May 22, 2005
Trust-Me Journalism and the Newsweek Retraction
Including why I disagree with almost everyone about it. "Not only do stories like 'Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown' (original title) tap a residual pool of trust that is ebbing away, but when Newsweek goes to that tap unwisely, as it did here, this further depletes the resource."
Last week, I did an unusually large number of interviews, all concerning the Newsweek fallout. My post on it was up, Newsweek’s Take-Our-Word-For-It World. The interviews were an extension of that.
Included was one with Christopher Hitchens and the BBC’s Radio 4 Today, which we taped Tuesday night at 11:30. Certainly for me the final event of the day. I had been “on” the Newsweek story—writing, reading, talking about it—since 9 am, with a short break for dinner.
Not wanting to be at any disadvantage in the BBC gig, I reached up into a kitchen cabinet, got the bottle down and poured myself a scotch and water before the call from London came. I was still fumbling with the ice when the producer clicked on the line.
She asked me if I had indeed planned to be cooking or “working in the kitchen” during an interview with Britain’s most important morning radio news program. I said no, I was just getting myself some ice.
Truth is, I didn’t want to be three drinks behind. I thought maybe two behind would be responsible and good. This I didn’t say. Just then I hear that unmistakably cheery voice (a very good radio voice) and Christopher Hitchens is picking up on my word “ice.” To which he says: “Yes, I was just getting some more of that myself…”
“Hi Christopher,” I said. (And cheers.) The founder of Civic Space Labs was sleeping on my sofa, not to be disturbed. So I left the lights off. I sat at the kitchen table. I sipped my Dewars and water, slowly. And I went over the Newsweek crash sight with Hitchens and the BBC, as best we could in five to seven minutes. It was good because I felt we were all in the dark.
Martin Stabe heard the exchange, and has a brief account. If you have Real Player listen here. He excerpts this bit:
Hitchens also noted that the American right was convinced that this case was evidence of “a propagandistic agenda on the part of the liberal media” to undermine the American war effort.
Having listened twice, I don’t know where Hitchens stands on the Newsweek retraction. Perhaps he didn’t want to have a position. (Friends with Michael Isikoff and John Barry, he disclosed.) He managed to come through loud and clear on one point, though: the agenda of the press includes making the Administration look bad at every opportunity. And it means missing most of the opportunities to make the President look good. Hitchens believes that. He added, somewhat mysteriously, “I can’t tell you how I know it.”
But he had one good illustration, also mentioned by William Buckley in his column, Newsweek’s Dilemma. (See this too.) Hitchens asked how often did you hear it explained that the United States policy was to provide every Muslim in detention with a personal copy of the holy book? Isn’t that helpful for evaluating the frequency of incidents with the Koran at Guantanamo? Buckley writes:
A copy of the Koran was given to all “detainees” at Guantanamo, as also a special cloth with which they can protect the book from ordinary abrasions of prison life, including tactile contact of it by non-believers, this being deemed profane.
The point they’re making involves the punctuation of events: when do you start the story, and what are the effects of beginning it where you do? Of course, punctuation runs both (or rather all) ways. If you start the story on May 12 with Gen. Richard Meyers it looks different, said Josh Marshall, among many others last week. This is from a Pentagon press conference May 12 with Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Myers says:
It’s a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran — and I’ll get to that in just a minute — but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that’s — that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn’t — he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.
Punctuation doesn’t resolve complaints because there is rarely an obvious moment where everyone has to begin in telling the story. My point is journalists tend to believe the starting point is given by events themselves (rather than “decided” by them in their conventions) because their professional ideology says there are objective reasons for most everything they do. Even though they know such a thing is impossible, and incorrect as a description of how reporting and news judgment normally work.
This is not an instance of political bias, but it is a cause of distortion. (And the distortion is seen as bias.) In my view this tricky little problem—overstating what is given by events, understating what is decided by journalists—is a hidden factor in the credibility wars.
The press often says “we need to better explain ourselves and how we work.” But it doesn’t mention that its own self-descriptions often don’t work. An example I have sometimes used is that the press is not described by itself as a player in election year politics, but everyone knows it is. (Including journalists!) In a case like that, further explanations actually make the situation worse.
At Instapundit May 15, we heard Roger Kimball of New Criterion asking:
Why is it that the presumption, the prejudice, the predisposition never goes the other way? Why is it that their reporters always assume the worst: that we’re doing dirty at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and are primed to pick up and believe any rumor damaging to the United States? Shakespeare knew that rumor was a “pipe/blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,” not to be trusted. So why do these journalists, trained to sift evidence, to probe sources, to listen beyond the static of rumor: why do they only do so in one direction, so to speak?
Coverage of Bush’s case for the Iraq war does not fit the pattern described—at all—but notice that Kimball is supplying an answer (“they always assume the worst”) to the same question Hitchins asked, which is not far from the question I asked in my prior post: how did a “story with such scant basis,” as Hitchens put it, wind up in Newsweek?
Newsweek says: honest mistakes happen. This was one of those. We feel terrible about what resulted.
Column Right says: A press corps ready to believe the worst about Bush and the military is responsible. They probably saw this as another way to bring him down.
Column Left says: Story with a scant basis? This kind of abuse by interrogators is amply documented. Besides, the riots weren’t caused by anything Newsweek did. Ask General Myers.
The White House says: Newsweek, having retracted the story, should begin to repair the damage to our reputation abroad.
I dissent from all these reactions, and I will explain why.
There’s more to the Periscope item than bad judgment in trusting a usually reliable source. There’s a misunderstanding of the trust situation as it stands in journalism today. As I argued in “Newsweek’s Take-Our-Word For-It World,” these days the serious press has to be raising reliability and curing itself of bad habits just to keep pace with changes in the world that are wearing away at trust in what it does. Included in those changes are the politicized attacks upon it, now a feature of the enviornment.
Newsweek’s editors did an admirable job in going out to face the music and explain themselves when the furor began. (Much better than CBS.) But they have not, I think, confronted the weaknesses in Trust-Me Journalism, which as a form is a lot less effective today. Not only do stories like “Gitmo: SouthCom Showdown” (original title) tap a residual pool of public trust that is ebbing away, but when Newsweek goes to that tap unwisely, as it did here, this further depletes the reource, which everyone else in the press has to use, as well.
Thus Miami Herald editor Tom Fiedler’s remark to USA Today: “It didn’t have to happen, and we’re going to all bear the consequences.” That is a reaction different from “mistakes happen.” Dan Kennedy’s column in the Boston Phoenix fixed on the same point: “That error is going to make it that much more difficult for journalists to learn the truth about what’s going on at Guantánamo, at Abu Ghraib, and in detention facilities in Afghanistan.”
I would add that Newsweek’s editors made much of the fact that the article had been shown to an unnamed Pentagon official, who didn’t disconfirm it. From Howard Kurtz’s interview with Mark Whitaker, May 16:
He said that a senior Pentagon official, for reasons that “are still a little mysterious to us,” had declined to comment after Newsweek correspondent John Barry showed him a draft before the item was published and asked, “Is this accurate or not?” Whitaker added that the magazine would have held off had military spokesmen made such a request.
But this defense hasn’t gone very far because of the lax standard in he didn’t disconfirm it paired with “senior Pentagon official.” If the guy had a name the press would be asking him: what were you thinking? Here’s journalism professor Chris Hanson in the Washington Post today, making a similar point:
Newsweek thought its Koran-in-the-toilet exclusive worthy of just a few lines in its gossipy Periscope section. The Newsweek team could have held the story for more verification. Instead, they checked the draft with a Pentagon official. He did not dispute the anecdote, and Newsweek evidently got the wrong impression that he had confirmed it. This was a far cry from the laborious checking and multi-source requirements that had delayed Newsweek’s Lewinsky story in 1998. In keeping with today’s looser approach, they fired their story into the air. It fell to earth, they knew not where. Until the riots, the denials and the denunciations.
You can’t do trust-me journalism, and do that, the “looser” thing. After we appeared together on Hugh Hewett’s radio program last Tuesday (no Dewars for that one) Glenn Reynolds wrote:
Remember all the talk about the Enron scandal, and how free enterprise was at risk if greedy corporations didn’t clean up their acts? Well, I’m afraid that press freedom is at risk if it’s seen as a vehicle for out-of-touch corporations to peddle defective products without fear of consequences.
I agree with Reynolds on the “at risk” part. He adds: “While there will be specific consequences, for Newsweek and its staff, the bigger damage will be yet another incremental loss of press credibility.” This is so.
But I don’t agree with the Right that a press corps ready to believe the worst about Bush—or actively trying to undermine him—is largely responsible for the Newsweek story. Poor reliability measures, out-of-date standards for investigative reporting and a casual decision-making climate are far more responsible, in my view.
Steve Lovelady, managing editor of CJR Daily, said in comments here: Let’s start the story with Myers; his source (named) was in Afghanistan and said the riots weren’t caused by the magazine. Then he added, sarcastically:
Who needs to listen to the guys on the scene when you have everyone from Scott McClellan to Donald Rumsfeld to Jeff Jarvis, all trying to tie those deaths to one line in one report that was relegated (by editors, let us note) to the speculation section (Periscope) of a news magazine?
Did you catch that term speculation section? This is what I mean by casual. Newsweek won’t say so, but it has lower standards of reliability in Periscope, where speculation and what is now called snark are thought to be more okay. In the trade-off between readability and reliability, Periscope is supposed to be a series of highly readable nuggets and bits: information popcorn.
But Newsweek cannot afford that more relaxed standard with stories like “U.S. government finds desecration of the Koran by its agents,” which is not popcorn. Likewise it cannot afford to be loosey-goosey on the use of confidential sources. My own explanations focus more on this level of things, but I do not think them exclusively correct.
Now it wouldn’t surprise me to find Bush haters among Washington reporters. But if you’re going to call Michael Isikoff one, yet you don’t mention his role in lifting to newsworthiness the Monica Lewinsky story, then what you have to say about partisanship in the press is meaningless to me. And trying to discuss anti-Bush feeling in the press without including this White House’s decision to marginalize, discredit and de-certify the same press strikes me as absurd punctuation. (Jacob Weisberg of Slate wrote on this angle.)
Equally absurd was the blogosphere’s use of the catch phrase: Newsweek Lied, People Died. (Also seen here, here, and here.) Blogger Jim O’Sullivan explained in comments here why this was a valid headline.
Newsweek “lied” in the same sense that Bush “lied,” according to anti-Bush forces, when he said Hussein had WMDs. Bush and Newsweek both believed what they were saying. If they can throw around the “L” word, so can we.
This is exactly the problem. When your descriptions of what happened owe their logic not to what happened but to what “anti-Bush forces” said back when, then you have left the realm of description entirely; and your statements about events are going to be wildly unreliable.
Point scoring is not truth-telling. We all know this. My definition of an ideologue is someone who feels entitled to forget it, by virtue of being on the right side of things. Newsweek Lied, People Died was ideological wallowing. Glenn Reynolds doesn’t think so. In his Tech Central Station column May 18, he wrote:
The blogs have certainly been all over this story, with the tagline “Newsweek lied, people died.” And while that tagline may be a trifle unfair, there’s no question that Newsweek took it seriously, and that Newsweek’s retraction happened a lot faster than it would have a few years ago.
I think he’s wrong on all counts: it wasn’t a trifle unfair, it was absurd. Newsweek didn’t take that accusation seriously, nor does anyone with a brain. And the speed of the retraction, which owes a lot to earlier incidents and the blogging about them, had nothing to do with “Newsweek lied.”
Normally sure-footed and resolute in its handling of the press, the White House slipped this time and decided to gorge itself on the Newsweek error, crossing a line when it demanded (after the retraction) that Newsweek do more, and repair the image of the United States. (See David Brooks lambasting the White House for its lack of restraint.) This is from the May 17 briefing by press secretary Scott McClellan:
Q. Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?
Which caused its own uproar. I don’t agree that it’s “inappropriate” for McClellan to speak this way. If he wants the gains and consequences of pressuring the press to report a certain way, it’s his right to take the podium and risk it.
But it’s weird to me that White House officials, in order to turn up the pressure on Newsweek and achieve a bigger tactical victory, would forget their larger strategy of downgrading the importance of Washington journalism. The strategy describes the press as a fading power, which can be snubbed and marginalized. McClellan is very much building up the power of Newsweek in world opinion by demanding that it “help repair the damage that has been done.”
I don’t agree with the Left’s logic that this is a non-story because, after all, the allegations are well-substantiated elsewhere. The essence of the Newsweek story, as a piece of news, was that a government inquiry (called “the SouthCom probe” in the original) was going to confirm charges of the soiling of the Koran for purposes of mental torture.
Editor Mark Whitaker explained it: “Although other major news organizations had aired charges of Qur’an desecration based only on the testimony of detainees, we believed our story was newsworthy because a U.S. official said government investigators turned up this evidence. So we published the item.”
This new piece of information, which went out as VERIFIED, then changed to UNVERIFIED and finally RETRACTED, was not incidental in the propagandistic use of the Newsweek item abroad. Now it could be said that the Bush Government admits it. Newsweek’s item verified an image already in circulation: Koran, Muslim prisoner, American, toilet.
Even so it’s absurd to say the Newsweek item caused rioting that left 15-17 dead. And it’s ridiculous for Hugh Hewitt to refer to recent events as “the Newsweek riots,” which happened when I was on his radio show with Reynolds. (I will try to correct him next time I hear it.) We ought to fix responsibility for riots with rioters, and conservatives should not need to be told that.
Was the Newsweek report without consequence, then? No, I don’t think so. Invective against the U.S. is marginally more effective when confirmation of the horrific appears in the American state’s own media system (which is how Newsweek is seen in Afghanistan.) I think that is what you can say about the retracted item: it became material with which to enflame crowds. Because it was also a confirmation of earlier imagery, this made it very good material.
But that is a long long way from “cause.” Murderist propaganda is caused by propagandists, not the foreign magazines they quote.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
In Newsweek’s Take-My-Word-For-It World (May 17) and this post, I argued that the magazine’s reliability standards were too low for the times in which we live. Confirmation of that now comes from the boss, Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Richard M. Smith, who writes a Letter to Readers in the new issue (dated May 30.) The big changes:
Smith also said: “We are committed to holding stories for as long as necessary in order to be confident of the facts. If that puts us at a competitive disadvantage on any particular story, so be it.” Smith’s column doesn’t explain how if standards were adequate before they need to be changed now. But maybe that’s expecting too much.
CJR’s Steve Lovelady, who once worked for Time, says good move. About Smith’s Letter: “It raises the bar.” He has two additional suggestions: institute a two-source rule, tell confidential sources you will burn them if they lie.
“A small error in a 300-word blurb.” Kevin Drum’s reaction at Washington Monthly is different. Smith’s letter is excessive in the extreme. What Newsweek did was like jaywalking, he says. But it apologized. “Since then the right-wing media hate machine, like a jackal sensing a rare opportunity for blood, has somehow managed to convince them they bear responsibility for riots in Afghanistan that were staged by extremists….” There’s more. “Newsweek and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back. They’ve done enough apologizing.”
Drum on May 18: “Liberals should think very hard before joining the media bashing crusade too eagerly.”
“A catalogue of journalistic sins.” Michael Getler, ombudsman of the Washington Post, on the Newsweek retraction: “This means editors, especially, and not just the ones at the top, must do their jobs better.” (I agree.)
Patrick Healy of the New York Times, writing in the Week in Review, asks whether it is even possible for Big Media to regain public trust.
A media makeover today faces obstacles that Tylenol did not have to confront. Scrutiny is intense. The Internet amplifies professional sins, and spreads the word quickly. And when a news organization confesses its shortcomings, it only draws more attention. Also, there is no unified front - no single standard of professionalism, no system of credentials. So rebuilding credibility is mostly a task shouldered network to network, publication to publication.
A concise and accurate statement.
Hugh Hewitt and his guest, ABC’s chief White House correspondent Terry Moran (who asked Scott McClellan, “who made you the editor of Newsweek?”) had a pretty tense exchange on his radio program last week. It included this moment of consensus:
HH: [quoting military blogger Major K] “…My brother called me a journalist once during a conversation about this blog. I was offended.” That is a general impression among the American military about the media, Terry. Where does that come from?
Hewitt wrote a column for the Weekly Standard about it here. See also Hewitt’s blog post, and John Leo’s column in US News, The Media in Trouble, which notes that “conservatives are losing their monopoly on complaints about media bias.” Journalists are joining them, is his point.
Jonathan Alter in Newsweek’s new issue (dated May 30) makes this observation:
Very few TV and radio programs, newspapers, magazines and blogs undertake the kind of expensive and complex reporting that requires confidential sources. Most are in the noisy business of re-chewing news, not revealing it; finding new angles, not finding the story itself. Only about a dozen national news organizations are out there actually digging for important stories that someone wants hidden.
Only about twelve, let’s see. Probably he means: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Knight-Ridder, the Los Angeles Times. I’m guessing.
People have been citing this report by Tim Golden (“In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates’ Deaths”) in the New York Times as a proper contrast with the Newsweek item, in that it is based on documents the newspaper actually obtained— as against an anonymous second-hand source making a prediction about the contents of a future report, “confirmed” by a Pentagon official who hadn’t seen the report and so said nothing.
Blog column right is gearing up for outrage over this report on Newsweek’s Japanese edition with a cover showing the U.S. flag dumped in the garbage, part of declaring that the American way of life is being rejected by most of the world. I think this will be a noise machine episode because there is no lapse in journalistic standards. However, someone at Newsweek must grasp by now that the notion of separate information spheres, each of which gets its version of the magazine, is obsolete.
Champions of this Mark Steyn column should read this correction by Dan Kennedy.
Ernest Miller at Corante takes apart the same Washington Post Outlook piece by Chris Hanson that I quoted. See The Problem With Journalism Is…
Avoir, Okrent: Daniel Okrent winds up his tour as first public editor of the New York Times with a final column on all the things he wished he’d done. It includes a dig at Paul Krugman for misusing statistics that will cause commotion in the blogosphere, especially because he did not give examples or try to prove the case. Here is my appreciation of Okrent from last week. And here’s Weldon Berger’s strongly worded dissent at BTC News: “How the New York Times public editor blew it.”
Meanwhile, new public editor Barney Calame, whose first column is still two weeks off, debuted with a posting on Okrent’s Web Journal about the Downing Street Memo, and the coverage of it in the Times, which was slow off the mark.
Posted by Jay Rosen at May 22, 2005 10:52 AM Print
Jay, "We ought to fix responsibility for riots with rioters, and conservatives should not need to be told that."
I agree. Now, help me understand. When journalists are accused of being the cause of violence, they are quickly able to exonerate themselves and place the blame (correctly) on those that incite and commit the violence.
However, when reporting about the kidnappers, murderers and terrorists in Iraq, they resort to their conflict model which must affix blame on the Iraqi government or Coalition in the name of "fairness" or "balance"?
I would also ask, doesn't your punctuation/story telling bias directly match Cline's narrative bias. I find that the narrative bias satisfactorily explains the Iraq/WMD distortion (a 15 year narrative, or more, which politically favored Bush) as well as the CBS Memogate story and Newsweek story.
There was already a narrative in the press pointing in a specific direction and all that was needed was a certain "rumor" to move the story forward in that direction. Evidence to the contrary of the narrative can be ignored as not fitting (or in Mapes case, meshing) with what is already "known".
... it's weird to me that White House officials, in order to turn up the pressure on Newsweek and achieve a bigger tactical victory, would forget their larger strategy of downgrading the importance of Washington journalism. The strategy describes the press as a fading power, which can be snubbed and marginalized. McClellan is very much building up the power of Newsweek in world opinion by demanding that it "help repair the damage that has been done."
Yeah Jay, this is good analysis - no surprise really that the standard mainstream right does its "liberal media" dance, but that it veers from the talking point that MSM doesn't matter anymore, that the Swifties run the truth squad now, that "we set the agenda." This raises Newsweek's profile from dead-tree anachronism to relevant and powerfull opponent: Newsweeks lied, and people died, as the newly-svelte, stomach-stapled rightie Congressman hatchetman JD Hayworth said on Imus this week. That's giving Newsweek a lot of credit!
Posted by: Tom Watson at May 22, 2005 1:18 PM | Permalink
Jay: The strategy describes the press as a fading power, which can be snubbed and marginalized. McClellan is very much building up the power of Newsweek in world opinion by demanding that it "help repair the damage that has been done."
I don't think that's correct according to your own "Bush Thesis" theory.
According to your theory, the press is a special interest where "journalists represent no one but themselves."
Can the journalistic ideology involved in the "production of innocence" be marginalized (decertify the press as neutral, non-partisan, non-player, representative of the American people), while at the same time, bolster the idea of the press as a "special interest"?
If the administration criticizes a member of a special interest group, and in defense the special interest group "circles the wagons", how is that "wierd" in demonstrating that the press is it's own representative first? It's own special interest group?
And by demonstrating that, doesn't the press further marginalize and de-certify itself, and it's ideology, and the "production of innocence"?
" ... when confirmation of the horrific appears in the American state's own media system (which is how Newsweek is seen in Afghanistan.)"
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 22, 2005 2:10 PM | Permalink
Actually, that question only matters if you still give a damn about it. To date, many seem to if only because it confirms their preconceived notions.
The question of Koran flushing only seems important today because there has not yet been a 9/11 squared incident that will make the concept of flushing the entire religion thinkable. Until then, this is just another small boil on the backside of what passes for "responsible journalism." Lancing it will not stop the next from erupting.
At the end of the day, Guantanamo stories and Korans in Toilets tales will only be some little balls of dung in the large pile the media are heaping over their heads with every passing day.
Still, there has to be a pony in there somewhere.
Posted by: Van der Leun at May 22, 2005 2:23 PM | Permalink
Steve Lovelady: Whereas fanatic Islamic strategists in Afghanistan and elsewhere view Newsweek -- and indeed, the entire American press -- as merely an arm of the Administration, as "the state's own media system." Which, of course, is why they study that press so carefully.
Actually, I don't believe that's true. I think you've confuse the propaganda by "fanatic Islamic strategists" in the Newsweek case for strategy.
However, I'd be interested to hear your case.
This part was added to the post, giving you all the more to argue about. I would ask participants not to make this the Lovelady vs. Sisyphus show. Added:
Newsweek's editors made much of the fact that the article had been shown to an unnamed Pentagon official, who didn't disconfirm it. From Howard Kurtz's interview with Mark Whitaker, May 16:
He said that a senior Pentagon official, for reasons that "are still a little mysterious to us," had declined to comment after Newsweek correspondent John Barry showed him a draft before the item was published and asked, "Is this accurate or not?" Whitaker added that the magazine would have held off had military spokesmen made such a request.
Isn't he also responsible? the editors have suggested. But this defense hasn't gone very far because of the lax standard in he didn't disconfirm it paired with "senior Pentagon official." If the guy had a name the press would be asking him: what were you thinking?
Here's journalism professor Chris Hanson in the Washington Post today, making a similar point:
Newsweek thought its Koran-in-the-toilet exclusive worthy of just a few lines in its gossipy Periscope section. The Newsweek team could have held the story for more verification. Instead, they checked the draft with a Pentagon official. He did not dispute the anecdote, and Newsweek evidently got the wrong impression that he had confirmed it. This was a far cry from the laborious checking and multi-source requirements that had delayed Newsweek's Lewinsky story in 1998. In keeping with today's looser approach, they fired their story into the air. It fell to earth, they knew not where. Until the riots, the denials and the denunciations.
"We ought to fix responsibility for riots with rioters..."
Actually, the specific Scott McLellan and Lawrence di Rita charge was not that riots were caused, but that "lives were lost." "People died because these of son a bitches reported this story," as di Rita put it. So we also need to ask, "Why did these protestors in Afghanistan die?"
Because Afghan security forces shot to kill is the obvious answer. There are many "riots" around the world where 100% of the violence comes from the "security" forces. If it turns out that these "rioters" were shot by Afghan security forces under completely unjustified circumstances, what do we have to say to McLellan and di Rita's attempt to make Newsweek responsible for criminal acts on the part of American-trained Afghan "allies"?
Why are the Afghans shooting their own citizens? McLellan and di Rita appear to think it goes without saying. There is another agenda here that the Bush cartel is pushing on the domestic front and Jay's summary is failing to challenge: the position that protest is intrinsically illegitimate and that protestors who are shot are getting what they deserve. Of course, this is in tension with their simultaneous claim that it is Newsweek's fault, but it is also a necessary premise of the White House line on this story. This is the brand of democracy the Bush administration is exporting: protestors will naturally be shot on sight. Is it any wonder that in their minds non-complying media (media that report any whiff of the truth in any form) are traitors?
The bottom line, which confirms your main point, is that the case has to be so airtight that the media outlet is able to rationally take on Scott McLellan and Lawrence di Rita for a number of weeks until their outrageous lies are exposed for what they really are. We need investigative journalism that is solid enough to support media calling lies lies and we need media owners with a passing interest in the relation between truth and their own credibility. The longer major media play footsie with the truth as the Bush administration demands, the more deeply their credibility plummets. It is their complicity with propaganda that leaves them defenseless when they are accused of treason for periodically telling the truth.
Seymour Hersh and Greg Palast are nearly the only journalists worthy of the name over the last five years, with Walter Pincus as honorable mention. When an administration lies on a daily basis, exposure of their lies is a consequence of their actions, not a consequence of partisanship. It is as if McLellan and di Rita were complaining that the media were exposing their own spousal abuse at every opportunity, even when it is not newsworthy. If they stopped beating their spouses, they wouldn't have this problem (This is a hypothetical example). If the Bush administration stopped lying routinely, they wouldn't have this "partisanship of reality" problem, either.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 3:57 PM | Permalink
No one disputes the veracity of the Downing Street memo that absolutely establishes the fundamental mendacity of the Bush catastrophe administration. Is that why we aren't talking about it? Because its good journalism and that's not interesting?
It's getting to the point where the mainstream US media is doing a parody of the Right's claims about it, they can only report bad journalism that challenges the administration. When good journalism challenges the administration, that's not newsworthy for some reason. What is the reasoning here? Are they afraid to be right and that they'll have to suffer the consequences of truth?
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 4:12 PM | Permalink
Speak to your friend Bob Cox, head of the Media Bloggers Association, who gleefully spun this angle Monday morning at 8:20am, and aired it on CNN later that day, as a result of his post-BlogNashville media cred.
Bob's a nice guy. I've had a lot of respect for him. He occasionally asks the hard questions about blogging, journalism, and credibility, though it's not clear whether he's engaged the MBA members in a discussion on them. What is it that MBA members want their president to do?
Also not widely noted in this whole thing is that Periscope itself anticipated the blog-style of news as gossip, news-blurbs. Here's a prediction: the next credibility problem will be with the blog of a "mainstream media" publication. And the bloggers will blame "the MSM" for not blogging responsibly.
As for the whole affair, I'm with Andrew Sullivan. After the whole revelation of abuses at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, including the humiliation, the "lap dances", etc., how can anyone have predicted that this would have been manufactured into an excuse for rioting?
Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at May 22, 2005 4:27 PM | Permalink
I have never seen Buzzflash's original, "Bush Lied, People Died" tagline disseminated in a major media story. Ever. Not once. But the right's rejoinder is all over the place this week.
That together with the refusal to run the Downing Street Memo on the front page of any American newspaper and buried inside the two papers that bothered to acknowledge its existence are a one sentence refutation of Hitchen's hacktacular accusation of anti-Bush bias in the press. It is empirically false.
There is an anti-lie, anti-failure bias in the press, timid as they are. Living with the consequences of your actions is called being an adult. This is a Peter Pan administration and the MSM is flying right after them into Never Never Land. Hugh Hewitt, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News are a tagteam Tinkerbell.
When the White House attacks the media you may safely assume that the faith-based shadow that allows Peter Pan to fly is coming undone.
What is new about our current media environment is the overwhelming dominance of Media players whose career is built on excommunicating anyone who even timidly suggests that Never Never Land is not on the planet Earth.
How can tyrants be victims at the same time? That is the pretzel logic that dominates our public life. Go figure...
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 5:05 PM | Permalink
Mark Anderson, please check this quote: "'People died because these of son a bitches reported this story,' as di Rita put it."
You'll find you have misreported it.
You might also want to go back and research the riots in Afghanistan.
"We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well." -- Historian Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" (1964). (copied from Jay's Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News)
Have you ever seen "Bush lied, People died" in the mainstream press? Have you seen a front page article on the Downing Street memo?
Until you or the adminstration answer the questions, your basic, common message is: Distract, distract, distract.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 6:43 PM | Permalink
Mark: "Whatever the answer to your accusation regarding the accuracy of my reporting may be, like the administration you are avoiding the questions raised by changing the subject." So, "fake but accurate?"
Posted by: Justine Romando at May 22, 2005 6:51 PM | Permalink
Sorry to ruin your distraction party Justine.
Yes, he's credible.
A day later, Isikoff reached his source again, who said that although he remembered reading investigative reports about desecration of the Quran, including a toilet incident, "he could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [Southern Command] report."
DiRita "exploded" when Newsweek informed him that one of the original sources behind the report had partially backed off the story, the magazine said.
"People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said," DiRita told Newsweek, according to the magazine's report. "How could he be credible now?"
DiRita confirmed the quote to CNN.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 7:05 PM | Permalink
It's hard being a US puppet regime in the Middle East, no getting around that:
President Hamid Karzai said the violence showed the inability of Afghan authorities to handle such protests.
Speaking at Nato headquarters in Brussels, he said his country would need international assistance "for many, many years to come."
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 7:17 PM | Permalink
The reports on the riots confirm my assumptions. The protestors are described as "violent" yet every single life lost was taken by the police, four dead and fifty two wounded. This is violent security, not violent protest. The protestors damaged PROPERTY. The police killed or wounded fifty six PEOPLE:
Afghans riot over Koran report, 4 dead: official
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police opened fire on protesters on Wednesday in violent demonstrations which left four dead and dozens wounded after a report that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran, a health official said.
U.S. troops stationed in the conservative Muslim city of Jalalabad, 130 km (80 miles) east of the capital, Kabul, were confined to base during the protest, witnesses said.
Government offices in Jalalabad were set on fire, shops looted, and U.N. buildings and diplomatic missions attacked as thousands took to the streets, witnesses and officials said.
Police fired to disperse crowds several times, witnesses said. Four people had been killed and 52 wounded, provincial health chief Fazel Mohammad Ibrahimi said after compiling information from three city hospitals.
"Police had to open fire on the protesters, they were destroying the city," provincial police chief Hazrat Ali told Reuters. He declined to comment on casualties.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 22, 2005 7:31 PM | Permalink
"I would ask participants not to make this the Lovelady vs. Sisyphus show." -- JR
Not to worry, Jay. Years ago I stopped amusing myself by poking sticks at frantic guard dogs hurling themselves at wrought-iron fences.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 22, 2005 9:47 PM | Permalink
Or the Mark Anderson show. I'm only concerned about one or two voices dominating over others. Use common sense is all I ask. Don't censor yourself.
Sisyphus: The Bush Thesis about the press is held by members of the Bush team. It is not "my" thesis, but theirs. I describe it as including the idea that the press is merely a special interest. Also, they see power of the press as on the wane. They believe both things. There is no contradiction there.
I thought the White House abandoned this thinking when it asked Newsweek to repair the damage done by the Periscope item. The only way Newsweek could accomplish such repair would be by persuading lots and lots of people that the Administration respects the Koran, and if Newsweek was able to persuade lots and lots of people then it has a great deal of power and influence, contradicting the Bush team's contention that press power is on the wane.
Jay: It is not "my" thesis, but theirs.
I think I described the "Bush Thesis" as your theory.
I thought the White House abandoned this thinking ...
I thought differently. I saw it as a poker "call" between the administration and a special interest in the context of disintermediation.
Steve Lovelady: Exactly what you guys should be doing at CJR Daily. It's a sub-blog within yours. Very easy, technically. Readers would help you. What do you think?
Jonathan Alter in Newsweek:
The most effective way to clear out some of the "anonymice" is not a hectoring White House spokesman but a blog called something like dumbblindquote.com (though none has been established yet). Other media blogs have already had a chastening effect on errant reporters.
I do wonder if PressThink has had any of them "chastening effects."
But I don't agree with the Right that a press corps ready to believe the worst about Bush--or actively trying to undermine him--is largely responsible for the Newsweek story. Poor reliability measures, out-of-date standards for investigative reporting and a casual decision-making climate are far more responsible, in my view.
Why wouldn't honest mistakes have an even chance of going either way?
Does that not 1) accurately summarize his role, and 2) indicate something re partisanship in the press?
The idea is to BE wildly unreliable, and by doing so to ridicule the last parties to use a variation on that slogan.
Posted by: rosignol at May 22, 2005 11:45 PM | Permalink
Tim, if I get the drift of what you are saying, and maybe I don't, but it might suggest an analysis like this:
When the White House demands more from Newsweek, and says it could, should, might repair the damage, it makes this statement in a post-Fourth Estate world.
Post Fourth Estate. It means that for the people running the White House, the press accomplishes nothing essential for President Bush and therefore it is not fundamentally needed by this President, who nonetheless does need to communicate with the American people and many other audiences. But not through the press, any more than the Truckers Association.
In that context, the statement coming from the press secretary, Newsweek should repair the damage it caused, an idea that went well beyond demanding a retraction, can be read as meaning something like this:
Listen Press: We are in charge of the war and we have just as much influence over the public narrative of the war, and thus over public opinion, as you and your facts do. Well, it's probably a lot more. If it came some day to a showdown where we don't accept your facts as real, because of--yes, indeed--bias, will we as a matter of policy contest and override your reality among audiences we address? We will. We have at times already.
Now that is speculation on my part. Informed by a lot of posts I have written. If that's what you're asking about...yeah, I could see something like that coming from the podium. The White House has that thinking going on somewhere in the realm. I wrote From Meet the Press to Be the Press two months ago because that is the way I saw things going. Still do.
I am sure there are people in the service academies who agree with me, and associated circles. Maybe they have a different language for it. Mine is: be the press.
But McClellan doesn't have vision like that, in my view. His statements don't reflect it. He's meant to be a good non-communicator: a wall, as in just another brick in. If you think of him that way--a goalie model for the press secretary--he posts a lot of zeros and that is good.
In this case, my sense is he hurt the White House by letting too much of the culture war in. When he went beyond expressing cold fury at the crime and icy satisfaction at the retraction, Scott McClellan was strategically at sea. He did not know what he was doing.
I thought it was very shrewd of Olbermann to call for the resignation. I think it would have been very shrewd of the White House to demand it. An engagement strategy requires a totally different press secretary. McClellan is a wall.
Oh, I should add, for clarity's sake. I disagree with the White House, theory and practice. I believe Bush has, on balance, been hurt by this press policy (and has failed to grow in his ability with public diplomacy as a result.) The press has been hurt, and the quality of decision-making and especially the quality of reason-giving under this Administration show the effects.
The fact that the mistakes are all in one direction is telling.
Anybody seen the fake story about Bush winning the Medal of Honor?
Newsweek to Bush: Here are events beyond your knowledge and control - do something!
Bush to Newsweek: Here are events beyond your knowledge and control - do something!111
Some of that property was people's livlyhood.
How many people have to be reduced to poverty before it is OK to shoot?
If the fires had gotten beyond what the fire dept. could handle and it reduced the city would that have been OK?
Property = life support.
Well this puts the whole thing in perspective now doesn't it?
Newsweek:">http://ridingsun.blogspot.com/2005/05/newsweek-america-is-dead.html">Newsweek: America is Dead
"But I don't agree with the Right that a press corps ready to believe the worst about Bush--or actively trying to undermine him--is largely responsible for the Newsweek story. Poor reliability measures, out-of-date standards for investigative reporting and a casual decision-making climate are far more responsible, in my view."
Yeah. Sure. Read the above link and then try to sell me that crap.
Posted by: ed at May 23, 2005 9:05 AM | Permalink
Jay -- Alter's idea is an interesting one:
But Alter himself supplies the reason not to do it -- at least it's my reason not to do it.
"Confidential sources have been instrumental in breaking almost all of the landmark stories of the past half century, from the secret history of the Vietnam War (the Pentagon Papers) to Watergate and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (uncovered by the same Michael Isikoff now pilloried by the right); from the lies of the tobacco and nuclear industries (Karen Silkwood was one such source) to the truth about Enron. After 9/11, the American public first learned that Osama bin Laden was the culprit through confidential sources. Without leaks, readers and viewers would not have known that the FBI failed to connect the dots or that Al Qaeda was still recruiting within the United States or that reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were false. Every day, anonymous sources help the media sort out which government agencies and businesses are telling the truth and which are not."
If there had been such a blog -- dumbblindquote.com -- in the 18 months preceding Richard Nixon's resignation, it would have been citing Woodward & Bernstein almost daily -- for all the wrong reasons.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 23, 2005 11:58 AM | Permalink
Blaming the idiot Arabs for their beserk reaction to the Newsweek story is like defending the gruesome sport of bullfighting by blaming the murderous instincts of the bull in responding to the red cape waved by the bullfighter. Its the bullfighters cape and he can waive it anywhere he wants and in fact has a constitutional duty to do so. The enraged response of the bull is just his problem.
Posted by: digitalbrownshirt at May 23, 2005 12:03 PM | Permalink
I'd like to suggest we stop calling it "anonymous sourcing". Rhetorically, it is leading to a false dichotomy and ideological blindness by journalists.
Instead, I suggest "anonymous quoting".
What is at issue here is really a two-step processes. One is insiders talking to reporters. The other is reporters publishing what was said.
It is important to understand how this two-step process works in the "old" expository epistemological system and doesn't in this transition to a new one.
Lovelady is correct that important stories have been published with anonymous quoting. What he doesn't say is how many stories published with anonymous quotes have been damaging to individuals, the public and in return the press.
If you believe that journalism is a profession, then put it in terms of another profession. If a doctor continuously, repeatedly, was harming patients but defended it by pointing out a few successes - would you as a journalist find that acceptable? How about a lawyer regularly employing questionable ethics to maximize conviction and dismissed convicting the innocent because he successfully convicted some guilty that might have gotten off?
I'm pretty sure anonymous sourcing will continue (leaks) even if anonymous quoting is severely curtailed. If the few cases Lovelady references were the few times anonymous quoting was use, there would not be a problem. If you're sure enough about the story and the sourcing to risk having your quotes on blinddumbquotes.com and prove your critics wrong, then you are probably on the right track. If it bothers you, you're not.
Tim: You're right that anonymous news-gathering and anonymous quoting are two different things.
New policies could permit and perfect one, but ban the other. This might be the direction things are going in.
I think if there's any new kind of solution to the trust problem it will come from the other direction-- more the E-bay or Craigslist or Gillmor (or Kos or FreeRepublic) side, but not necessarily by one of those.
I was wondering when someone would raise the Watergate flag on this thread, and I see Lovelady has accommodated. Practically everything I have read or seen about the current Newsweek kerfuffle, includes some journo defending anonymous sources by citing Watergate-Pentagon Papers-Blow Jobs In The Oval Office. The journo quotes are surprisingly similar, which makes me think Media Central is sending out talking point memos to The Faithful----groupthink at it's finest.
I realize that journalists think we are just a bunch of ignorant yahoos who don't know a a WH backgrounder from a government official with an axe to grind, or the Pentagon Papers, but my guess is that on any given day the percentage of press stories featuring "anonymous sources" that reach the level of whistleblower is less that 1%, and the press knows it. However, they continue their defense of unnamed sources using Watergate as rule instead of the exception. We are not convinced.
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 23, 2005 1:17 PM | Permalink
Any story about Iraq that doesn't demand George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and Paul Wolfowitz be thrown behind bars for crimes against humanity is a sheaf of purposeful lies, not accidents. The fact that they are all still in office (or promoted) rather than impeached or fired is the evidence that one party government, dishonest or cowed reporting, and censorship of the news, not mistakes, has allowed them to continue to brazen out their serial lies and war crimes.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 23, 2005 2:26 PM | Permalink
Mark Anderson said "Any story about Iraq that doesn't demand George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and Paul Wolfowitz be thrown behind bars for crimes against humanity is a sheaf of purposeful lies, not accidents."
Wow Mark, you really know how to simplify complex arguments. And, say, just who did you vote for?
Posted by: digitalbrownshirt at May 23, 2005 2:55 PM | Permalink
Mark, do you realize how difficult it is for the majority of us to take you seriously when you advocate extremist positions like your "crimes against humanity" comment? What about Saddam? Was he humane toward his people? Where is your outrage when he tortured/killed his own people? You were silent. I know you're a good liberal, but why were you silent about how Arabs treat gays, women and Christian/Jews? Panties on the head of Muslims outrages you but what about beheadings and stonings of gays and women. Yeah, that's different. Only when US military offend (and are subsequently punished, which you never note) do you raise your ire. Why? Do you have any idea what happens in Sudan and Kuwait prisons, or frankly, even our own? CNN had a bureau in Baghdad when Saddam was in charge of Abu Ghraib. Eason Jordon placed his cojones in a lockbox for "access". CNN had it's chance to tell the world about atrocites Saddam committed, but chose to say that US military was targeting journalists. Do you have a clue as to why? Do you even care? Are you about human rights or are you just anti-military/Bush/war/whatever? It's easy to rail against an open society like ours (with FOAI), but what about those oppressed in closed societies? You don't give a damn, do you? Grab those low hanging fruit and deserve our contempt.
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 23, 2005 3:04 PM | Permalink
Trout you are absolutely right about "using Watergate as rule instead of the exception." Happens all the time.
No one, neither Jonathan Alter, nor I, has "used" Watergate as a defense for Isikoff's miscue.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 23, 2005 5:00 PM | Permalink
Why does it have to be all or nothing, Steve? If I know the difference from WH backgrounder, (and I'm just a news prole) disgruntled government employee with an axe to grind and Pentagon Papers, why doesn't the press? Why won't they step up to the plate and admit they know the difference and that agenda driven sources are bad for the press and public, instead of saying they must have unfettered unnamed sources or they can't do their job? What's with the dishonesty?
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 23, 2005 5:17 PM | Permalink
Well, by your definition, some of them have "stepped up the plate."
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 23, 2005 5:31 PM | Permalink
"It's getting to the point where the mainstream US media is doing a parody of the Right's claims about it, they can only report bad journalism that challenges the administration." - Mark Anderson, above.
Anderson unwittingly stumbles into reality, if only momentarily. It's no parody, Mark, though your passion may have blinded you to this truth before now.
Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 23, 2005 6:09 PM | Permalink
You are supporting an administration filled with veterans from the Reagan years that funded and facilitated the crimes that upset you so much WHILE THEY WERE HAPPENING and reconfirmed ties after Saddam's war crimes were verified. Rumsfeld personally shook his hand over it. Why do you support an administration filled with people who enabled Saddam to do what you claim to be so horrified by? I suggest a glance in the mirror.
Replacing one tyrant with another is not support for human rights. Do you imagine we must think Stalin liberated Eastern Europe because he overthrew Hitler's control of it?
By your logic, failure to support Stalin's control of Eastern Europe requires support for Hitler and amounts to appeasement of fascists. Is that what you imagine Bush was doing in his anti-Soviet speeches in E. Europe last week--appeasing fascists and expressing support for Hitler's continued reign? That is utter nonsense. The crimes of one do not validate the crimes of the other. You are demanding that they must when the US is involved.
Just because the US constitution talks about democracy doesn't mean that every action by every tin-horn cowboy elected to the US presidency promotes democracy by definition.
When you manage to understand that opposing Stalin's control of Eastern Europe does not require supporting Hitler's control of Eastern Europe, that opposing US crimes in the Iraq colony does not require supporting Saddam's crimes, you may have some claim to concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people.
The tyranny of your variety of chauvinism in US media coverage of the Iraq puppet regime (not shared by a single other set of national news media in the world) is a major pillar in the ongoing tragedy of a US occupation that has produced yet more crimes against the Iraqi people in the name of bringing them to an end (that include repeated indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas across the country).
The disappearance of the Downing Street Memo is only the latest in a sad four year saga of US media collaboration with US crimes against humanity in Iraq piled on top of Reagan and the US media's collaboration with Saddam's crimes against the people of Iraq. If you had the slightest interest in the fate of the Iraqi people, you'd see that opposing the former requires opposing the latter.
"My country right or wrong" is not an argument about the human rights of Iraqis. Stop pretending it is.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 23, 2005 6:42 PM | Permalink
I ran into Dave Laventhal this afternoon, who long ago and far away was the first Style editor of the Washington Post and later became publisher of the LA Times, and he jogged my memory on this subject.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 23, 2005 6:55 PM | Permalink
Jay: Just a note for accuracy's sake. The quote you use from my interview with Terry Moran gives the impression that I was referring to myself as being insulted by being called a journalist by my brother. That is actually a quote from Major K's blog, and I think the transcript at Radioblogger has the accurate quote. I am quite proud of being a journalist for the past 16 years, so I hope you can correct the excerpt. You may also want to include the link to Major K's post which I read to Terry and identified as being from an Army officer presently stationed in Iraq. Cheers Hugh
Posted by: Hugh Hewitt at May 23, 2005 8:33 PM | Permalink
I can't believe I screwed that up. I will fix it, Hugh. Thanks.
On another note, I have been asked to join with the other scribblers at the Huffington Post. Undecided. What do you readers think?
The Huffington Post is seeking ballast for their crew of mostly lightweight commentators. It's like going on The Daily Show. Do you want to be one of a small handful of serious people trying to compete with a bunch of clowns?
Mark, you really didn't address kilgore trout's question about your need to gargle pointless hyperboles and amusing but nonserious extreme statements in every breathless post here. Something about "more heat than light" comes to mind.
On anonymous sourcing....
From NY Times "Syria Ending Cooperation With U.S., Envoy Says" (bold terms added)
.... unnamed Bush administration officials said Syria's stance has prompted intense debate at high levels in the administration about new steps that might be taken against the Syrian government. The unnamed officials said the options included possible military, diplomatic or economic action. But unnamed senior Pentagon and unnamed military officials cautioned Monday that if any military action was eventually ordered, it was likely to be limited to insurgent movements along the border.
"There's a lot of discussion about what to do about Syria and what a problem it is," said the unnamed administration official, who works for a government agency that has been involved in the debate.
Relations between Syria and the United States have been souring for months, and some unnamed Bush administration officials said Syria's level of cooperation had been dwindling even before the latest move.
Lawrence Di Rita, the named Pentagon spokesman, said there have been occasional low-level military-to-military communications along the border. He said the Defense Department had received no official notification of a change in that status, nor that the status of American military attachés in Damascus had been altered.
The unnamed American officials declined to provide an on-the-record response to Mr. Moustapha's statements on halting intelligence cooperation, citing the delicacy of the issue.
unnamed American intelligence officials have said Syria has provided important assistance in the campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks. In recent months, unnamed senior Pentagon officials and unnamed military officers say, cooperation between the two nations has included low-level communications across the border between captains and field-grade officers of the American-led alliance and their Syrian counterparts.
One unnamed senior military officer said those communications had been helpful in mitigating a number of "cross-border firings" of artillery that have occurred between Syrian forces and the American-led military in Iraq. Any further scaling back of cooperation there or between Syria and the C.I.A. could have a tangible impact, unnamed officials said.
unnamed American military officers in Baghdad and unnamed intelligence analysts in Washington say militant cells inside Iraq draw on "unlimited money" from an underground financial network run by former Baath Party leaders and relatives of Mr. Hussein, many of whom unnamed they say found safe haven to live and operate in Syria.
Those unnamed officials say Damascus has done very little in its banking system to stop the financing, nor has it seized former Iraqi Baathists identified by the United States as organizing and financing the insurgency.
On the day of the interview with Mr. Moustapha, named Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Syria was "allowing its territory to be used to organize terrorist attacks against innocent Iraqis."
A unnamed senior American military officer acknowledged that "the Syrian government has in some cases been helpful" in building border berms and otherwise taking action against people involved in providing support to the insurgency. But the unnamed officer added: "Our sense is that they protest a bit too much and that they are capable of doing more. We expect them to do more."
Watch for the Watergate insertion. It's a beaut.
Using the Media For a Magic Trick
But we help turn all this into an issue of journalistic process and tie ourselves in knots over the use of anonymous sources. Look, every reporter and editor would rather have an on-the-record source than an anonymous one. But without unnamed sources, we -- and you -- would be less well-informed. To cite just one example, Watergate would be nothing more than the name of an expensive apartment building overlooking the Potomac.
No reporter wants to be manipulated by a source hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. But this is the most secretive administration in recent memory. If you say inconvenient things out loud, with your name attached, you get frozen out. Unnamed sources are a necessity.
Come on... "to cite just one example." That's vintage stuff.
Tom Engelhardt on anonymous sources in US media psy-ops in support of the Iraqi puppet state:
"The Times piece included a curious explanation for why such an assessment should be offered only anonymously:
'By insisting that they not be identified, the three officers based in Baghdad were following a Pentagon policy requiring American commanders in Baghdad to put 'an Iraqi face' on the war, meaning that Iraqi commanders should be the ones talking to reporters, not Americans. That policy has been questioned recently by senior Americans in Iraq, who say Iraqi commanders have failed to step forward, leaving a news vacuum that has allowed the insurgents' successful attacks, not their failures, to dominate news coverage.'
In this single paragraph lie many of the unsettling conundrums of America's Iraqi adventure. Through much of last year, that strange phrase, 'putting an Iraqi face' on the war, policy, sovereignty, or anything else, was popular among American officials in Baghdad and Washington and could often be found in press reports. This was a rare reappearance for it and, folded into a complaint about Iraqi unwillingness to provide such a face, caught something of the crisis of the moment. After all, as an image, to put a 'face' on anything means to put a mask of a face over something already present, which was (and largely remains) American power in Iraq.
When George Galloway, the antiwar British parliamentarian, recently arrived in Washington to defend himself before Congress and called the new Iraqi regime in Baghdad a 'puppet government,' it undoubtedly seemed an outrageous and distasteful label to many Americans and all of official Washington; but when our officials and military men speak of putting an 'Iraqi face' on things, it strikes us as good and sensible policy and we wonder why the Iraqis continually let us down on this.
The stunning thing is that tin-eared officials using the phrase can't hear what this must sound like to Iraqis. Do we really believe them to be that stupid? Insensate? Unable to imagine whose actual face (and rather imposing body) is to remain behind that Iraqi face being plastered on?"
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 24, 2005 1:32 PM | Permalink
"But this is the most secretive administration in recent memory."
Secrecy is hardly a democratic principle. Any thoughts on what to do about it? How we might restore the flow of information that would make democracy in the US possible?
I don't remember anything in the Federalist Papers about the duty of the executive branch to treat the American people as an enemy of the state to be disinformed by psychological operations. The Downing Street memo tells us that's where we are.
Are there any solutions to a psy-ops media environment that involve democratic principle? Solutions that involve the public having a right to know about the things their vote is supposed to cast judgment on?
Is it really possible to draw a distinction between "managed news" and "managed democracy?" Where would we begin?
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 24, 2005 2:16 PM | Permalink
This word just in, from the latest study by the Annenberg Center, which polled 673 journalists and 1,500 members of the public on the issues of bias, partisanship, accuracy.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 24, 2005 4:54 PM | Permalink
From Greg Mitchell at E&P:
Where, in the week after the Great Newsweek Error, is the comparable outrage in the press, in the blogosphere, and at the White House over the military's outright lying in the coverup of the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman? Where are the calls for apologies to the public and the firing of those responsible? Who is demanding that the Pentagon's word should never be trusted unless backed up by numerous named and credible sources?
Where is a Scott McClellan lecture on ethics and credibility?
....While military officials' lying to the parents have gained wide publicity in the past two days, hardly anyone has mentioned that they also lied to the public and to the press, which dutifully carried one report after another based on the Pentagon's spin. ....
Newsweek made a bad mistake in its recent report on Koran abuse at Guantanamo. But it was a mistake, not outright lying. Yet the same critics who blasted the magazine -- and the media in general -- are not demanding that same contrition or penalties for anyone in the military.
One Newsweek critic after another has asked in the past week that the media come up with just one case where they erred on the side of making the military look good, not bad. One hopes the Tillman example takes care of that request, though there are, of course, many others.
The real question is whether the credibility of the press suffers more because reporters occassionally make errors, or because the press unquestionably repeats whatever lies are being told by the Bush regime at any given time. I'd say its the latter, because even when a reporter does his job well, we no longer can have any faith that the results of the reporters efforts yield any truth.
Posted by: rsmythe at May 24, 2005 5:54 PM | Permalink
Sort of echoes Ben Bradlee's comment of long ago:
"All newspapers lie, because all governments lie and newspapers print those lies."
So what else is new ?
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 24, 2005 6:01 PM | Permalink
The Huffington Post is a fine site with a lot of very interesting content. But Arianna is hoping to make a ton of dough off it, so negotiate a fair price for the credibility boost you would provide.
Thanks for the quick fix. Hugh
Posted by: Hugh Hewitt at May 24, 2005 9:42 PM | Permalink
For once in my life, I agree with Hugh.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 24, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink
A few thoughts:
1) From a scientific perspective, when the facts (WH press secretary re: Newsweek) don't match with the theory (your decertification theory) it means your theory is wrong or at least incomplete. Now I understand that yours is not quite a mathematically exact relationship, but I think you should putsome serious thought into your theory and if it is right. If your theory is what is driving the WH, they wouldn't have done what they did. There for your theory is not what is driving the WH actions. It might be either similar or close, but you need to give it some serious thought to figure out where you are wrong.
2. With regard to Newsweek's culpability 'Newsweek Lied, People Died' it has to be acknowledged that although the formulation is a little over the top, there is a link. Certainly blame those that rioted. Also those that deliberately excited the situation, especially Imran Khan and the regular crew of Mullahs. But the 'underlying cause' or at the very least the spark, was Newsweek's (false) assertion that the US Gov't substantiated the accusations of the Gitmo prisoners. When LA rioted I don't recall all of the blame being firmly affixed to the rioters. While I don't know where you personally stood, in the media in general there was much gnashing of teeth about underlying causes almost if not quite excusing the barbarism.
3. Re: Huffington, I don't know that you quite fit. I know they would love to have you, but I really don't see your intellectual weight being matched there. While there may be a few serious thinkers and writers, I seriously doubt that is what it will be known for in the long run. I don't think you would quite fit in. Furthermore, given its celeb core, I think it will become rather partisan, and in fact ugly and perhaps rather nutty. I'm not sure if it would really benefit you to be associated there. I think you do just fine here on your own. But, if Ariana throws piles of money at you and offers a serious stake, that might very well be worth selling out for. I don't think you would personally or professionally benefit from it by participating, but if you benefit in other ways, consider it.
Posted by: Blank:No One at May 25, 2005 12:09 AM | Permalink
An anonymous State department source confirms a story based on anonymous Iranian sources that plants seeds for this summer's attack on Iran (if the neo-cons get their way):
Jafarzadeh, whose organization was banned in the United States for alleged terrorist activity and who now runs the Washington-based Strategic Policy Consulting think tank, said Iran was additionally smuggling and trying to manufacture a graphite-based substance called ceramic matrix composite. The highly heat resistance compound is also used in missile technology.
He said he learned this from sources of information within Iran.
What Ben Bradlee said.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 25, 2005 1:51 AM | Permalink
So what else is new ?
I'd suggest that the Bush regime's complete lack of shame about being caught in a lie is "new."
There used to be an assumption that the press would report what politicians said -- and if the press discovered that it was a lie, the politicians would accept the consequences. The Bush regime has rejected this -- and the press doesn't have a clue about how to deal with an administration that does not accept responsibility for its lies.
Ultimately, it is the Bush administration's refusal to accept responsibility for its lies that is destroying the credibility of the press, because the press is not taking the necessary steps to demand accountability. It continues to present reality as a "he said/she said" phenomenon in which "he" delivers lies and spin and "she" provides facts --- and the press treats both with equal respect.
Posted by: rsmythe at May 25, 2005 6:59 AM | Permalink
I am afraid that you are being too kind to Newsweek. Newsweek like other MSM has a habit of printing bad news that not only undermines our efforts around the world, but also places our reputation on the chopping block. And when the bad news is the result of shoddy, shallow, glib, nuanced and untrue, reporting, then the damage is that much more heinous.
There have been too many examples of this to be comfortable explaining them away as mere mistakes.
This is not a minor problem: when people die as a result of a story which played into the hands of Middle East insurgencies, and which could have put our troops unnecessarily in harmsway,then this is indicative of a pandemic unprofessionalism in MSM.
In short, many journalist and their editors have come to believe that freedom of press means a license to say or print anything. There are too many examples of this license, since 9/11, in the print media and TV to warrant further discussion. This has got to stop.
And please no more apologist for Newsweek, or CBS or The New York Times, etc. Just tell it like it is.
I have to disagree with asmythe's comment that "I'd suggest that the Bush regime's complete lack of shame about being caught in a lie is 'new'. asmythe must be very young (or a mindless partisan) to have not remembered the classic shameless lie that Bill Clinton perpetrated when he looked us in the eye, shook his finger in our collective faces and swore he "never had sex with that woman..." Of course he was lying, but his supporters and frankly, some in the press excused his lies with such gems as "everybody lies" (about sex) and "character doesn't count" (as long as you're doing your job well). Bill Clinton demonstrated there was absolutely no price to pay for lying to the public. Practically all the Democrats supported him in his prevarications, and many of these same people are now screaming liar!liar!liar! at Bush. the press still adored him, and if I remember correctly, Clinton's popularity remained fairly high. While he (and we) had to suffer through a phony impeachment show trial, he dodged the conviction bullet.
Now, of course, Isikoff and others bring up their stories about Blow-Jobs-In-The-Oval-Office to prove they are nonpartisan. They won't tell you that they sat on the story until the pressure from Drudge forced their hand.
So I always find it amusing that those who forgave Clinton's "shameless" lies, now shriek with righteous indignation about the "lies" of others. Some partisans say that Clinton Lied, Nobody Died, but there is really no way to prove this since we don't know what decisions he did or didn't make when was distracted by both BJITOO and the subsequent impeachment nonsense, that may have had repercussions on the future or even made a difference at the time----and don't forget Clinton also "lied" about WMD.
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 25, 2005 10:24 AM | Permalink
A niggling point or two about the curious belief that the media prints bad news in order to undermine the U.S. image in the world.
The media reports bad news because it happens. Reporters didn't make up the criminal actions at Abu Ghraib. Newsweek didn't create desecration of the Koran out of whole cloth. I'd argue that the mistreatments, the beating deaths and casual humiliations of military prisoners are the cause of damage to our reputation and put Americans - soldiers and otherwise - at risk throughout the world.
Newsweek's reportage of the Koran desecration was certainly shoddy. And it certainly did nothing to burnish the media's badly tarnished reputation. But the rioting came from religious fundementalism and the anti-Western bias in that part of the world - fueled in no small part by the abusive actions reported. Were the media supposed to ignore it?
Politican partisanship has warped the perceptions of what the media do as badly the media's own culpability. Just read the comments here.
"Good grief, pick any story about Iraq, President Bush, the Republicans, etc.. Then take a minute or two and parse the sentences. You will quickly discover half truths, deliberate ommissions, and nuances that do more than "nudge".
Two words: Balder. Dash. If you want the media to 'tell it like it is' then be prepared to read news you aren't going to like.
Frankly, the data cited by Steve Lovelady scares me to death. If 43% of the public thinks a more partisan point of view in their news coverage is a good thing, so much for fair and honest coverage.
And that was always what media aspired to: fair and honest reportage delivered on deadline. Not objectivity. Or to be error-free. Those both are impossibilities. But the media can tell it as it happens and how it happens. That the media has lost their way is a particulary sad reality.
Posted by: Dave In Texas at May 25, 2005 1:24 PM | Permalink
Is your brain capable of that thought?
Could you please share the address of the media planet on which this happened?
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 25, 2005 1:39 PM | Permalink
The Washington Post's non-stop celebration of William Jefferson Clinton in October 1998.
Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 25, 2005 1:46 PM | Permalink
It's the Peaceable Kingdom, it's the Lion and the Lamb, it's cats and dogs together----I agree with Mark Anderson when he says Bush I, Clinton and Bush II all lied----but Mark, try to convince asmythe, he/she thinks GWB invented lying.
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 25, 2005 2:17 PM | Permalink
Big News Media Join in Push to Limit Use of Unidentified Sources
The use of anonymous sources in news articles has long been part of journalism, as have the periodic attempts to restrict them. After Watergate, when a source who became known as Deep Throat helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein expose a White House cover-up, the practice grew from being mainly a useful tool to coax reluctant sources fearful for their livelihoods to being a condition that sources increasingly demanded, according to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
"Now, of course, Isikoff and others bring up their stories about Blow-Jobs-In-The-Oval-Office to prove they are nonpartisan. They won't tell you that they sat on the story until the pressure from Drudge forced their hand."
As usual, Kilgore, the world is infinitely more complex and nuanced than you imagine.
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 25, 2005 2:49 PM | Permalink
I bow to your superior knowledge, Lovelady.
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 25, 2005 3:02 PM | Permalink
Truth be told, I agree with Russ Smith who says a plague on both their houses:http://www.nypress.com/18/21/news&columns/russsmith.cfm
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 25, 2005 3:32 PM | Permalink
... (spoon-fed to him by Linda Tripp via Lucianne Goldberg, by the way; let's not confuse this with a great example of enterprise journalism; basically it consisted of Isikoff picking up a ringing phone)...Something that bothers me, that I don't write much about because I'm still trying to dissect it, is how the "glory bias" distorts stories. I'm starting to think that it both contributes to a reporter's willingness to offer anonymity to sources and to downplay the roles of "good" actors from stories.
Kilgore: Another one from the New York Press --
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 25, 2005 5:15 PM | Permalink
Good catch, Steve! I love Matt Taibbi, even though his politics are radically different from mine, he makes me laugh every time I read him. I also love to read the Guardian (UK). So much for the "if we have a partisan press, people will only read what they agree with" meme.
There were lots of good bits in the Taibbi piece, but I loved the way he characterized the typical Newsweek story as "can smiling prevent cancer". Taibbi's a gem!
Posted by: kilgore trout at May 25, 2005 5:36 PM | Permalink
Every reporter is familiar with not wanting to making that extra call--or extra list of calls--because to learn more might "ruin" the story you have, even though it would improve the news with more information. The glory bias comes in right there.
When a newspaper reporter says, "I broke that story," it is not a reference to readers but to the competition--- peer writers and what they didn't do. They didn't break the story. I did. Glory bias there too.
Steve Lovelady says " That focus is almost frighteningly non-partisan: he gives not a shit if the target is republican, democratic, fascist, communist, dictator or saint. "
I'm just curious if anyone here seriously thinks that Isikoff would so rabidly pursue a story that George W. Bush was having sex in the White House with an adult intern. Or that ANY magazine or newspaper would print it.
Posted by: Phredd at May 25, 2005 7:53 PM | Permalink
Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 25, 2005 8:46 PM | Permalink
Steve, yours is the standard journalist answer. I don't believe it for a minute. Be honest with yourself. Or less enamored with Isikoff.
Posted by: Phredd at May 26, 2005 2:40 PM | Permalink