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Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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August 13, 2004

What if Everything Changed for American Journalists on September 11th? My Speculations.

What individual exceptions there are I don't know--I am sure they exist, and I would love to hear from them--but on the whole the American press has not seen fit to start its own story over after the attacks of 2001, just to see if "journalism" comes out in the same place, if "ethics" are the ones that were adequate before, if duty to nation looks the same, if observerhood still fits.

This pissy drivel will unite people who, in a peaceable time, would stand on opposite sides of political issues. Don’t fret the strife you see in the daily papers. The dissenters, unbound as usual, will ruin their cause. A great red line will run diagonally across the political landscape, uniting people who, in peaceable times, had the luxury to disagree over issues of rarified nuance. You’ll make friends on the other side of the aisle, and this will teach you the folly of assuming X because someone believes Y.

James Lileks, one year after, September 11, 2002.

This will not be your typical PressThink post. It’s not occasioned by anything brewing in the news, it doesn’t have many links. This is about September 11th and what it did to the American press— no, what it undid. Here I engage in speculation. I go beyond my authority and all bounds of expertise. There is no one to stop me, so I try to re-explain the world for you in 2,300 words or less.

I am one of those people who had no trouble saying at the time that everything changed for Americans on the day of the Al Queda attacks. To me it’s more true now than when I first felt it, at night on the 11th, trying like people everywhere to recover my wits, attempting sleep about 35 blocks from where the Towers went down.

It is fruitless to ask the normal questions someone with a PhD might ask about a truth claim like: “everything changed on September 11th.” This is a statement not open to proof or refutation. It doesn’t really have evidence corresponding to the reach of its own ideas. What it means, I think, comes down to:

We have to start the story over, people. We’re in a new here and now.

That means re-explain the world to ourselves. It might look like it, but “everything’s changed after 09/11” does not mean everything is different in your world because of this one terrible event— and you better realize it, or deluded be your design.

It means when you get done accounting for the magnitude of the event, and go through all the shocks to all the systems (including your own explanations of the world); when you draw the reckoning forward from the 11th, into the wars—in Afghanistan and Iraq, against terror everywhere—where we are now engaged, then all the explanations and ideas you nursed along through events prior to September 11th, 2001 don’t explain as much as they once did.

After a crash, you start up the computer again, but it doesn’t work the same way. Is it the machine? Or does it just have more to compute?

When you actually make the effort, and start the story over, you never end up in exactly the same place. Everyone knows we’re in a new situation as a nation, and in some ways radically new across the world. Though everyone knows, we can’t forget it, which is another way of saying we have to try daily to imagine it, though normal life resumes, and practices its newsy deceptions.

What do you recall? I recall how much that was adequate in my own understanding on September 10th, I found useless by the morning of the 12th; and people who say things like, “everything changed on nine eleven” are not so much September 11th people as they are struck by a strangeness recalled from the morning of the 12th. I am one of them. We think there was a rupture.

Like the larger claim from which it derives, everything changed for American journalists on September 11th is not really open to proof or refutation. I believe it’s true, and I think the failure to reckon with it is preventing what might be historic progress in professional self-definition for the people who bring Americans their news, and who try to capture in their accounts our life and times.

What individual exceptions there are I do not know—I am sure they exist, and I would love to hear from them—but on the whole, I believe, the American press did not see fit to start its own story over after the attacks. It did not re-explain the world to journalism (or vice versa) just to see if all the press think fits from before the unbelievable blue of that day.

When we’re in a permanent state of war against terror, are ethics the same kind of ethics that were adequate in journalism before we realized the war had come? Do law and reason, truth and obligation, news and opinion, politics and statecraft, citizenship and loyalty, information and ideology, conflict and dissent mean what they meant before the planes hit? Do you report on war, politics, diplomacy, elections with the same templates? Or is something decisively different?

I say the press did not start its own story over after the attacks. And I submit into evidence (even though it proves nothing) this moment from The Newhour with Jim Lehrer almost a year after the Al Queda strike. The subject was “the impact of 9/11 on news organizations.” Howell Raines, then the editor of the New York Times, was a guest:

TERENCE SMITH: Is your mission or role or obligation at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it, different in the wake of 9/11? We are dealing with an amorphous thing called “a war on terrorism.” Is it different?

HOWELL RAINES: No. I think not in the…if we’re talking fundamentals here. We have an intellectual contract with our readers, which is we’ll tell you what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information and within obviously the boundaries of law, and in certain cases, whether national security interests are involved.

Hear what he said? Nothing fundamentally different in the mission after 09/11. Intellectual contract with readers is basically unchanged: we’ll tell you what we know, unless national security prevents it. Note how the zone of reflection, which started out large, “is your mission or role or obligation somehow different after 09/11?” was shrunk within the space of Smith’s question to more familiar newsroom scale. “… at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it.”

There’s a little trick there; a switch is thrown. What starts out as a big reckoning with a world-shattering event for editor Raines and his ideas about obligation, mission and purpose, turns into a coverage question, an excercise in news judgment on a big story— September 11 and related events. That’s the trick.

“Anything different in the way you cover a story like this, Howell? What’s been the impact?” is to my ear a bizarrely confining question, since it traffics in the illusion that the most important decision a journalist can make about a rupture of the known world is how to “cover” the events that follow from it. And what does Howell Raines say? Nah, we know how to cover things. Nothing fundamentally different.

News Has Room for Only One Clock: I didn’t have a weblog on that day. But I felt I had to write something, and tell people what I saw, so I wrote emails to a list I was on, run by Ethan Casey at My title for them was “In Manhattan,” plus the date. Some of these e-mails went around the world, so that when I sent them to people I know, they would write back to me and say, “already saw it.” (I found that a miracle at the time.) This I wrote on the 12th, and then I pushed SEND:

To some, the towers went down in the same narrative space as the Hebrew Temple in 70 AD. (Not sure why I chose this example; probably I was confused.) We cannot, as we say, get our minds around this.

Meanwhile, we’re counting the years left with uncles and cousins and friends under that wreckage downtown. They are on another clock entirely, which means they assign different meaning to the loss of human life today. Their understanding took aim at ours, and hit the center. To learn of this yesterday was like a plane crashing inside your skull.

“The earth belongs to the living,” said our Jefferson. Well, his is one culturally specific way of clocking things. New Yorkers got struck by another, and a lot are dead… We feel we know what time it is, we know what “our time” here on earth is worth, and what it costs when taken from us. And we do know, as Jefferson knew: for us.

But when I turn on my television set, the narrative space shown me cannot hold the possibility that the attack also occured on another historical clock, far away from ours, and alien to it. The news has room for only one clock, one grammar in time. And here we meet with the limits of America’s civic wisdom. For what the news cannot “hold” the nation cannot behold. On TV, it’s still one trusty frame for time.

And I still think that’s a problem, but it’s just a piece of the puzzle Terrence Smith kept from Howell Raines by asking about “the coverage.”

No Duty to the Nation? A PressThink reader, who is also a blogger, a Bush supporter, a believer in the war in Iraq, and an occasionally hostile critic of the press, John Moore, has mentioned several times in comments here how startled he was to read the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics and discover no mention of any “journalist’s duty to the nation” or the language of the nation at all. It’s as if they don’t have one! He finds this remarkable. Read the document yourself. It speaks in supra-national code. High enlightenment fashion. It’s not a statement of international principles, or a reflection on “national” identity. It pretends the whole category doesn’t exist.

Ever since Moore said it, I have been thinking along similar lines. Are journalists who inform citizens of the most powerful and influentual nation in the world participants in the war on terror, in the worldwide struggle for democracy, freedom and markets, because their country is a participant—the biggest by far—and they inform it? Or can they get by with: “Terrorism and war are big stories and we’re going to cover them as best we can. Our readers expect it. We’ll tell them what we know.”

The End of Immunity. I tried writing this piece once before, and will probably try again. The first attempt is a book chapter called “September 11th in the Mind of the American Journalism” (in Journalism After September 11, edited by Stuart Allen and Barbie Zelizer, Routledge, 2002.) Here’s a paragraph:

And it is this basic immunity from action that makes the whole regime of neutrality, objectivity and detachment even thinkable, let alone practical for journalists. When Tom Brokaw of NBC News was sent an envelope of anthrax by Someone Out There, no one talked about his neutrality or observer status. Which may be a good thing. When observer-hood becomes unthinkable, new things can be thought. It is reasonable to hope that September 11th eventually improves the mind of the American press. If it does, it will be an instance of creative destruction.

That destruction hasn’t happened yet, and while that is good for carrying on with the news, it’s a problem for carrying on in the world after September 11th.

Finishing the Work of the Terrorists: “Any news outlet — or any private individual, for that matter — who makes available footage of the actual beheadings is, to my mind, an accessory to the crime itself,” says [Tom] Kunkel, dean of journalism at the University of Maryland. “Those are the individuals who are essentially finishing the work of the terrorists, by delivering their grisly ‘message.’ ” This was said in the Los Angeles Times in June, “Web Amplifies Message of Primitive Executions.”

Kunkel’s warning shows, better than anything I have found, what I meant by starting the story over. What Kunkel says about beheading as terror is true for all acts of terror, which is a form of political violence bequeathed to us by a media age. News of any terror strike, any bomb, but also all the news about warnings and raising the threat code and “unguarded ports, power stations, and dams”— all of it, every bulletin, is “essentially finishing the work of the terrorists,” not because journalists and news criers have that aim, or forget which side they are on, but for the obvious reason, open to any intelligent citizen’s observation, that terror incorporates news into its principles of action.

What terrified people that Tuesday? It was The News Al Queda made of us, coming through our own media! Terrorism works best in an open society, where news flows. Those who keep the flow going, and react to emergencies by making news of them, sustain terror by doing their job. We are not to blame them for this. But neither is it a fact to be kept from journalists.

In fact this very thought—modern terrorism incorporates modern journalism—was in the Los Angeles Times story too, a few paragraphs ahead of Kunkel’s strange attempt to limit “accessory” status to those unscrupulous Webbies who post video the networks won’t touch. They’re accessories, and CNN when a bomb goes off is not? Witness:

Publicizing their atrocities has always been part of the strategy for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, says Josh Devon, an analyst at the SITE Institute in Washington, which tracks terrorist activities. “The point of terrorism is to strike fear and cause havoc — and that doesn’t happen unless you have media to support that action and show it to as many people as they can,” Devon says.

Well, yeah. But who wants to live with that knowledge (and its crushing ironies) at the forefront of your professional mind? I find it impossible to believe that people in the news tribe are unaware of their tribe’s incorporation by terror, their inadvertent, unwished-for status as accessories to the act. But I find it very plausible that they would try to let this go by, and deny that it “fundamentally” changes anything.

Terrorism and the world after 09/11? Big story, hard to cover, but we’re gonna do our best— “we’ll tell you what we know when we know it.” Okay, people? Okay troops.

After Khan’s Name was Revealed. I’m going to close these speculations by quoting a news account, a report by CNN, and let you think about it. Answer for yourself (or tell me in comments.) Is the press a participant in the war on terror, or does observer-hood still tell the right story for journalists after 09/11?

Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.

In background briefings with journalists last week, unnamed U.S. government officials said it was the capture of Khan that provided the information that led Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to announce a higher terror alert level.

Law enforcement sources said some of the intelligence gleaned from the arrests of Khan and others gave phone numbers and e-mail addresses that the FBI and other agencies were using to try to track down any al Qaeda operatives in the United States.

Then on Friday, after Khan’s name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists.

I’m coming from my own place on this, of course. I live in New York. It’s my city, and we got hit. I would love to know what you think.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

UPDATED AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am re-opening comments, asking people to show some restraint. I wrote this in comments:

It may be the agenda of some, but I didn’t say or imply, nor is it my view, that journalists after 09/11 should get with the anti-terror program, quit whining about the Patriot Act, and become more compliant toward the government. That, in my view, would be a disaster.

Nor do I support any new restrictions on press freedom, and I do not see that as following at all from my speculations here. In fact, one could argue that under conditions of permanent war and domestic security threats a fiercely independent press, one that can be a check on government—and a reality check on the Executive—becomes even more important.

New entrant. This Is Rumor Control: News and Analysis on the Appalling Mess We’re In is a very “everything changed on 9/11” weblog. Fascinating about page too. And check out who these guys say they are.

Jeff Jarvis was at the World Trade Centers when they fell. He had often reflected on it at Buzzmachine: “Personally, I did not start blogging until September 11 — because I didn’t have something to say until that day and after that day, I had so much to say and needed a place to say it.” Also see this on 9/11 a year later.

From back in September 2003, PressThink: Unbuilding at Ground Zero and Rebuilding in Iraq, which is partly a review of William Langewiesche’s American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center.

Solutions would have to come from everywhere. Everyone would have to make decisions within his sphere of competence, rather than checking with the authorites, who were too few, too busy and probably unable to help. Enormous commitment was of course required, backbreaking work amid emotional horror. But we’ve heard about that. Langewiesche shows that enormous flexibility was also required, which is a kind of social intelligence. On a job so huge, it’s impossible to be flexible by yourself. The subtitle of American Ground could have been a book of practical virtues.

The citizens who labored at Ground Zero are not that different from the citizens serving in the military occupation of Iraq. There is a lot that joins the two sites: the complexity and scale of destruction, the absence of any script, the fact that no one knows how to do nation-building in the Middle East, the many situations where problems have to be solved on the spot and without clearence from above, the living atmosphere of death. And of course the war that began with the Towers’ destruction has somehow landed on Iraqi soil. The vision that motivates the troops is of the same ruins that were cleared away by the hard hats and engineers.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 13, 2004 3:23 PM   Print


Hi Jay,
You raise some very fundamental issues. I'm interested in seeing how other journalists respond to the question of how journalism should or should not be changing in the aftermath of 9/11.

Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.

To keep the conversation from getting sidetracked into blaming U.S. officals for leaking Khan's arrest, here's some info that points to Pakastan intellegence officials leaking through the NYT as the source:

Pakistan Intelligence 'Outed' Khan to the NYT

If the original New York Times story is to be believed, "a Pakistani intelligence official," probably in Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), burned Khan to the NYT's David Rohde in Karachi, Pakistan, without any help from US officials.

Thanks again for exploring the issues of how much information the public needs to know and what kinds of information journalists should or should not share in this "war on terror" age.

Posted by: syco at August 13, 2004 4:47 PM | Permalink

Oops, for some reason, my e-mail address did not show up in the previous comment. It's

Posted by: syco at August 13, 2004 4:57 PM | Permalink

This seems to belong here, both as related to the day and the public journalism it represents.

September 11 Digital Archive

Posted by: Tim at August 13, 2004 5:05 PM | Permalink

There might be an interesting distinction to be made between finishing the terrorists' work and how our own attitudes toward propaganda developed after WWII.

A particularly interesting period might be the 60s-70s, when the lessons of Vietnam war propaganda campaign combined with Arab terrorism.

That might provide an interesting framework for analyzing the role of the press in a post-9/11 global war against terror (violence as propaganda).

Posted by: Tim at August 13, 2004 6:18 PM | Permalink

Ben Franklin: "During the Cold War, journalists were scrupulous enough to record Pravda propaganda accurately enough you could imagine what our enemies were actually thinking. It took the working press over two years to manage that with the Bush wars."

I'd really like to hear thoughts on that within this context.

Posted by: Tim at August 13, 2004 6:32 PM | Permalink

I linked in here from Instapundit. This was a very good piece but I think it totally misses the mark as to what the journalist new role is -- disappear. At the rate things are going right now the profession of journalism will disappear as we know it within a decade. Reasons:

- Inability to be a neutral observer. It's slant, half presentation and guesswork.

- Laziness. More journalists get their sources from the back of a press release than doing serious footwork. This is especially true in the political coverage.

- Declining readership. Nearly all the afternoon dailies are gone. Most of the major morning dalies are struggline. NYT's stock price has dropped more than 50% in the past 6 months.

- Timeliness. Quite frankly, the SWIFTs story should be all over the front page, but the majors are holding back for political reasons due to bias. The blogosphere is in phase two of this story and other than the Chicago Sun, UK Gardian no major US daily has this A-1.

- Blogosphere in general. When can set up an RSS feed and get the specialized punditry first hand, with or without the spin the print media is toast. I get it sooner, unfiltered so I can reach my own conclusions, and can check the facts if need be by doing Google and Lex/Nex searches.

Just my opinion of course......


Posted by: JohnM at August 13, 2004 8:55 PM | Permalink

Howell Raines suffered from terminal hubris with his "intellectual contract". The NY Times is a newspaper without cartoons and no more than that. 9/11 woke the world up to the internet as a source of information allowing us to be our own editors.

There are so may stories broadast that not only is the back story already on the internet but significant "intellectual" commentary has already disected it to death. We are at war and to paraphrase Goldfinger, they don't mean to scare us they mean to kill us and we better understand that.

Posted by: Bill at August 13, 2004 8:56 PM | Permalink

Mass media journalism appears to suffer from the same self-loathing that Mr. Fisk suffers from. You will remember after an Afghan mob pounded Fisk, he explained, "If I was Afghan, I would have stoned me, too."

This lack of affiliation with a home team, as Orwell might put it amounts to objective rooting for the other team by destabilizing our vision of the enemy, as the enemy. If the public gets told often enough that the enemy isn't the enemy (i.e. terrorists are merely "militants", a rioting mob of leftists are merely "protestors" or dissenters) then after a while much of the public starts to think, "what the hell, our politicians *are* just as bad as theirs."

The sad irony is that if this soulless nihilism wins out and the Islamofascists get their way, the journalists will probably be too stupid to realize it. We will then be presented with the flash of a smuggled nuke in the background, with an admission on live television before the blast wave hits, "oh well, we probably deserve this anyhow for our aggressive foreign policy."

At its heart, this is just the self abnegation that comes with cynical post-modernism's inadvertant, inherent nihilism. When all is mere artifice and gimmick, then nothing is worth saving, not even our society. The same disease afflicts the Upper West Side, Bethesda, and most all of San Francisco and Western Europe.

Posted by: Al Maviva at August 13, 2004 9:16 PM | Permalink

Jay, I read you as saying that, when the stakes are high and the public is viscerally aware that irresponsible journalism can make them much less safe, that journalism is obligated ethically to become public journalism - i.e. it must conducted in the public's interest.

How would this indicate that Abu Ghraib should have been covered? Or should it have been covered?

And, if "how we cover news" is the wrong framing of the change, post-Sept 11, what _should_ journalists be doing now that they weren't doing before, in relation to Abu Ghraib?

(I ask because I've heard people say it should _not_ have been covered, since it inflames the Arab world which make us less safe - in same vein as Al Maviva saying neutral coverage "amounts to objective rooting for the other team by destabilizing our vision of the enemy, as the enemy")

On outing Khan -
Kevin Drum on Juan Cole on Condoleeza Rice on it here - - "[Rice] said that Khan's name was given to the media 'on background' by the Administration...." - not that this topic belongs in PressThink comments, syco's weblog would be a much better spot to discuss it further.

Posted by: Anna at August 13, 2004 9:36 PM | Permalink

I can't believe a journalism professor used the nonsensical term "war on terror" instead of the more appropriate "war on terroism."

The fundamental problem that the media have is that they don't realize fully what the extent and scope of the war on terrorism is. I blame laziness and ignorance for some of that, but one must also point to the fact that the story of fanatical movements within the worldwide Islamic community is not being sufficiently explored, particularly by broadcast journalists. This is mainly due to the rampant political correctness that runs amok in far too many newsrooms, stifling unflattering stories and harming the career prospects of people that question it or dare to flout it.

Posted by: Lars Merik at August 13, 2004 9:45 PM | Permalink

I should also add that it is outrageous to me that the media are not in arms about the New York Times' revelation of that al'Qida tech's name but have worked themselves into a tizzy regarding a deskbound intelligence analyst. It's disgraceful.

Posted by: Lars Merik at August 13, 2004 9:48 PM | Permalink

Sorry, but a lot of the comments here are over the top.

As a journalist, it's not my job to be a mouthpiece for (a) the U.S. government. My obligations are to (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens.

Now, it so happens that there are any number of conflicts between (a) and (b) -- that is, our government, and this administration in particular, lies to us, and it's our job to report the truth, not to act as a ministry of propaganda. (This may have been what the correspondent in Afghanistan was alluding to. The more closely that foreigners associate journalists with the policies of their countries' governments, the more their lives are placed at risk. Ask any foreign journalist.)

At the same time, there are occasional conflicts between (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens' well-being. For example, when a news organization comes into possession of newsworthy, truthful information that would put U.S. soldiers' lives or American citizens' lives at risk, 99 out of 100 times the information is not reported (and the news organization in that 100th instance deserves opprobrium).

When reporters and photojournalists accompany U.S. troops into battle, no they don't (and should not) carry firearms, les they be viewed as agents of the state and active combatants. But they don't leave their humanity behind, either. We all have heard of scores of examples where journalists put down their notebooks and cameras and run to the assistance of wounded soldiers or civilians.

For a news organization, is it more patriotic to learn about the ease with which once can smuggle nuclear materials into this country and then report it only to federal officials (who are the ones guilty of lax oversight in the first place) -- or to disseminate that information to the public?

My guess is that the "we're at war!" crowd would like the press to be nothing more than an adjunct of the U.S. government. (Fox News, with the American flag on anchors' lapels, long ago fell into line.) I can think of nothing else so dangerous. Isn't this docile, deferential approach to authority what got us into our current mess in Iraq? That's certainly one of the takeaways of Howard Kurtz' expose of newsroom practices that appeared in the Washington Post this week.

Some perspective, please: There were 61 million lives lost in World War 2, without any wholesale changes in press freedoms or redefinition of journalism. Tragically, 3,000 people lost their lives on 9/11 (thousands more in Iraq, but that war has had nothing to do with terrorism until recently).

I think Jay raises some important points in this essay. I'd like to hear specific proposals of how journalists should be practicing their craft differently.

Posted by: JD Lasica at August 13, 2004 10:16 PM | Permalink

I grew up watching ABC News, now I never watch it. Whenever I hear a story is from ABC I doubt it's veracity. As a professional librarian I know how to look at the scope, accuracy, and timeliness of news souces, but I have lost all faith that any "Old Media" source can provide a credible news product. They are just trying to talk down to me by "framing the story" rather than reporting the news.

Posted by: R Finch at August 13, 2004 10:27 PM | Permalink

"There were 61 million lives lost in World War 2, without any wholesale changes in press freedoms or redefinition of journalism."

Posted by: Joseph Cutler at August 13, 2004 10:44 PM | Permalink

The notion that that terror depends on the capacity to deliver communication to the terrorized makes perfect sense to me. As a retired academic Renaissance literary scholar and critic with an amateur's interest in military matters, I've been working on aspects of this particular phenomena ever since I published a book on Machiavelli's "Prince" which argued that this classic was the first serious attempt to show that war is conducted as much by verbal discourse--verbal communication--as by the physical coercion of combat.

A few topics w/o elaboration relevant here:

(1) War works as much by threats of attack as by attack. Movements of troops, visible manifestations of military planning, readiness, etc.--are in fact modes of communicating threats.

(2) The "protection racket" factor: Terrorism is a present act intended to remembered in the future. It's message is the following: "If you do what I want I will protect you from attack, i.e., from myself. If you don't, I won't."

(3) The "Stockholm Syndrome" factor: something I suspect is much more at the bottom of left-wing, democratic political thinking than anyone dares to imagine. "I'm so completely frightened by the people who are holding me captive by reason of my fright that I am really on their side. If I'm on their side and make them think so (variant of "protection racket" effect), then they won't attack me. But I know one thing for sure: they cannot be successfully fought and cannot be defeated. And if anyone says so (someone like a "President Bush") I will do everything in my power to discredit him."

(4) Criminal acts are dealt with as something that occured in the past--ergo questions of fact concern matters in which the accused as considered innocent until the investigation determines past facts that prove otherwise.

By clear contrast, terrorist acts always operate in the future, for reasons given above. Therefore the assumption is always that the possible terrorist is going to be guilty until proven otherwise. QED Guantanamo, Homeland Security, and the Patriot Act. A lot of people in this country--e.g., the ACLU--can't see the difference.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at August 13, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink

JD, you wield your ignorance like a sword. A perefect example of exactly what the article speaks about.

While you may not want to be a mouthpiece for (a), you do not need to be a mouthpiece against (a), which is what you obviously are.

At the point that you find someone wearing a flag pin offensive, you lost any ability to speak to me.

good job "journalist," i'll stick to the blogosphere.

Posted by: leesus at August 13, 2004 10:51 PM | Permalink

And your point, Joseph, is that we ought to return to an era of press censorship for the next several decades (as everyone agrees that's how long the terrorism threat will last)? Can you please explain how that will advance the fight against terrorism -- or cite examples of how press misbehavior is undermining our personal freedoms?

Posted by: JD Lasica at August 13, 2004 10:55 PM | Permalink

Leesus, I've been blogging for 3 1/2 years now.

It's certainly understandable, in a time of war, for many viewers to want the news media to be a cheerleader for government policy. But you should also respect the rights of the millions of viewers who want just the opposite -- for the press to continue to play its role as a watchdog, to expose perfidy, to keep government officials honest, and to tell the truth about the very real danger that besets us. We can't do that if we're hamstrung by ideological blinders. (Adding once again: None of this suggests that journalists should place citizens' lives at risk.)

Now, let's put the rhetoric and name-calling aside and list some specific changes that need to be put into effect by the journalism profession in an age of terrorism. Seriously. Perhaps the Society of Professional Journalists will add them to its code of ethics.

Posted by: JD Lasica at August 13, 2004 11:05 PM | Permalink

Terrorism as propaganda

Air War College's Media and Terrorism

From Fred Friendly via Sgt Grit for JD Lasica:

Recent talk has it that NPR senior editor Loren Jenkins made a statement that he would, if in Afghanistan or Pakistan, report the presence of American commando units regardless of compromising the US combat troops.

This is not the first time a reporter stated a belief in 'higher' ideals than being an American.

In 1987 an 'Ethics in America' (Produced by Fred Friendly) TV panel discussion titled "Under Orders, Under Fire" was taped. The panel consisted of former soldiers like Brent Scowcroft and William Westmoreland discussing the ethical dilemmas of their work. The moderator was Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, who moved from expert to expert asking increasingly difficult questions in the law school's famous Socratic style. The description below is modified from a James Fallows piece titled "Why We Hate the Media." But I watched the episode on TV and recall vividly the words of Colonel Connell and how I came out of my seat and cheered when I heard them.

In exploring the topic of journalistic ethics, Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening's panel, better known than William Westmoreland himself. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would - and in real wars others from his network often had.

But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to "Roll tape!" as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans?

Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. "Well, I guess I wouldn't," he finally said. "I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. "But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That's purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction."

Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. "I think some other reporters would have a different reaction," he said, obviously referring to himself. "They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover."

"I am astonished, really." at Jennings's answer, Wallace said a moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him:

"You're a reporter. Granted you're an American," (at least for purposes of the fictional example - Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship.) "I'm a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you're an American, you would not have covered that story."

Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn't Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something rather than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? "No," Wallace said flatly and immediately. "You don't have a higher duty. No. No. You're a reporter!"

Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. "I chickened out." Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached.

As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror. Retired Air Force general Brent Scowcroft, who had been Gerald Ford's national security advisor and would soon serve in the same job for George Bush, said it was simply wrong to stand and watch as your side was slaughtered. "What's it worth?" he asked Wallace bitterly. "It's worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon."

Ogletree turned to Wallace. What about that? Shouldn't the reporter have said something?

Wallace gave his most disarming grin, shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms wide in a "Don't ask me!" gesture, and said, "I don't know." He was mugging to the crowd in such a way that he got a big laugh - the first such moment of the discussion. Wallace paused to enjoy the crowd's reaction. Jennings, however, was all business, and was still concerned about the first answer he had given.

"I wish I had made another decision," Jennings said, as if asking permission to live the last five minutes over again. "I would like to have made his decision" - that is, Wallace's decision to keep on filming.

A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform. jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said,

"I have utter...contempt. Two days later they're both walking off my hilltop, two hundred yards away and they get ambushed. And they're lying there wounded. And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists. They're not Americans."

"Oh, we'll do it," Connell continued, "And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get a couple of journalists."

The last few words dripped with disgust.

Not even Ogletree knew what to say. There was dead silence for several seconds. Newt Gingrich, looking a generation younger and trimmer than when he became Speaker of the House in I995 said: "The military has done a vastly better job of systematically thinking through the ethics of behavior in a violent environment than the journalists have."

That was about the mildest way to put it. Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace are just two individuals, but their reactions spoke volumes about the values of their craft. Jennings was made to feel embarrassed about his natural, decent human impulse. Wallace was completely unembarrassed about feeling no connection to the soldiers in his country's army or considering their deaths before his eyes as "simply a story."

Like Col. Connell said, "They're not Americans, they're just

Bob Mansfield
Capt, USMCR 64-67

Posted by: Tim at August 13, 2004 11:14 PM | Permalink

Hi, JD: You may think it the agenda of some, but I didn't say or imply, nor is it my view, that journalists after 09/11 should get with the anti-terror program, quit whining about the Patriot Act, and become more compliant toward the government. That, in my view, would be a disaster.

Nor do I support any new restrictions on press freedom, and I do not see that as following at all from my speculations here. In fact, one could argue that under conditions of permanent war and domestic security threats a fiercely independent press, one that can be a check on government--and a reality check on the Executive--becomes even more important.

You want specific changes in practice recommended? On the issues I have examined here, I'm not sure I have those yet. My call was for questions to be asked, a fuller accounting to be made of what changed for journalists that day. Possibly to you that's so much hot air.

And I want my question answered:

Are journalists who inform citizens of the most powerful and influentual nation in the world participants in the war on terror, in the worldwide struggle for democracy, freedom and markets, because their country is a participant--the biggest by far--and they inform it?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 13, 2004 11:22 PM | Permalink

I think during war truth is more important than ever. Shouldn't we have a fair hearing of both sides? And yet, I watch the main stream media slant the news dramatically in favor of one of the presidential candidates (Kerry) at the expense of the other.

This betrays an amazing arrogance - the knowledge that they know what is best for us, and/or the knowledge that they can get away with lying by omission or slant.

I'll use an example I started using months ago - the Swifties. Oh, you didn't know they did anything newsworthy back then? Thank the news media.

On May 5, they held a press conference in which every one of Kerry's commanding officers and the entire chain of command through Zumwalt accused Kerry of not being fit for command.

As far as I know, this is an unprecedented event. It certainly seems newsworthy. Imagine it was Bush and Air Guard people. Would we have heard of it? And yet, it was ignored by AP, NBC and ABC. CBS reported it in a manner that would make those few who believe CBS want to immediately lynch the Swifties. Other outlets' coverage for the most part was a small story (not followed up), often with the Kerry campaign spin inserted without investigation. The Kerry campaign approach, by the way, was McCarthyite - guilt by association. O'Neill had been encouraged by Nixon to debate Kerry, so O'Neill was clearly a Republican shill (hint: O'Neill has been reported to favor Edwards had he been the nominee). The PR firm had been tied to some dirty business in 2000 sliming McCain, so again, these folks must be Bush operatives ( illegal under election laws ).

How many here knew of the event? Did you find out from the main stream media? Do you trust them to show you all you need to know? How many were led to believe it was a Republican smear machine behind it?

Then we had the Swiftie ad. The Democratic Committee's lawyers sent scare letters to many or all of the station where the ad was to be run.

How many people heard about that intimidation attempt? How many people knew that three organizations immediately sued the Swifties? Is the press giving us the true in this crucial election year?

Beyond that, where the ad did come up, too many organizations, ignorant of the subject, allowed the argument that only those who served on Kerry's boat "served with him" or could judge his performance?

Moving on... has anyone investigated Kerry's "band of brothers?" How many of them got safer assignments when Kerry left Vietnam? How long did they serve on his boat?

Has there been a single investigation, or does the media just trust everything Kerry says.

How many people know that Kerry was a Naval Reserve Officer during his anti-war protests, and tried to cover it up? How many know that his words were used to torture POWs? How many know that in June of this year, Kerry's words were used in a Vietnamese News Service propaganda piece attacking US activities in Iraq? How many know that Kerry's picture is in a room honoring foreigners who helped the Communists win the Vietnam War?

In other words, where the hell are the investigative journalists? I know those things. Why don't they? Will the American public ever find out?

So my specific points are: get back to basics. Tell the truth - as much of it as you can ascertain. Stop using your positions as a way to change the nation - I don't want to pay an activist's salary when I buy a nenwspaper.

Here's my final suggestion: we are at war. Focus on the war. Remember that scandals will be available, but examine how big they should be. Look at history - World War II, which had fewer deaths on our soil - for how things were covered. The all seeing eye of the press can act as a psychological weapon for the enemy (as the publication of the pictures of Abu Ghraib did). Try something new: consider the impact on your nation before you publish something like that.

Posted by: John Moore at August 13, 2004 11:25 PM | Permalink

Your writing betrays you, not as a real journalist , but as the proto-typical propagandist vainly affecting the mask of "reporter" to hide your preconceived notions of what journalism should be.
It took less than a full line of prose to determine your crass and too obvious bias against and hatred of the Bush Administration!
No one expects journalists to be cheerleaders for the government, but cheerleading against the government using bumpersticker-like phraseology is hardly encouraged either!
JD, the '60's are on the phone, they want their mantras back! Hand 'em over.
Write when you've visited the Wizard and he's given you a brain!

Posted by: Earl T at August 13, 2004 11:56 PM | Permalink

This point of view may be too cynical, but it fits my observations. In the days after 9/11/2001 I knew people who feared more than anything else the possibility that the fallout from the terrible events of that day might make Bush more popular. I think many reporters had the same intense fear as these friends of mine. For these reporters nothing changed on 9/11/2001; the war against George W. Bush went on, the same war that raged before 9/11/2001 in which these reporters fought fiercely for their social set and its perceived values. The terrorist attacks and the "war" against "terror" just represented a change in the intellectual landscape of the battle, like a hill or a river in a physical military war. The change required new tactics and new strategies, but the war remained the same.

Posted by: Average Joe at August 13, 2004 11:57 PM | Permalink


Having ignored your last question (didn't see it), here's an answer: Yes, journalists are participants in the war one terror. So is everyone, but in some ways journalists are special.

As has been mentioned, terrorists often (but not always - there are some old paradigm thinking going around) make their attacks with the intent that they will be widely reported. Obviously, that brings the journalist into the loop. Furthermore, depending on the situation, the journalist may stumble onto some information related to the event that should not be broadcast, or should be delayed. This is especially true in the early minutes or hours. How the journalist would know this is another problem.

Journalists may be targets. Witness the Anthrax attacks.

In a much more sensitive issue, government officials may ask journalists to report false information. This puts the journalist in the role of an active information warfare participant. If journalists had much credibility left, they might be concerned about losing it in such an action. That would be a true sacrifice by a citizen and obviously the sort of thing that would engender controversy.

Finally, I think journalists, who have adopted an anti-government attitude (the "watchdog" idea) may need to re-analyze that attitude on individual cases. Wars have lots of screw ups. They don't all need to be publicized. But which ones should be public and which ones not reported is a difficult problem.

Posted by: John Moore at August 14, 2004 12:11 AM | Permalink

Well JD Lasica, your reaction is quite typical of what I have come to expect. Incapable of admitting wrong, lacking even the most basic ability for self examination. Time and time again the media put themselves up in a sort of fantasy of self examination, only to deign any sort of error on their part.

You really need to come to grips with the fact that the Islamofasists will not respect the Bill of Rights if we lose this war. You can pretend like Mike Wallace does to be a detached scientific observer, but the fact remains your life rests on this countries freedoms. Not your objectivity.

The media is in danger, perhaps even mortal danger, I am old enough to remember the anger and resentment against the media after Vietnam, the press was blamed by very many for our loss in that war. The stakes are geometrically higher this time. We are stalked by an enemy which would kill millions without a second though of regret, enslave the survivors and then will turn on itself in a 7th century fit of barbarism, just as the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have now begun to turn on themselves since they can no longer easily murder Jews. And, what do you do, inform the public to the true threat, no, cover up John Kerry's excellent adventure into Cambodia, yea that’s the ticket. Cover up Joe Wilson's non-existent creditability, gone in a cloud of his own self serving lies. Give Michael Moore a free pass to produce modern day Nazi Propaganda, he has done more damage to your freedom and your future than you know. You have blood on your hands Macbeth.

I am constantly amazed at how naive people in the media are, they are losing readers and viewers at an alarming rate, journalists are considered less trustworthy than Used Car Salesmen, think about that a bit. I stopped listening to your media, more and more people turn you off everyday, look at the NYT stock prices, when you finally do make the change in yourself it may come to late for anyone to even notice.

Posted by: Tom Schruefer at August 14, 2004 12:27 AM | Permalink

The question of journalism's role, and its mindset, in the post-9/11 world reminds me of something Thomas Sowell wrote in January of last year. I have often thought of it as I read or listen to the news from the major networks, publishers, and NPR. Sowell drew a distinction between journalistic objectivity and neutrality. His example was the work of the great American reporter Edward R. Murrow during WWII. My paraphrase of Sowell's comments: Murrow embodied journalistic objectivity (i.e., he sought the truth in all he covered) yet never pretended to neutrality (i.e., he never subordinated the truth to some preconceived notion of "balance"). Sowell drew an analogy to science: Scientists use objective methods to perform their research, but they do not claim neutrality in the battle between people and cancer. If more journalists today appreciated this distinction, I suspect our daily news diet would look different in many ways than it does now.

Posted by: Barrett at August 14, 2004 12:41 AM | Permalink


"Finally, I think journalists, who have adopted an anti-government attitude (the "watchdog" idea) may need to re-analyze that attitude on individual cases."

It's called "patriotism". A lot of people have different definitions. Some involve military service. Others involve decrying that same service. Mine is pretty simple:

You put your country first.

Quite frankly most, if not all, modern "journalists" don't do this. They believe they are a member of some global elite group that stands above it all. My definition is pretty simple:

I call that being a traitor.

Posted by: ed at August 14, 2004 12:42 AM | Permalink

Tim: I watched that 1987 televised roundtable. I was disturbed at Mike Wallace's comments then, and I find them equally deplorable today. I would suggest to you that the vast majority of journalists reject that point of view. No one I know would do what Wallace suggests.

Earl: You may be surprised that over the past decade I've been more critical of the mainstream media than anyone who has posted here today. The online news circles where I regularly post, and where I regularly slam the media, would be surprised to find people on this list who think I'm a defender of big media. I'm not. But I criticize specific examples of malfeasance or unethical behavior rather than making a wholesale attack on "the media."

Jay: I'm surprised you think my posts have criticized the thrust of your posting. They have not, and you know I'm a big fan of your writings. I do, however, take issue with those who have bashed the press here and suggested restrictions on press liberties. (Yes, the press has done much to bring this kind of disdain upon itself, as I've written dozens of times -- while suggesting specific changes the press ought to make.)

To raise the questions you have is praiseworthy. I'm still looking for some specific suggestions about what the press should be doing differently.

I'm not surprised other journalists haven't posted here, given the tone of the comments, but I'll suggest a few principles to kick this off in a constructive way:

- In a combat situation, journalists must always remember their humanity and devotion to their fellow men and women. Life comes before the story.

- When confronted with the possibility that citizens would face grave harm from reporting an exclusive story, news organizations should refrain from doing so until the danger has passed.

- We are journalists. But we are also Americans. Don't assume that reporting unpleasant truths turns us into something less. An informed citizenry is one of the strongest bulwarks against terrorism and despotism.

- In a time of war and heightened terrorism alerts, news organizations should do everything within their means to ferret out the truth so that citizens can make informed decisions about the threats facing the nation, without fear, favor or partisanship.

Posted by: JD Lasica at August 14, 2004 12:46 AM | Permalink

"Sorry, but a lot of the comments here are over the top.

As a journalist, it's not my job to be a mouthpiece for (a) the U.S. government. My obligations are to (b) the truth, and (c) my fellow citizens."

I probably don't belong in this discussion because I'm not a journalist, or a pundit, or an intellectual... just a plain old American. But when I see JD Lasica's posts, I feel a real disconnect between us. I'm having trouble dealing with this War on Terrorism, or Clash of Civilizations, or whatever the name of the day is, and I don't feel well served by the mainstream journalists that I used to go to. There's a tinniness or shallowness to reporting these days, that I'm getting bite-size bits of information about issues that are really big, like historically big, like WWII big, and "journalists" are not willing to step up and relate to the Big Picture. For me, the reality is there's a war on, and in a war there are two sides, and there are big differences in world views, historical perspectives, and dreams for the future between the two. In trying to define my role in the world and what I believe as an American I have picked up my Bible. I have watched the movies "Osama" and "The Patriot" - just try watching both of those in the same night. I have bought copies of the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America for myself and my sons. All these have helped me in some way get some sense of direction in the midst of uncertainty, some feel for a perspective on the Big Picture. And that's helped me to pick a side in this conflict.

And I think that's where the disconnect comes from. I feel like journalism by and large hasn't picked a side, and thus, as better explained by others above, isn't on my side. I see black and white in this war we're in, but I feel like I'm being told it's really gray. I have moral relativism preached at me when I'm sure there's good and evil. Journalism won't be patriotic, when patriotism is what drives me now. And the last thing I want to be told is that patriotism means we have to cast a jaundiced eye upon everything done in the name of America.

This war is life and death. Maybe death for someone I know, for me, for some in my family. It's also a struggle for survival of ideals I cherish - equality, freedom of speech and religion, glorious democracy, capitalism - if not for me possibly for many that now enjoy them, or wish to. And I just don't see that media/journalism/those that decide what's news, really get this. In the interest of describing a tree here or there, the forest has been forgotten.

Posted by: Dave L at August 14, 2004 1:07 AM | Permalink

I'm not sure this is an answer to your question, Jay, but when you speak of journalists' view of America and how they view their connection to America, the thing that popped into my mind was containers.

I suspect "America" for many journalists is a giant container with a lot of smaller, sometimes overlapping, occasionally quarelling, containers inside. In order to cover events and discussions, they must place themselves outside that "America" container, in order to view things impartially and dispassionately. Being inside the container limits the distance needed. Being outside the container allows freedom of distance and view.

Most folks assumed that 9/11 dissolved (obliterated?) the many small containers into fewer, larger ones. Or that many formerly unaligned or opposed containers would find a contiguous surface in a response to the attacks and their perpetrators. Most Americans assumed that smaller differences would be subordinated to the larger interest of defending America and punishing its enemies.

But the press would have to resist that, in order to maintain their freedom of distance and movement and point of view. To move inside the container would be to constrain themselves in their duty. That duty isn't connected to the "America" container but to their freedom of distance and point of view. The pressure to unite had the equal and opposite reaction in journalists of resistance and separation.

Then there is the parallel matter of Election 2000, which created an enormous rift in American society. A new, large and very distinct container came into being thanks to the Florida recount and the Florida and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In a manner of speaking, two parallel Americas came into being -- one where Bush won and one where Bush stole Gore's victory. One America views Bush as the rightful President and another views Bush as illegitimate.

In the second America, the illegitimate President dishonestly brought America into an illegal war for immoral purposes. All actions flowing from the initial wrong are themselves tainted and wrong. For this group, the election this year is an effort to bring these two Americas back together at the point of rupture and erase the events of the past four years.

Reporters, meanwhile, remain outside these containers, but still report on the whole as though there is no rupture. As though the two are one.

I guess this is where my model breaks down, as you can legitimately say that journalists likely view themselves as another container. The unanimity of politics and point of view among the national, and much of the local, press is a direct refutation of the "outside the container" model, since it would imply a lot of diversity in every sense.

You can argue that a container inside the "America" container -- the liberalised educational system and journalism schools -- somehow gained a monopoly on control of access to "outsider" status. They were a container working inside "America" with the intent of subverting it. One would expect a free and open press to be a diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting.

Of course, this is an ideal. Reporters are human and even the best training and discipline will slip over time. Especially when the trainers and monitors alone can police themselves, resistant to outside intervention. Solipsism and self-referentiality set in; ossification, too.

Somewhere between the Forties and the Seventies, a conservative press sympathetic to those in power and willing to accept censorship for the sake of the national good (inside the "America" container) became an oppositional, liberal press divorced from an "America" container that many viewed with disdain. That arm's-length distance, that freedom of movement and distance, worked because the wars and enemies were "out there" somewhere.

Even as modern terrorism moved closer and closer, the distance remained. I think many to most Americans expected that the press might collapse back to a Forties-style, pro-America, compliant model. It hasn't and the problems with that outsider viewpoint are becoming clearer every day. It's a component of the success of Fox News, in my opinion. I also think it's part of what drove the earlier success of talk radio -- a desire to hear from a press that considers itself American.

The blogosphere managed to break the control of the j-schools and media monitors, opening the flow of information. We are beginning to see a diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting thanks to it. We are also seeing a lot more reporting from inside the "America" container. The change is, I think, what you are looking for, yes? I begin to suspect it won't be a process of assimilation and adaptation -- at least not for a while -- but rather a process of replacement.

Thanks, Jay. I've had this formless idea in my head in my head for a while and the discussion helped to precipitate and crystallise it. Sorry for the length of the post.

Posted by: mike hollihan at August 14, 2004 1:28 AM | Permalink

JD Lasica,

We live in a capitalist economy. If you don't serve your customer's needs for whatever reason, highly moral or totally venal, you will not long remain employed.

As one other poster pointed out. We will still need reporters (fact collecters) in 10 years. We will no longer need journalists. We got blogs. Better, faster, cheaper, more interaction.

A good post can get hundreds of LTEs. Extensive interaction for print would be a few letters over a few days.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 4:02 AM | Permalink

I will go farther. With bloggers every where we will need far fewer reporters.

Journalism in the MSM is not going to need a lot of bodies.

Partisan tag line follows. Discretion advised.


John Kerry, a man who faced shot and shell in Vietnam, is afraid of paper in America.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 4:19 AM | Permalink

When enough journo heads roll (literally) they will figure which side they are on.

Evidently Daniel Pearl et. al. are not yet enough.

BTW can any of the journos explain the news blackout on Kerry lying in Senate testimony? Where is the "16 words" outrage?

Snide partisan comment follows. Discretion advised.

I'm going with Kerry is not a liar. I believe he comitted war crimes as he testified before the US Senate.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 4:32 AM | Permalink

The idea that the US press has been insufficiently patriotic over the last three years is psychotic. Every other nation on earth except Israel is appalled by our policy because it is stupid, dangerous, and misguided. It's like complaining that Goebbels didn't have the interests of the Nazi party closely enough to heart.
The fact is that opposing the government is frequently the most patriotic thing the press can do. Activist Republicans interpret this patriotism as unAmerican because they can't distinguish between Republican propaganda and the meaning of America.
The recent press shift to be less complete shills of the government is patriotic because it challenges Bush and Ashcroft's endrun around the constitution.
If the question,"Does September 11th change everything?" means, "Do we throw away the constition?", I say,"Hell no!"
Anyone who disagrees is spitting on the constitution and everything our country stands for in support of our misguided boy-king. The Republicans are complaining about the presses' recent acquisition of a patriotic backbone that refuses to simply pass along demonstrably fabricated disinformation as "news" simply because it crosses the lips of an anonymous White House official.
The idea that there has been insufficient coverage of the Swift Boat Liars is an outrage. Their ad unarguably requires the viewer to assume that these vets were on Kerry's boat when they were not. They undermine their own credibility. It's been irresponsible for these hacks to have gotten the attention they have.
Reporting Republican hit squad propaganda is precisely analogous to carrying terrorist propaganda on the domestic front. It is to carry on the culture wars in spite of facts and reality checking just because Republican blowhards say so. The argument to shut down reporting on middle eastern terrorists is an argument to shut down reporting on the Swift boat hit squad.
I happen to think Kerry is probably a small-time war criminal. The larger, more important point is that the declaration of free fire zones in itself was a war crime. That means war crimes were the official policy of the government. That goes way beyond Kerry. It is sad that Kerry couldn't even manage to stick to the war crimes that had been ordered and attacked friendly villages as well.
The point is that the government ordered war-crimes in Vietnam and Iraq. That means when Kerry came back and opposed the war he got it right. What the Swift Boat Liars really want to do is revise history so they can pretend that there were no war crimes and that Vietnam was a just war. The fact that Kerry is a small-time war criminal in a war built on war crimes will not change my vote.
Bush is an even bigger war criminal and has already been the most incompetent president in decades, so whining about Kerry's record is just more evident that Bush has NOTHING to run on but Rove's dirty tricks.
A serious call for more patriotism in the US press would be a call for harsher, more active condemnation of Bush and his misguided minions. Amen to that.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 14, 2004 4:35 AM | Permalink

J. D. Lassica,

There seems to be a lot of unpleasant truths about John Kerry out there. Since 1 May at least. No MSM coverage. It is my considered opiniion that all you have said here is a cover-up for incompetence or partisanship.

The Kerry melt down will proceed without your help. John Kerry invents stuff out of whole cloth. Not just mislead. Total Walter Mitty. Silence.

I expected the destruction of the two parties out of this election (still on track). I get the wipe of the MSM as an added unexpected bonus. Woo hoo.

Insult directed at JFnK follows. Discretion advised.

250 decorated veterans all liars? Kerry still sliming vets? Reversion to form . I’d say.

Now what are the odds that the 2% who support Kerry and are paid by him are telling the truth and the 98% who don’t get a dime are liars? Kinda stretches the old credulity don’t it? Unless Kerry is accusing the officer corps of the US Navy to be made up of untrustworthy liars.

Good old John.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release the records.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 5:01 AM | Permalink

BTW Ben F.,

I guess if you can't answer the charges you can sling counter charges. Glad we agree on Kerry is a war criminal. Now we have one point in common.

Not satisfied with the current level of press bias you want Moore. Is that any way to treat your customers? I hope so. The MSM has too many customers already.

Total hack job on Kerry follows. Discretion advised.

Why wasn't Kerry reprimanded for throwing chickens against the wall?

Because he didn't throw the chickens. He used a machine gun.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 5:13 AM | Permalink

Ben F.,

You know I was always under the impression that the man behind the trigger was responsible for his crimes no matter what the orders.

If John is such a fine fellow why was he doing the killing and giving orders for the same? Isn't he personally responsible for his action? Souldn't the press use the Nazi War Crimes trials as precident? Following orders is no excuse.

Kerry is a war criminal diatribe follows. Discretion advised.

John Kerry is emblimatic of America. A country where any decorated war criminal can run for President.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?

Form 180. Release the records.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 14, 2004 5:21 AM | Permalink

Jay, I've posted a re-edited and slightly expanded version of my comment above at my blog, under the title "Journalism, Patriotism, Containers." Here's the direct link, though these things are usually bloggered. Thanks again for sparking my thinking!

Posted by: mike hollihan at August 14, 2004 5:29 AM | Permalink

M. Simon,
I didn't say he wasn't responsible. I say he's reponsible for war crimes and he is opposed in the election by an even bigger war criminal who would be indicted if the Nuremberg principles were in effect for a war of aggression and for approving policies in explicit opposition to the Geneva convention.
So just what would make Bush a good president?
What positive things about his record or his plans could an honest media report? I haven't heard of any and Bush's campaign apparently hasn't either because all they can talk about is Kerry. If Kerry is such a slime, why are the same people saying the same things about him as they did about McCain in the 2000 primaries? Hmmm.
It almost suggests the problem might just have more to do with opposing Bush and his thugs in an election than any personal qualities.
That almost sounds like news. Facts are so inconvenient when you are a Bush supporter. As Jon Daily so eloquently put it,"Reality just seems to have an anti-Bush slant." Pity.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 14, 2004 6:40 AM | Permalink

M. Simon,
So you just don't care that your government orders war crimes? Does morality stop at the party line? Release your mind from document 180. There's a war on. Your president screwed it up in every way imaginable. He's wrecking the economy. He's wrecking the environment. He's alienated every ally we need to fight real terrorists. We're making enemies, not defeating them. Release your mind from document 180.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 14, 2004 6:45 AM | Permalink

in my own news consumption 9/11 fueled the rise of weblogs and reduced the extent to which i get info from the mainstream media. that is probably true for others. weblogs filled the need for information in those days when one had to wait until morning for the newspaper and its few thousand words of mostly irrelevant info, or turn on TV and wait patiently through commercials, personality chit chat, celebrity sightings, and shouted political charges and counter charges to get a few brief seconds of useful information (and i don't mean recipes or how-to tips).

a lot of the info on blogs is inaccurate or incomplete at best, but then so is a lot of info in the MSM. one reads more than one blog, and they are all very quick to correct one another and to include comments by readers. contrast the MSM who never criticize each other, except for the print media's criticism of TV news on stylistic grounds, or everyone's obsession with FNC; and print only a few carefully selected reader letters or op-eds.

final note: watching crowds in Athens cheer the Afghan team led by a bare-headed woman, and the Iraqi team fresh from an upset in soccer and not fearing Uday's torture upon the conclusion of the games, and the US team as they paraded into the Olympic stadium spoke volumes. TV, as shown by C-SPAN, does best when it steps back and shows pictures without a lot of second-guessing. will be interesting to see how the MSM play the reception given to Afghanistan, Iraq and the US teams.

Posted by: jim linnane at August 14, 2004 6:48 AM | Permalink

JD Lasica's comments above are a perfect illustration of the lock-step group-think of professional journalism in the post 9/11 world.

Paraphrasing his view: "This war is unneccessary!" & "The government is lying!"

Where have we heard that before? Perhaps continuously since Vietnam?

How can you expect to find “the truth” by reflexively applying Vietnam-era assumptions to the 9/11 world?

You won’t even be able to see -- much less report -- the truth if you can only look for it in the rear-view mirror.

As a corrective, try these propositions as a working hypothesis: "This war IS necessary." "The government IS NOT lying about it."

Now ask yourself: "If those propositions are true, what am I missing?" Then go find some answers.

The post above on what happens to press freedoms under Islamo-fascism would be a good place to start (but only start).

"Ben Franklin" might also benefit from such thinkng. But judging from the heat-to-light ratio in his posts above, there’s little hope of that.

Glenn Livet

Posted by: Glenn Livet at August 14, 2004 8:39 AM | Permalink

Hello, everyone. As I re-open the comments section, and before I have had a chance carefully to review what everyone said, I do have question from the road (still vacationing), something that puzzles me:

Why does asking about a journalist's "duty to the nation" in an age of terrorism mean (to some) a duty to support the government? I don't get it. Are these two things one and the same?

My piece was asking questions about the relationship the press has to the American people, the body politic. (And came to no firm conclusions!) Why does this instantly get caught up in arguments about how compliant or supportive the press should be toward the government?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 16, 2004 9:00 AM | Permalink

Why does this instantly get caught up in arguments about how compliant or supportive the press should be toward the government?

That's an essential question, isn't it? Who would support such a framing? Who would pay for such a framing? What are the historical antecedents to such a framing?

Posted by: Matt Stoller at August 16, 2004 11:24 AM | Permalink

The adoption by journalists of their position of "righteous ignorance" is at the heart of their continuing alienation from and irrelevence to the citizenship at large. Neutrality is used to cover up the profound factual and historical ignorance at the heart of most coverage -- there is never an evaluation of claims until long after the facts are indisputable. Why do we need journalists, when they cannot provide the immediate context needed (what is the reason for and likely outcome of this event, based on the history of the persons involved and the stated goal), but instead stand in front of the camera tell us that shots are being fired in the background and x have been injured? Why do we need journalists, when they don't have the expertise to know what is credible and what needs verification and would rather just print the statements of figures involved?

Posted by: Dave at August 16, 2004 11:44 AM | Permalink

Why does this instantly get caught up in arguments about how compliant or supportive the press should be toward the government?

Is a better question, "What is the balance between watchdog journalism with a bad news bias and operating as a conduit for government messages, which may then challenge the independence of the press".

The American press is already hostile to the American Powers That Be, with a skewed social liberal-Democrat groupthink among its members.

The Islamists are also hostile to the American Powers That Be.

The American press feels no obligation to be the watchdog press of Islamists with a bias for their bad news.

Shouldn't your question then be phrased as:

Why does this instantly get caught up in arguments about how hostile the press should be toward the government?

or ...

Why does this instantly get caught up in arguments about how compliant or supportive the press should be toward the enemy?

The press and terrorists are already in a symbiotic death dance. The first step is for the media to recognize it and decide to take up informational arms against terrorists. To do so might require some cooperation, if not compliance, with the government which might be considered compliance or support from a demagogic watchdog's view.


A number of options, none without costs and risks, exist for enhancing the effectiveness of government media-oriented responses to terrorism and for preventing the media from furthering terrorist goals as a byproduct of vigorous and free reporting. These include: (1) financing joint media/government training exercises; (2) establishing a government terrorism information response center; (3) promoting use of media pools; (4) promoting voluntary press coverage guidelines; and (5) monitoring terrorism against the media.

Posted by: Tim at August 16, 2004 12:02 PM | Permalink

Jay: You have a great question in your essay; what I don’t understand is why people don’t respond to it in the spirit in which it is asked rather than dragging in their partisan views. As someone who used to work in the media (albeit in a tiny market—and mine was the dominant newspaper in the state), I feel that those who write the death of journalism need to go back to Mark Twain’s comment about the reporting of his death. I do wonder about the use of the term journalist in this blog. Some people seem to see journalist as different from reporter. Then they criticize the reporters for the content of their stories, but they call them journalists.(?)

I think that journalists (or reporters) will be around for the foreseeable future. However, as in the days when television was supplanting newspapers, there will be changes brought on by the Internet. For instance, I can get my local NPR station on my computer, if I wish. I can also read blogs such as yours, but I still get most of my news from newspapers. However, I would define journalism as the pulling together of news of interest for others so that they don’t have to take the time to do so themselves from a variety of sources. Most people spend only a certain amount of time each day on their newspaper or the television news. They don’t want to have to spend great gobs of time on their computers either looking at a variety of opinions in a variety of places or having to “spin the dial” a dozen times to hear what’s been happening which I why I suspect journalists will eventually be publishing even more web newspapers, which may be better in the long run that what we get from television.

If the term journalism is limited to opinion pieces then it is obvious that journalists are going to be condemned by one side or the other. Those of us who think, read them to confirm our own opinions or because we enjoy their prose, not to get their opinions. Thus, for the first time in eons plus a year or two, I read Bill O’Reilly at breakfast this morning without getting sick. (John Moore—he has an interesting take on the Swift Boat thing!) His opinion gibed with what I’ve been thinking. And I’m not arguing that situation one way or another; I’m giving an analogy as to why I think so many people find the media biased. And I, for one, have believed it conservative bias rather than liberal. I think the only reason we think it is biased on the left is that the “victim” conservatives have been shouting that so long that even the newsrooms are beginning to believe it. I think it actually began with, believe it or not, Lyndon Johnson and was honed to perfection by Richard Nixon. Or maybe he started it from California and Johnson picked it up in Washington.

I had thought we answered the question in the positive during the 1960s about covering the unpopular issues. From some of the posts here I wonder if television stations and newspapers should have covered 9/11. When the buildings collapsed, that gave the terrorists even more publicity than the planes going into the buildings. Should the American public have been left in the dark? I thought the networks and the newspapers and the magazines did a commendable job of covering that day (with the caveat that the networks went on and on and on without saying anything new) from the viewpoint of the American side. (The bias was that very little reporting was done about the construction of the buildings that enabled them to collapse. The Empire State Building survived an ape climbing on it as well as the B17 that hit it during WWII.) Should journalists not tell us about the next attack? Should they shield us from the bad news in Iraq and report that everything is going smoothly as the Administration wants them too? Or should the American public be alerted ahead of time so that when the whole shebang falls apart they are knowledgeable? After all, the victory is not going to take place the new schools, etc., it really is going to take place at this point in the battles with the insurgents. Apparently the latest news or the recurring al Sadr revolt is that the provision government may be losing its authority throughout the whole country as a result. The positive stories need to be reported, but the public needs to know what is really going on. It needs to be encouraged to think for itself rather than absorbing government propaganda.

Trying to cover the world of sports, weather, fashion, health, science and war in thirty minutes a day is one reason that reporting has gotten sloppy. Trying to cover it quickly may be another reason. If it has. Headline writing is up to its usual standard: excellent sometimes, average most of the time, written for an unread story the rest. But the change in coverage has come around mostly because of the changes in warfare. In most of the foreign wars in our history, had a journalist from one side tried to go behind enemy lines, he would have been imprisoned or shot by the other. This is what has changed. But in this modern world, we Americans are among the most ignorant in knowing attitudes and feelings of those outside our boundaries. It’s great to be American, but do journalists have to become the home-team sports announcer who is upbeat and optimistic when the home team is down 20 points and tells us how bad the team is that is 20 points ahead? “It’s just a bad night for the home team?” Yes, American journalists should be on the American side. The Wallace/Jennings interview begs the question because it sets up an untenable situation that has more to do with the courage of the reporter than his Americanism. By only dealing with the one variable it is nonsense. No one suggested that should he make a move to warn the patrol, he’d probably be dead before he could do more than twitch. A knife is silent and if I had an enemy reporter with me on an ambush, he would be watched so that he could do nothing. The generals should have known that. Commit suicide to no avail?

Michael McCanles: I think the Stockholm Syndrome analogy is just a vicious way to attack Liberals and indicates you have no understanding of where they come from. You haven’t done your homework.

Dave L: The peace and freedom you desire is kept only with vigilance and you need to know the facts, not the propaganda to keep it.

Glenn Livet: Now I know why I switched to blended scotch. I looked at your questions and I am still of the same beliefs I was when I started. They are nonsense.

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at August 16, 2004 3:13 PM | Permalink


No one suggested that should he make a move to warn the patrol, he’d probably be dead before he could do more than twitch.

Jennings did: Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. Guess you missed that. Which of course brings up the Paris Match DHL attack and TIME magazine's behind the lines reports.

It's interesting too that commenters with a left lens bias immediately narrow the scope to Iraq. Is it important to distinguish between guerilla forces and terrorists in Iraq and media rules about terrorism coverage?

Why is it either/or? Should a successful terrorist act be reported as a failure of governing forces with an impending downfall, or as an act of inhumanity that civil people are obligated to denounce and civil society internationally obligated to defeat?

For example, if a genocide is declared, civil society is obligated to respond - but an act of terrorism and freedom fighters bombing civilians are indistiguishable?

It seems to me you can report good news and bad with a partisan's view. I get the impression from some that the American public would be better served if the "MSM" were more like Al Jazeera than Fox News.

For as far from perfection as this Iraq operation has been, it has been significantly further from the catastrophe many predicted (United Nations, MEDACT, ...).

Is Sadr really any more likely to be successful this time than back in April? Or the uprising way back in November?

Posted by: Tim at August 16, 2004 4:11 PM | Permalink

How can the press act as a conduit for information transfer that benefits The People, yet avoid becoming hijacked and used as a nearly-unmediated megaphone by a faction or factions who wish to get their own message out?

The same question/dilemma applies to PressThink's comments section.

Posted by: Anna at August 16, 2004 4:17 PM | Permalink

Is a part of journalism creating progress in dialog?

If so, to what extent is exploration of the subject required?

Does dialog progress through repetition, or through examination from multiple angles?

Are conclusions drawn, causing forward motion in the national dialog, or are discredited notions continually repeated? Who gets to do the discrediting? The public perhaps?

Conducting, facilitating, and informing the public's debate, not the newsroom's debate, is noble and useful. Purveying echo chamber assertions is less so.

To the extent that there is a necessary war occurring, there is also significant emotional involvement in that war. Large audiences 'want to know:' how are we doing; what progress; what risks; what are we doing to increase our chances/lower our risks?

To the extent there is an anti- crowd, how are their points to be interjected into the public dialog? Is it necessary to be strident to advance the dialog? Is the coverage for the purpose of loud dissention, or for improvement?

Does journalism have a purpose? A responsibility?

Posted by: John Lynch at August 16, 2004 4:47 PM | Permalink

Now that you mention that, I remember that's why someone said Jennings got shamed. But I think that should have been part of the general's question as well. As stated it was a trick question with no real answer.

I agree that you can report both good and bad news from a partisan viewpoint.

What I was talking about is an article which I noted this morning in my reading travels that quoted Iraqis and some of our people saying that the provisional government is in trouble with its believability. If we're talking Iraq, I can make a case, however, that an attempt to establish democracy in that country is doomed to fail. But as a Cassandra in this blog I would be nailed to the wall. We must say that democratization will work. Isn't that what Paul Wolfowitz says?

Anna: That, I think, is one of the points of this discussion. Can a journalist follow the rules of the profession and still be a good American? Is a good American journalist one who follows the party line of whomever (in this case, the Administration) is trying to write the script?

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at August 16, 2004 4:50 PM | Permalink

As a "news consumer" and American, Howell Raines's reply to Smith's question doesn't bother me, in abstract. 9/11 did not change my need for the press to tell me "...what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information." But for a long time the press hadn't been giving me that. Instead, it's been more like "...what we decide to tell you, understanding that it must fit our framework of the way we want the world to be, and the way we want you to think." While I could put up with this before 9/11, it's not acceptable now. 9/11 concentrated the mind: Getting accurate information is now a life-and-death matter. That's made me less tolerant of press foibles, and more sensitive to spin and incomplete reporting.

One thing that struck me in the days immediately after 9/11 was the apparant uniformity of the media's lack of trust in the American people, and in America's government. We've all heard about the networks' decision to stop rebroadcasting the actual crash footage and the towers' fall; at first justified on the grounds of "good taste," later out of concern that such broadcasts might be seen as waving the bloody shirt. And there were the constant exhortations that "although these attackers might have been Muslims, they weren't the same as all Muslims, certainly not the moderate Muslims." (This despite the inability to find any "moderate" Muslims who were willing to speak on the record.) Even displaying the American flag was suspect: It might "send the wrong message." It was as if the press, haunted by the spectre of William Randolph Hearst, made the decision to restrict the information it would give Americans "for their own good," lest the people (that mob of rabble) force their government (that collection of idiots) into doing something "rash."

But for this reader, these gyrations were the press declaring its "lack of affiliation with a home team." [Al Maviva's comment] It produced a Groucho-and-Chico situation: "Well, your word's good enough for me. Now then, is my word good enough for you?" "I should say not!" Except this time nobody's word is good: The press doesn't trust me enough to give me the whole, unvarnished, story. Fine. Then why should I assume that what the press tells me is is whole or unvarnished?

And it's not helped when my concerns of bias get met with statements like this: "My guess is that the "we're at war!" crowd would like the press to be nothing more than an adjunct of the U.S. government." [J.D. Lasica's comment] No, that's not what we want. It might be nice to-- once and a while-- just hear what the government is saying without the instant analysis, interpretation, and journalistic "yes, but"s. It might be nice if-- from time to time-- the press could give equal weight to the Secretary of Defense and the latest Osama Bin Laden tape. I guess what I'm saying is that it might be nice if the press seemed to trust our own people at least as much as it does French diplomats, UN bureaucrats, the Palastinians, or the random disaffected arab who made the interview-of-the-day slot. "We are journalists. But we are also Americans. Don't assume that reporting unpleasant truths turns us into something less. An informed citizenry is one of the strongest bulwarks against terrorism and despotism." [J.D. Lasica, later] Okay. We need to know the unpleasant truths. It's vital that we know them. But we need to know that they are truths, not spin.

So you want suggestions, JD? Well, I'd start by echoing "Glenn Livet's" comment "'If those propositions are true, what am I missing?' Then go find some answers." [above] Doubt both your sources and your own assumptions. People who were wrong before may be right today. The situation today may no longer fit yesterday's template. We're betting our lives on your understanding of what the truth is now.

Pay attention to details. If somebody is accused of saying something, do us the favor of checking to see if that's what he really said, before you write the article. Errors will be caught, and, intentional or not, they weaken your credibility. (Hint: "Africa" != "Niger")

Don't waste our time. We depend on you to keep an eye on the world for us. There are a lot of things going on out there that could turn around and bite. We need to know about them. But we won't know if you fill the front page with the nth rehash of the prisoner abuse story and don't report the Iranians putting the finishing touches on their atomic weapons.

Don't drop the story because it no longer fits the template (or, What Ever Happened to Joseph Wilson?). When things change, we need a followup.

Identify, identify, identify. Deadly constructions like "critics charged," "some [...] have said," and the like, make me want to turn into Harold Ross, scrawl "WHO HE?" on the story, and send it back for rewriting. Too often, I feel, the "unnamed source" of these quotes is the reporter, or one of his beer buddies. If somebody wants to attack the government in time of war, they should have the courage to go on the record.

Keep the spin out of the headlines and out of the news. "Should a successful terrorist act be reported as a failure of governing forces with an impending downfall, or as an act of inhumanity that civil people are obligated to denounce and civil society internationally obligated to defeat?" [Tim's question] I'd say neither. Save the declarations of "heroic fights for freedom" or "vile acts of inhumanity" for the editorial page. (But if somebody's using terror as a tactic, call him a "terrorist," OK? The word does have a precise meaning.)


"The Wallace/Jennings interview... sets up an untenable situation that has more to do with the courage of the reporter than his Americanism. By only dealing with the one variable it is nonsense."

Calling the question "nonsense" sure beats trying to answer it, doesn't it? ;-)

Posted by: Old Grouch at August 17, 2004 1:13 AM | Permalink

Old Grouch: It's nonsense because it sets up a situation with no real answer. Oh, you can say that its an absolute that the reporter should warn his fellow Americans. Would it change the result? At the time he would be able to warn them, probably not although some might escape. From your point of view and some of the others on this post and, I think, myself, the question might be, should an American reporter have been there in the first place? I'm not sure than in WWII, which has been cited on this post before, a reporter would have wanted to be on the German side of the battle lines. In Iraq, let the French or Al Jezeera go there. But, then, all news out of WWII battle zones was censored.

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at August 17, 2004 1:08 PM | Permalink


Obviously in wartime the president, the commander in chief, is a profound figurehead. That's why Bush had 90 percent support immediately after 9/11. It becomes very difficult to separate criticism of policy, criticism of the president and criticism of the country. Reporters who want to maintain a skeptical, independent eye simply have to face that problem.

Frankly, the president's (any president's) political supporters will seize on such a situation to maximize their advantage. There's been a certain amount of well-poisoning about the media, but it goes hand in hand with political attempts to paint Kerry as a Bordeaux-swilling lackey of the U.N. who wants to be sensitive to terrorists. Heck, can't blame the Bushies; it's politics.

Posted by: trostky at August 17, 2004 2:53 PM | Permalink

Chuck, the Ethics in America series explored difficult ethical situations, referred to as dilemmas. By definition, a dilemma "sets up a situation with no real answer."

You seem to be complaining that the hypothetical posed to Jennings was what it intended to be, an ethical dilemma. Or that the hypothetical was unrealistic. Or that ethical (American) journalists would not put themselves behind enemy lines. Which I would argue Newsweek demonstrated the hypothetical was realistic.

I may be mistaken, but as I read Jay's post, it appeared to me to be asking for a discussion about how journalists might present information differently or control the context (framing) of information to deny terrorists the current existing value of the media's platform (a change in Howell's intellectual contract).

This also seemed to be a question of journalistic ethics. John Moore's question about journalist's supra-national code of ethics which has been evolving since WWII and is often discussed in terms of the Vietnam propaganda war, terrorism, Friendly's media ethics segment, and more recently the first Gulf War's media pool and second Gulf War's embedding.

I've seen Al Jazeera and Fox News criticized for their nationalistic context by the MSM, and the BBC officially criticized for irresponsible watchdog (anti-nationalistic?) reporting.

Seems like an important question for those in the community that considers journalism a profession. However, if the press, or the broader journalistic community is not a profession, then the question has less importance.

Posted by: Tim at August 17, 2004 2:58 PM | Permalink

TIME, not Newsweek. Apologies for the late correction.

Posted by: Tim at August 17, 2004 2:59 PM | Permalink

Jay, once again thank you for the thoughtful essay.

A couple of what I hope are relatively non-partisan points.

First, if, as you say, everything changed for American journalists on September 11th, than one thing that did not change is the fundamental economics behind the profession. Did the landscape change enough so that the American press decided to open more news bureaus and provide more in-depth foreign coverage? Or is our coverage and national conversation still essentially grouped around the same limited sound bites that left Americans as isolated in global affairs as before the 11th?

From my perspective, the questions you pose are good ones; but to those who control the allocative decision making in American newsrooms they are largely irrelevant. I am less worried about Khan’s name being revealed than I am about millions of spots around the world that are potential breeding grounds for new terrorists and that we have no dialogue about as a polity; like the US military getting involved with the corrupt and human rights-wary governments in the Sahel region to train security forces in anti-terrorism measures or the fact that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, recently arrested in Pakistan, was a beneficary of Charles Taylor’s largess at a time when we were supporting Liberia.

As for Harold Raines, I do not fault the principles of journalism, or even its methodology, provided that we allow more into what the "news" can hold. But here again I feel like the issue is more one of economics than journalistic norms. But this is why I am so heartened by the expansive powers of digital media to broaden the scope of discourse.

Ideally – and this is very enlightenment of me – journalists should have non-state passports. We should be citizens of the world, bent on creating a dialogue that is free from baser nationalistic impulses. For me, this has nothing to do with objectivity, or being merely an observer; it does have everything to do with bringing honesty to reporting: being up front and clear about what we write and show and thoughtful about how we go about it. It involves being open to listening to people who disagree with us, and also taking a stand and saying what is important. The same thoughtfulness comes into play in choosing to show the beheadings. There are judgments that all of us make in terms of coverage; and just as people leap to show the beheadings on the "other side" Al Jazerra shows only the civilian causalities.

I do not necessarily read anything into showing these images beyond the fact that the media is skewed to the sensational (once again, back to economics). Terrorism just so happens to fit well with this. Beheadings got far more press than genocide in Darfur. They are more sensational.

The problem for me is the way questions of audience, and ultimately profit, frame the way the “news” is created. This is where journalism fails; this is where creative destruction is most needed.

I know that this is vague. I am not quite sure how else to say it. This is my city as well; and I remember taking part in a fundamental act of American democracy on the morning of the 11th: being a poll worker in downtown Brooklyn.

I also remember thinking, scared out of my mind, that nothing changed at all, we were only conscious of the world for the first time in a long while.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss at August 17, 2004 3:31 PM | Permalink

Daniel: That is a good post.

Tim: I would suggest that, yes, as posed it is an ethical dilemma with no real answer. In the context, a trick question. But I have been giving it much more thought and I would pose the question in a slightly different view. What if the American journalist had been with the enemy patrol and it had been ambushed by an American force and he was captured along with other survivors. What would have happened then?

I think the answer is that any American citizen who puts himself in a combat situation on the enemy side during wartime is, by Constitutional definition, a traitor and should be tried as such. The Time articles do not fit into this pattern. First, although the President has declared it a war, it is an insurgency, and, although I read them thoroughly, I don't recall that the reporters actually went into combat with the people they interviewed. (I'm not hard and fast on that, however.) I would suggest that talking with the opposite side might open up dialogue. But supporting their war by accompanying them into battle without any official blessing is treason and even journalists should be held to that. The question as asked is not an ethical dilemma. It should not exist.

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at August 17, 2004 3:55 PM | Permalink

It's amazing (although not surprising) how many times the idea behind your question has been lost in the course of these postings. Much as I would like to respond to many of them despite their being tangential, I'll post my ideas about your actual question:
The press has an obligation and a duty to report significant happenings in the world. That is its purpose. Many other posters have correctly pointed out that the media has not done a terrifically good job with that, but what we're talking about here is principle. Should journalists censor themselves in order to avoid being tools of terrorists?
I don't think so. I think that once they do we've embarked on the so-called slippery slope, where someone we don't know is determining what we should know. (I realize editors already do this to some extent; keep in mind we're talking about principles here.) What if journalists began this practice, not covering anti-American activities on the news because it gives exposure to the perpetrators? Is the KKK anti-American, since it opposes racial equality? Is Louis Farrakhan anti-American because he believes his goals should be reached by any means necessary? And after them, who will be next to be blacked out in the interest of keeping us safe?
It's not up to the media to protect us by withholding knowledge; it's up to us as citizens to decide how to use that knowledge.

Posted by: Alejo at August 17, 2004 4:05 PM | Permalink

We should be citizens of the world, bent on creating a dialogue that is free from baser nationalistic impulses.

And the fact that many journalists consider nationalism (only if it's on the part of an Americans) to be a "baser" impulse is exactly why many Americans have no use for them.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at August 17, 2004 4:20 PM | Permalink

This is a long, and seven months old, interview but Michael Ware's answers to the two questions below are worth reading if you want to search for them.

Journalist spends time with Iraqi insurgents

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 01/07/2004

TONY JONES: What's the point behind the kidnappings, the ransom demands which are never obviously held.

Or in some cases they may be but mostly they're not.

And the decapitations of people - is that simply a propaganda tool to terrify Westerners?

TONY JONES: Michael, why are they letting you get behind this curtain?

Is there a message they are wanting you to get out through Time magazine to the rest of the world?

This is a more recent audio interview.

Michael Ware - embedded with Iraqi insurgents

7 July 2004
( Audio in RealMedia format )

Although it is certainly topical and well reported, I do not mean to focus the discussion on terrorism and the media based on Iraq. The same discussion/debate should include the Madrid bombing, the Bali bombing, the WTC/Pentagon attacks, etc.

Posted by: Tim at August 17, 2004 7:09 PM | Permalink

Reporter gets inside look at insurgency (CNN article about Ware)

Time Reporter Outs Self From Insurgent Closet (Diggs, a "US Army Commissioned Officer, currently in the Middle East" offers his opinion of Ware)

Posted by: Tim at August 17, 2004 7:26 PM | Permalink

Journalism may need to change, but through no special impetus from the 9-11 attacks.

My thoughts on Jay's speculation: Journalism after 9-11


Posted by: sbw at August 17, 2004 10:15 PM | Permalink

It's been interesting and educational to read from more of a distance (I'm still traveling) what people made of my post. For example, I'm still trying to figure out how this from Alejo, "Should journalists censor themselves in order to avoid being tools of terrorists?" became the question I was asking, when I said nothing about self-censorship.

But I did say that those in the news media are inevitably going to be "tools of the terrorists," just by doing their job, which makes "avoiding" that status quite impossible. It seems to me that ethics in news reporting starts from there-- from that agony and paradox.

It's a difficult position to be in, maybe even impossible, but one still has to think about it. What makes PressThink readers believe that any pre-fab opinions (about what kind of job the press had been doing) fit the situation I describe?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 18, 2004 8:46 AM | Permalink

I guess I missed the coherent and formally stated question. Do I get points for effort?
I suppose I just don't understand. If it's inevitable that reporters report and we aren't asking them not to report on terrorist activities, where is the ethical question? Journalists are serving everyone -- the public, the terrorists, and themselves -- so what's the beef? Can someone make this a little clearer for me?

Posted by: Alejo at August 18, 2004 9:03 AM | Permalink

So what do you propose? That we be “protected” from being frightened by being kept artificially blind by a knowing press? You think too little of the ability of the audience to be discriminating in their thinking. The Press is continually reporting, and then telling the audience what the reporting means, as if people didn’t already do this for themselves. I have zero confidence in the ability of the press to find its way through the maze of truth, hidden truth, willful ignorance and deceit your “Changed America” envisions. Report the news without sensationalism and wild speculation and flippant analysis. We’ll figure out for ourselves what it all means. It is a short step from withholding information -- to disinformation and chaos. A “Patriotic Press”, presumably a willing tool of the Administration, is delivering itself, and by extension its audience, to the mercy of the Administration. Would you say prayers at night that such an Administration would be acting in good faith?

Posted by: Mark McPherson at August 18, 2004 1:11 PM | Permalink

The very premise of your post suggests some simple answers. I'm from California, and I have never, never felt personally threatened. I've felt horrified, but not threatened. I can recall 9/11 pretty well, but I can recall 9/12 even better. I called my best friend, whom I've known since college (which was in the beginning of the Reagan years) and I recall vividly thinking that Bush was going to create a second Cold War, which he's done and then some.

I can understand why people from the East Coast (80% or more of all national journalists) would give the Republicans' propaganda the time of day in a way that I wouldn't. I just think we've all had enough time now to understand that Pearl Harbor was Pearl Harbor and 9/11 was 9/11 and never the twain shall meet. It's apples and oranges.

When you look at it in the light of day, three years and one fraudulent war later, the fairest way to say it is that the 'terror' is real but is simply not of a magnitude that we can rationally let it preoccupy us the way it has.

If all of us, including journalists, can begin to think this way again, the propaganda machine will have lost its magic power, and we can live on(unlike the dead soldiers) to separate spin from 'patriotism' and 'security' and face our fears rationally and our politics the same way.

So, yes, 9/11 'changed everything', but 'everything' can change back,too, and we can be the better for it.

Posted by: Craig Kingscott at August 18, 2004 7:07 PM | Permalink

I'm fascinated by the confusion, or perhaps more accurately the numerous responses of assured ambiguity, Rosen's essay has generated.

I'm left asking if I'm one of the confused concerning the meaning and questions posed in this thread.

With this, I'm going to try to find out.

I think there are two axioms that need to be accepted in order to accept Rosen's premise.

1. The press (or media if you prefer) shape the information they provide, either as news or infotainment or Op/Ed commentary. In America and elsewhere, where the press is not (strictly?) state controlled, there is a deluge of multifaceted information sources, different frames for presenting reality's ambiguities. Perhaps we can think of the way information is framed and presented as a surface plot in a 3-D graph with the prominence of some frames used to convey information as peaks and the dearth of other frames as holes, or troughs.

2. There are interest groups that integrate the media in their plans to obtain their goals. Terrorists are one of these interest groups and their "propaganda by deed" is based on the reasonably predictable media coverage of their terrorist act.

This is not a question of whether the hijacking of four passenger jets, the collapse of two towers in the World Trade Center and a burning, gaping hole in the Pentagon should be reported.

Hello? It's going to be reported. Those things get noticed.

But the people who planned those attacks did so with a preconceived idea of the type and amount of media attention it would generate.

The 9/11 commission discussed the PR operation of al-Qaeda, and Michael Ware discusses the PR operation in Iraq that is generating videos for media consumption of beheadings and other guerrilla and terror attacks.

It seems to me, the question is: Are the right rules in place for reporting terror attacks?

Journalistic ethics have all kinds of rules for reporting information: reporting the rape but not the rape victim's name, or reporting a death but not the name of the decedent until the next of kin has been notified. To avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

The media frames their reporting about segregationists, supremecists and violent gangs. The media frames their reporting on the powerful and the disenfranchised.

Why is it so difficult to discuss the framing for reporting about acts by international terrorists?

When the media covers a terrorist act in a predictable way, as preconceived by the terrorists, they are co-conspirators to the completion of the act. This is so well understood at this point that denying it or claiming ignorance is no longer acceptable.

It is professionally appropriate to ask if the code of ethics is sufficiently articulate on this point when the media plays an integral role to the relative success of terrorism.

Should the press report the act but deny the terrorists the credit, or airing of their causes, or diminish the credibility of their cause as it might an act of burning a cross by the KKK? Or should the press make a priority exposing the financiers and provocateurs -- advocating for action action those that incite and make terrorism possible?

Can the media examine how they are being used by the terrorist and make terrorism targeted for ever larger media attention (meaning increasingly offensive and grandiose attacks) and still report the Abu Ghraib prison abuse? Is that chewing gum and walking? Can the media examine their Abu Ghraib coverage as a separate issue from terrorism's use of the media? How does the failure of Judy Miller to find WMD relate to whether the US or Pakistani administration named Khan -- or the media dance with the devils involved in Berg's decapitation -- or what Ware faces from behind the lines?

Is it partisanship that connects the dots between our desire for reporting that embarrasses or exposes the administration, and our unwillingness to question the ethics involved with reporting acts of terrorism?

If objective journalism cannot name genocide or terrorism, is journalism unethical in its silence? Does it lose credibility?

If we can think about journalism potency in the judicial process, why not the terrorism process? Does reporting an international act of terrorism in America require different rules for the American press than reporting an act of terrorism in Bali or Spain? Is that a form of national awareness? Is that taking the interests of the nation into consideration if the act of terror was targeted at the public via the nation's media?

Simon's Competitive Grieving leads me to wonder if his understanding of Enlightenment, Journalism's neutrality, and morality reflect his own "taking sides":

What is under attack by the controllers of our grief is the notion that the Americans killed by acts of terror are no more, or less, human than the ones we have killed by our policies both before and after.
I do not find it enlightened or moral to pretend to operate as a neutral, disinterested party for terrorists' propaganda - and can distinguish that from the "4th establishment" role of the press.

Posted by: Tim at August 18, 2004 7:23 PM | Permalink

What a paranoid diatribe.

Posted by: Jeb at August 18, 2004 8:30 PM | Permalink

And who says Diggs knows anything? Oh yeah he's libertarian. That explains it.

Posted by: Jeb at August 18, 2004 8:33 PM | Permalink

Why Some Journalists Do What They Do

... Writing is fun and gratifying. Reporting is a lot of drudgery and leg-work. Thus reporters are ripe for the temptation of press-releases: and most press-release-writing flacks are people with journalism degrees who know exactly how to write a release so that the reporter can edit out obvious promotion but still buy the overall spin.
Second, almost all of the J-school program at Stanford was spent trying to get us to think about the implications of journalism, the politics of reporting, the influence of journalists, etc....

Posted by: Tim at August 18, 2004 8:40 PM | Permalink

Nice work, Tim.

I read recently that certain political operatives (doesn't matter who) had been spectacularly successful because they had figured out how to game the newsmedia system - had found its Achilles heel and were making full use of it.

Likewise the terrorists.

sbw says:
"None of this [judgement as to what is meaningful news] has to do with supporting one's nation. It has everything to do with journalistic responsibility to improve the map of reality each of us uses for our own decisionmaking."

If journalists aren't thinking, or are rushed or don't care, they'll continue to be used by those who've learned how to manipulate them. If they do want to take on the burden of journalistic responsibility sbw calls out, they can do so by making "here's how the players are trying to use us" be part of the story.

Don't ask me how this can be done objectively and fairly because I don't have a clue (except in the case of terrorists, where 'fairness' doesn't apply)

Posted by: Anna at August 18, 2004 8:42 PM | Permalink

Tim: You are not one of the confused. Your laying out of some of the issues raised for journalism by terror is much appreciated. And the links, too. Keep them coming.

I am still thinking about the graphic you had us consider: the "wave" image of media coverage, with big narratives (the big continuing stories) rising above the surface and standing out, but also other narratives falling into "troughs" where little is done.

Some things are floodlit; others are blacked out. Are there patterns? Yes, there are patterns. Not knowing your own patterns might be survivable in one era, deadly the next.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at August 19, 2004 12:41 AM | Permalink

BF Writes (way back up there):

The fact is that opposing the government is frequently the most patriotic thing the press can do. Activist Republicans interpret this patriotism as unAmerican because they can't distinguish between Republican propaganda and the meaning of America.

I find that statement grotesquely offensive. It's like saying that the umpire in a game should pick one team and help it out. The press should not oppose the government, it should report on it. And yes, I consider "opposing the government" by the press to be unAmerican and unPatriotic. In other words, it is just plain wrong. It matters not who is in the government, opposing the government is not the job of the press. This doesn't mean the press should only report good news, or refrain from investigative reporting that may turn over scandals. It just means their job is passive, not active. Let the opposition party or activist groups do the opposing. In my mind, a reporter who is an activist is a person who is abusing a position and should be fired. Save the activism for after hours and don't use your privileged position to argue for your own hobby horses.

As to the comment about Republicans' inability to distinguish... a fun partisan slam that is wrong and worthless.

To the extent that the press is seen as transnationalist or anti-government, it's value to Americans is reduced significantly. A reporter that has the first value is unamerican and one with the second is probably a liar (it will depend on which part controls the government).

The job of the press is to present information (and make a profit). It would be damned nice if it presented accurate information (which is not the same as balanced) and left out partisanship. Put the partisanship in the editorial pages, and keep it there.

I consider the behavior of the mainstream press in avoiding even mentioning the three important actions (so far) of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to be shockingly partisan. The partisanship is raw and bleeding. If one of Bush's comrades in the National Guard came forward with these sorts of allegations, it would be large headlines and leading TV stories. Koppel would be pondering it. But when 60 of them pop up, with signed affidavits, attacking the core of Kerry's campaign (his time in Vietnam), it is ignored by almost all the MSM.

Today the LA Times produced a very poorly written, and highly biased article about some of this. The reader was told how to interpret it (vast right win conspiracy) before finding the facts deep in the article.

But this controversy, a scandal that makes Abu Ghraib look tiny, is being suppressed.

There is only one way to describe this: unAmerican, violating the American idea of the role of the press. My loathing for those who are doing this is extreme.

One other comment on patriotism, since someone brought it up (I don't normally talk about unAmerican or unPatriotic). Reporters who are transnationals by definition are not patriotic. They have moved their loyalty from the United States to somewhere else. To me, they are not Americans. A nation isn't just physical boundaries - it also requires a feeling of belonging.


Back on topic...

Somebody mentioned that reporters captured with an enemy patrol would be traitors. I don't think it's that simple. Motivation would count. Willingess to aid the enemy patrol would count. Treason charges are rare because they are so grave.

As far as counter-gaming terrorists with selective reporting or other tricks... that's a path that will fail. If there is a terrorist act, it should be reported with no restrictions (other than genuine national security issues). Trying to come up with policies to defeat the terrorist's use of the press isn't going to work.

I think the medias biggest failure since 9-11 is in looking at the big picture, recognizing that we are at war with a lot of people who will murder us with qualms, and analyzing the circumstances. Some may consider this to be Republican propaganda - those people I would label as stuck in the past.

As someone else mentioned, don't give me Abu Ghraib every day - tell me about Iran getting nukes. What do we know? What might happen? What are the issues related to proliferation to multiple countries? How about biological weapons? Are we doing enough to get ready for them?

There are many weighty topics of great importance in a war. I don't see enough analysis there (of course, a lot I am asking is analysis, not reporting).

Another failing of both the press and the government (more, the government) has been political correctness - avoiding profiling (or decrying it), calling Islam a religion of peace even though there are plenty of its adherence who are motivated by teachings about murder (Islam being not a unified religion).

I found the failure to show the full gore of the 911 attacjs, and the prohibition of using pictures of the attack to be poorly thought out. People at war need to feel it, and part of feeling it is showing the full consequences.

As far as government restrictions on the press, that will be determined by two thing: (1) How responsible the press is with situations that impact war efforts (Abu Ghraib was not a good sign - the story without the pictures would have avoided a strong emotional impact among those who are being recruited by our enemies), and (2) How critical the situation gets.

I get the feeling that this discussion is a bit too abstract. Since 9-11, all the killing has been way over thar... not here. That could change with a vengeance. If you imagine the release of a deadly contagious pathogen, information control might suddenly be critical. Furthermore, think about a part of America where, because of the pathogens, there are roadblocks, with tanks, and orders to destroy anyone who goes through them, and the situation gets a little hairier. Can a reporter get through? Should the government allow certain information to be reported?

There are a lot of these sorts of scenarios that end up with martial law or something close to it. In those circumstances, the press will be censored.

Another, simpler example is when you need to control panic. A credible threat that a nuke is in a city is received by the government. They need to evacuate with minimal panic. How do they do that? Probably some story about a deadly chemical or virus would clear folks out without them trying to get out of range really fast. Who has what responsibility? Do we get a situation where an informed citizenry has many more deaths than one mislead? I think there are some cases where that is true.

As you think through these scenarios, imagine that journalism views its role as opposing the government. Do you think the government is going to trust it with anythinig sensitive under those circumstancces?

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at August 19, 2004 3:28 AM | Permalink

Your comments might actually mean something in a world where we had a press corps that opposed the government. Your horrified reality is my fondest dream. We're not even close. The big, bad liberal New York Times has been shilling for Bush and his unAmerican gang of thieves for three years now. Judith Miller still has a job. That is an indictment of the grotesque unAmerican, anti-factual Republican propaganda that rules our press corps. If you were interested in proof, I would recommend you look at Eschaton, Media Matters, Daily Kos. I know you are as disinterested as John O'Neill, so I don't expect anything to come of that. Veterans for Revisionist history is a plea to embrace the worst in us. That is unAmerican.
Free Fire Zones were war crimes. Any Swift vets who followed orders committed them. I blame the government. That's what a true American should do. An unAmerican revisionist calls honor unAmerican and demands that we justify past atrocities by repeating them in the present.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 5:30 AM | Permalink

You indict yourself. If opposing the government is just plain wrong, you should find yourself a nice Islamo-fascist regime to live in where that is the rule. In America we have this thing called DEMOCRACY (when Republicans don't undermine it by the new Jim Crow) in which the state is ruled by THE PEOPLE. From the perspective of the party not in power, opposing the government is called POLITICS. By your definition, POLITICS=TREASON. Maybe you would like to live in Iran. They have the kind of press you are calling for.
When a true patriot journalist is lied to on a daily basis by their government, they tell their readers about it. When the party in power violates the constitution on a daily basis, a true patriot in the press corps lets the country know about it. For a smart guy, you don't have much interest in civics, did you?
You effectively insist that Joe McCarthy is the definition of American patriotism and anyone who thinks otherwise is a commie-pinko. I say you're a totalitarian punk and a bully. That's you're position: agree with my party or you're a traitor. Don't publish anything to the contrary or you're a traitor.
You define American in opposition to JUSTICE. That's not my America.
You are the one demanding party discipline in the media. To daily insist--as you do--that Republican viewpoints don't get expressed in the press is a LIE. MOST of our press coverage consists of the repetition of Republican disinformation. The idea that opposing your one party state is unAmerican is laughable. How about a little honesty in advertising?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 5:51 AM | Permalink

You're a very funny guy! The press looking at the big picture is precisely what you spend most of your time complaining about. Al-Quaeda is in Pakistan. Wahabbists are in Saudi Arabia. Why are we in Iraq? That's the big picture. Don't blame the media for not talking about the big picture just because the facts are inconvenient for your precious worldview.
You're actually complaining that the press isn't promoting the Project for a New American Century hard enough. I'm quite confident that we'll be hearing the drumbeat for war with Iran right after the election if Bush wins. Don't you worry about that. But more importantly, yours is not a complaint about objectivity. It's a complaint about the press's failure as a propaganda organ of the nutcase wing of your party.

That's a very strange complaint given that what you imagine to be a hideously anti-Republican press has managed to make the US the only country on earth outside Israel to think Saddam had something to do with 9/11 or that Saddam was a threat to anyone that required unilateral invasion without taking time for inspections that were destroying the very weapons we claimed to be concerned with. You're complaining in the face of wild success. You are looking your gifthorse in the mouth.
p.s. Though we can't agree on anything politically, I saw the drawings you did on your website and think they are VERY cool.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 6:38 AM | Permalink

I left out one thing. Of course, you are not only looking your gift horse in the mouth. As the avowed expert on propaganda that you are, of course you are always mindful that Jay Rosen is a widely read and influential member of the journalism profession. You are thus also always working the refs to help make your surreal world view a reality in the guise of intellectual curiosity.
You are a worthy and resourceful servant of your misguided cause.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 6:53 AM | Permalink

I have to correct a mistatement in the second post above. EVEN THE ISRAELIS knew better than to swallow the nonsense about Saddam and al-Quaeda.
In all the press corps in all the public spheres in all the world, only the wild-eyed liberal press corps of America managed to pass on this patent George W. Bush lie as gospel fact.
To call the American press's belated admission of this truth media bias evidences a will to return to the church dogmatism of the 1650s as the basis for judging the press. In John Moore's opposition of America to the Enlightenment, he testifies to his desire to do just that.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 7:49 AM | Permalink

I wish there were ways to fork the comment thread of weblogs like this. There are several interesting, if unrelated, story lines to this comment stream and I think that they sometimes get in each other's way.

Jay, perhaps you might occasionally distill a thread or two and start a new entry with a précis of that particular issue. Then you could direct people from the comment thread to the new entry's coments.

It would serve to keep issues focused for their own individual scrutiny and development.

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 9:36 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Tim, for clarifying the issues. It occurred to me while reading all these posts that the press has an enormous amount of influence on how we think about situations merely by the words it uses. For instance: terrorist, insurgent, freedom fighter, rebel, combatant -- they can all apply to the same person but they all have different connotations, some subtle, some not. Are reporters making a conscious decision when they choose a word? Or are they using verbiage from press reports, in which the words are almost certainly chosen for their emotional weight? Is there such a thing as a label that is judgment-neutral? Is it too politcally correct to even consider an idea like that?

Posted by: Alejo at August 19, 2004 10:45 AM | Permalink

Alejo: Is there such a thing as a label that is judgment-neutral? Is it too politcally correct to even consider an idea like that?

Reporting and editing IS judgment. Each of us is always weighing one word over another to find the most accurate representation of what we are thinking. It's not politically incorrect to consider an idea like that, simply unrealistic.

Journalists endeavor to provide the best map of reality people can use to plan their future. Anything else isn't journalism.

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 10:52 AM | Permalink

sbw --

I agree that it's probably unrealistic, as all ideals are. Of course every word has connotations other than the straight dictionary definition, so color is inevitable. But my question is, in providing the map of reality, how does the journalist choose his or her labels?

Posted by: Alejo at August 19, 2004 11:07 AM | Permalink

Alejo: how does the journalist choose his or her labels?

The single instruction I give to new news staff is this: "Write so that tomorrow you will be able to look back and feel proud about what you wrote today."

Personal experience is a profound teacher.

I'm afraid I laugh to myself whenever I see [casting about in his mind for the right word that conveys the dual meaning of people wishing to help but who instead gum up the works] do-gooders try to establish prescriptive policies, credos, standards, and codes for media.

If you are willing, it is simply best to earn your own reputation, learning from feedback. As such, the positive effect to journalism from blogs over time will far outweigh any wrenching navel-gazing resulting from 9-11.

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 11:34 AM | Permalink

sbw --

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting any sort of prescriptive strategy for media, God forbid. There may some people who don't believe a free press is necessary for a functioning demcoracy but I'm not one of them. I'm also not one of those who believes there is strong evidence for a left-wing bias in the media. All I was trying to say is that journalists' choice of labels has a significant effect on how the public reads that map of reality. It's something journalists probably put a lot of thought into but we as readers should probably give more consideration to.

Posted by: Alejo at August 19, 2004 12:57 PM | Permalink

A free press IS necessary for a functioning democracy. See Jefferson on the press. Franklin is correct: totalitarian government mouthpieces only want their own partyline propaganda touted by the unfree press of their misguided dreams. Get yourself another country for that one. Your ideas aren't welcome here based on merit.

Posted by: Jeb at August 19, 2004 1:41 PM | Permalink

Tom Engelhardt at has a new article that cites an e-mail from an Iraqi woman whose family lives in Bagdhad. She says that Sadr is generally not respected and that his father even put him aside in a way but that she deeply fears US assaults on the Imam Ali Shrine will inflame popular opinion and are bound to pull respected and so far neutral Shiite men from across the country into the fight.

Does anyone besides myself find it strange that this many years into the Iraq occupation the press still gives us such a thin and underinformed account of the competing groups and dynamics in Iraq that US policies keep slamming into like brick walls?

We basically get accounts of the "Iraqi forces" of the government vs. "insurgents" as if Sunnis and Shiites and Baathists out of the government somehow are't Iraqis. The implication of course is that Allawi is "our" Iraqi so he is naturally legitimate and "more Iraqi" than any forces that oppose him/us/US. Ultimately, of course, it also requires the conceit that we, our US occupying forces, are the true Iraq. How else could we be so surprised and disappointed that our Iraqi collaborators don't want to shoot their neighbors?
Maybe if we got more detail on these very rudimentary kinds of facts--"who is doing what, where and why?"--the public dialogue in the US would improve and government policy might even get a little smarter.
I don't see regular discussion of most of this stuff much outside of Juan Cole's Informed Comment. Can anyone recommend other sources of information on what the dynamics really are in Iraq? Who the players are? What they want?
Of course, this would require getting past the nonsense that "they hate us for our freedoms" and actually listening to somebody who lives within a 1000 miles of Iraq. And acknowledging that our "embassy" is still overruling Allawi every other day. A self-respecting press will have to work this into the account somehow since it is actually going on.

The PNAC people can't even keep names straight so please don't offer sources informed by them as examples.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 1:48 PM | Permalink

Good link on "Why Journalists Do What They Do." To me it helps explain (along with cowardice and intimidation) why our press corps was so helpless as the Bushies lied them and us onto the warpath in 2001-2. They prefer publishing press releases to reporting, regardless of their degree of fictional content.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 2:04 PM | Permalink

Ben, you're welcome. It's a shame you've used it for your deluded and hypocritical purposes, "always mindful that Jay Rosen is a widely read and influential member of the journalism profession. You are thus also always working the refs to help make your surreal world view a reality in the guise of intellectual curiosity."

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 2:18 PM | Permalink

You're welcome as well. I must be on to something if it serves your purposes as well as mine.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 2:23 PM | Permalink

No, Ben, your purpose is off topic. There is a difference. You are becoming another liberal Limbaugh.

But for your topic: NewsHour Analysis: Media Reconsider Prewar Coverage

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 2:33 PM | Permalink

After answering John Moore's Limbaugh-like right-wing Limbaugh screed, I posted directly on the topic of news coverage of the war on Iraq (that is constantly mistaken for a war on terror or a war of liberation).
I even discussed journalistic terminology and asked a question about more accurate sources that I would like to hear responses to. Right on topic.
But given the two nations that now co-exist in our anything-but-United States, the "propaganda" angle isn't likely to be off-topic from one side or the other for quite some time.
But thanks for the link, all the same.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 3:04 PM | Permalink

As lame, late and mild as this story is (which I had already seen in the Post), it should at the very least lead you and John to rethink your "liberal media" nuttiness since they were so obviously taking dictation from those you admire.

Anyone for good sources on the players in Iraq?
The New Standard, Informed Comment, and then...

Posted by: Ben Franklin at August 19, 2004 3:13 PM | Permalink

Dear Ben,

Once again, you're welcome.

I'm glad that you found the media reporting of the Ken Starr investigation against Bill Clinton patriotic.

On Iraq, I would recommend Micheal Ware's commentary, Chris Allbritton and the Iraqi blogs as an additional diet to the VERY one-sided commentary you are currently overdosing on.

I find criticisms of this Wilsonian liberal interventionism that the neoliberals (as they're called outside the US borders, they're only neocons in the US) from NOW isolationistic Democrats that THINK they understand liberalism or enlightenment comical.

I'd be very interested in you expounding on your comment I posted here.

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 3:27 PM | Permalink

Oh, and Ben, the "liberal media" is still being led around by the conventional wisdom nose.

It's just that the conventional wisdom has changed its mind.

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 3:39 PM | Permalink

Alejo> All I was trying to say is that journalists' choice of labels has a significant effect on how the public reads that map of reality. It's something journalists probably put a lot of thought into but we as readers should probably give more consideration to.

I agree. Part of our job is to innoculate readers to defend themselves from hollow rhetoric. It used to be taught in schools but has fallen out of favor. I do think readers will get more context as blog feedback expands.

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 3:41 PM | Permalink

Alejo, It's okay. Just talk right through the background noise.

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink

meta-comment - assuming the most charitable view of commenters' motives:
PressThink is intended to be for discussion of processes and values, thus attracts participants with a wide range of political views. Thus it's inevitable that one person will state as fact something that others don't consider fact, and the others are unwilling to leave it uncontested, so the discussion devolves into an argument about the facts (BTW syco(#1 comment) it looks like I was wrong, you were right)

Is there a way the commenting could be structured that would keep it from veering off like this?
I agree with sbw that branching threads would help a lot. Or perhaps cultural changes - is there a "Godwin's Law" equivalent for this form of comments-section dynamic, that could be named and invoked to keep the discussion from going astray?

also from sbw -
"Write so that tomorrow you will be able to look back and feel proud about what you wrote today."
Absolutely. It would also help if "yesterday's" writing was much more visible (perhaps linked-to from today's?), to help readers evaluate writers and to prevent rowback - when we know that many will see (and recognize) the mistakes we make, we take more care not to make them.

"I'm afraid I laugh to myself whenever I see [casting about in his mind for the right word that conveys the dual meaning of people wishing to help but who instead gum up the works]..."
I think I can guess who you're looking at. :-}

Posted by: Anna at August 19, 2004 4:18 PM | Permalink

Can we combine sbw's point about a trivium innoculation and Anna's point about making "here's how the players are trying to use us" be part of the story.

I think that could be a very powerful addition to reporting in our post-9/11 world.

In the interest of transparency, I am MUCH MUCH more comfortable with the "liberal media" (or even a split media) being used as a tool of the American political powers (be it Democrat or Republican) than I am that it continues as a tool for terrorists.

I would also suggest that if the topic is to become - media failures to look prescient ( by being either opposed to or in support of the Powers That Be) - the list is long and depressing.

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 4:25 PM | Permalink

> making "here's how the players are trying to use us" be part of the story.

We really do it all the time editorially. It is sometimes difficult for us as a newspaper that prefers to speak to issues and seldom endorses local candidates. We have made exceptions particularly against those who have tried to manufacture artificial us-against-the-newspaper campaigns.

nationally and internationally, here's an example April 14: Through the media lens

Posted by: sbw at August 19, 2004 4:52 PM | Permalink

Jay: ... the "wave" image of media coverage ...

I'm still thinking about it as well. One view might be that a flat plane represents a snapshot in time of the "true" map of reality, with peaks and valleys representing distortions of the "true map view".

Those peaks and valleys might occur as a result of the frame used by a news organization in producing a single news article about an event. A wider view might be including the news and editorial products about an event in a single collection - the newspaper that day, that issue of the periodical. An even more inclusive view might be across the MSM, the MSM and alternative sources.

I also think a very important view to consider, when thinking more inclusively, is from the consumer's perspective. The broader market of information sources may be presenting a relatively "flat" map of reality, but the consumer is filtering his intake (for ideological purposes or because of time constraints) - creating a distorted map of reality.

Posted by: Tim at August 19, 2004 8:32 PM | Permalink

From the Intro