Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Here's an open letter some journalist trade group sent to the NY Times 
It was also posted in Jay Rosen's Press Think:

I am one of an informal group of more than 100 national and international journalists and media professionals who take their profession seriously, and who are angered at the decay of the press. We come from all walks and companies of the profession from McGraw-Hill and Dow-Jones to trade magazines you have never heard of. And we are angry.
The Times was our ideal, and you failed us.
The Judith Miller affair, and the Times’ handling of that issue has confused many and angered others. As a result of recent events, we no longer trust the Times to tell the whole truth, or even part of it, least of all about itself. And we are journalists – in theory, your comrades.
Given the hobbled stories in the October 16th Times and earlier issues, we no longer trust the Times to report honestly or fully on itself. Van Natta, Liptak, and Levy have our sympathy.
It is obvious that your investigative reporters were handcuffed, that they were forced to accept no answers, or partial answers to important questions, that the cooperation of Judy Miller was partial at best, and that Miller’s notebooks are a poor excuse for those of an earnest reporter. By our standards, Miller could easily be a writer of fiction. Certainly her period of martyrdom in jail appears—at worst—self inflicted.
For decades, we in the journalistic community and the rest of America, have looked to the Times for, if not the whole story, at least an honest review of the facts at hand.
Now, we see yet another case where not only are the facts questionable, but one in which the paper appears to have spun the story to protect its image.
Or did you do so to protect access to sources? If so that compounds the crime.
For years now, as all this has unfolded, the Times’ image as a source of bona-fide information has decayed. I omit Jason Blair and the other failings of recent years; you know the list better than I.
The point is this. For a century the Times fulfilled a key role in American discourse. It was thought to be the honest broker of information, regardless of party. Today, with the Miller affair, Iraq, missing weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi politics, and the recent grand jury inquiry, the Times has shown that it cannot be trusted to cover an incumbent administration honestly. Nor can it honestly cover issues in which its staff is involved. And for that reason, it can no longer be considered America’s premier newspaper.
Bluntly, we don’t trust you any more, and we are journalists ourselves. Your co-religionists no longer believe in you.
The journalists in this group, and there are many – some work in your own city room – no longer trust the Times. I wish it were otherwise, but you have failed. By protecting yourselves and the Times brand, you have injured all of us and made the prospect of a national shield law unlikely.
Given the importance of an informed electorate, the Constitutional protection provided to the press, and the responsibility that goes with it, many of us writers and reporters are preparing to get to the root of the Times’ failure. “Woodstein” will probably be ahead of us, but we will dig and contribute. We have sources, too.
I hope you notice that there is no partisan aspect to this note. We are Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives. What we share is respect for journalism, the truth, and the First Amendment. Rather more than the Times, it would appear.
We take the role of the Fourth Estate in a democracy seriously. And unless the Times visibly renews its commitment to this, the consequences for the nation will be serious. And for the Times, dire.

And the long, slow descent of the NY Times continues.

For the record: I am personally agnostic about the whole Miller/Plamegate thing. I honestly don't feel like I had a dog in that fight. The honorable thing to do, perhaps, would have been for Miller to resign from the New York Times when she could not cooperate with the journalistic investigation. Her loyalties at that time were too divided.

I do not fault her for faulty WMD reporting, even though it has become fashionable for journalists at the NY Times to do so. This is their own bias coming into play. The problems with Miller's reporting could only be clear in hindsight. Anyone who has problems with Miller's reporting now and who was silent about it in 2002 and 2003 is guilty of selective memory syndrome.

No reasonable effort by any reporter could have debunked the information she was getting from multiple reliable sources at the same time. Any responsible reporter given the same access would probably have come to the same conclusion Miller did regarding WMDs in Iraq.

Now, a lot of people are gunning for Miller's head. But they're all lefties. Why? Plamegate is not the reason. It's a tempest in a teapot. The press lets much more sensitive information slip on a regular basis and the lefties don't have a problem with it.

The lefties are simply sharpening their knives to get back at Miller over the WMD reporting.

The Plamegate fiasco, to me, is a nonstory. It's increasingly apparent to me that no crime was committed, that Wilson's credibility was a legitimate issue, and his connection to a CIA spouse was germaine to Wilson's credibility.

It was fair game for any reporter.

Was it fair game to leak? It might have been scuzzy, but no crime was committed. Welcome to D.C., This is the big leagues. They pitch fastballs inside. Wilson thought he had some heat. Turns out there was a lot more heat in the opposing team's dugout.

Meanwhile, while the navelgazers at Press Think are obsessing over the Miller nonstory, they're missing the far, far more significant story of the debate over the potential shield law, and whether shields should include bloggers (Actually, I prefer the term "microjournalists"), and whether we should have a shield law at all.

Personally, I would oppose such a shield law. I expect all of us to be subject to the same laws.

Splash, out


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