled (not always successfully) to conceal for years.
Carr doesn’t take a firm position either way, but the issue is of crucial importance as Congress, hopefully as a matter of urgency, takes up debate on new federal shield law when it comes back from summer recess.
Versions of the shield law have been tied up in the Senate since 2010 over this very issue.
A new bill, which we wrote about two days ago in Urgency for new federal shield law for journalists intensifies is far from adequate on this point.
The “Free Flow of Information Act” of 2009, which has gained the support of President Obama, draws the definition far too tight. It would define a “journalist” as someone who gets paid for breaking important news.
What about me? Or Snowden? Or Assange? (Presumably Greenwald does get paid by The Guardian).
The president of the Society of Professional Journalists has howled in protest; if there has been protest in The New York Times, I’ve missed it.
Carr is absolutely correct to question the motives of those who impugn non-traditional journalists. But this issue is no longer in its infancy.
The definition should be drawn as broadly as possible, to encompass everyone who works to publish information of vital public interest, irrespective of the media, the technology or who signs their paycheck.
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