Whose side are they on?
• January 18, 2005 | 5:04 PM ET
I was going to write a piece on media ethics, involving both the story that Armstrong Williams took money from the federal government to support its education policy and the not-really-comparable story that the Howard Dean campaign hired important lefty bloggers in the hopes of getting good blog-press. But you'll have to read this column and this blog post for more on what I think about Armstrong Williams, and this blog post for the skinny on the Dean story.
That's because the breach of media ethics that has me really exercised today happened not at a blog, or on talk radio, but at The New York Times. It involves this article by Sarah Boxer on the pro-American Iraqi blog Iraq the Model, and it features Ms. Boxer repeating speculation that the bloggers in question -- Iraqis whom she names -- are really CIA plants. This has some more respectable journalists upset.
Jeff Jarvis is deeply critical:
Sarah Boxer's story on IraqTheModel in today's New York Times Arts section is irresponsible, sloppy, lazy, inaccurate, incomplete, exploitive, biased, and -- worst of all -- dangerous, putting the lives of its subjects at risk.
So here is a reporter from The New York Times -- let's repeat that, The New York Times -- speculating in print on whether an Iraqi citizen, whose only apparent weirdness and sin in her eyes is (a) publishing and (b) supporting America, is a CIA or Defense Department plant or an American.
Ms. Boxer, don't you think you could be putting the life of that person at risk with that kind of speculation? In your own story, you quote Ali -- one of the three blogging brothers who started IraqTheModel -- saying that "here some people would kill you for just writing to an American." And yet you go so much farther -- blithely, glibly speculating about this same man working for the CIA or the DoD -- to sex up your lead and get your story atop the front of the Arts section (I'm in the biz, Boxer, I know how the game is played).
How dare you? Have you no sense of responsibility? Have you no shame?
Apparently not. Ed Cone observes:
Just in time for the conference on blogging, journalism, and credibility, a not-very-credible piece of journalism about blogging from the New York Times.
The credibility of the Iraqi bloggers -- of any bloggers -- is a reasonble subject for journalism. The Times could have written a credible article on this subject. But it didn't. Why not?
Why not, indeed? Is the Times guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy, by putting the lives of pro-democracy and pro-American bloggers at risk? Some soldiers in Iraq are charging the media with that sort of thing. I'm reluctant to level charges of treason, though, as I subscribe to a higher standard of proof than the New York Times. I think the real problem is that too many people are stuck in the 1960s. That's a point that Michael Gove makes in a different Times, the Times of London, today:
There is a particular point at which knowledge appears to end and a huge black hole begins. It seems to occur somewhere in the 1960s.
The specific event beyond which most commentators now find it difficult to see is the Vietnam War.
It has become the dominant reference point for discussion of any current military campaign. The war to liberate Afghanistan had barely begun before sceptics were suggesting that a "Vietnam-style quagmire" loomed. And from the moment plans were laid to topple Saddam's regime, cynics were certain that the Iraq war would lead, if not to Apocalypse Now, then to the quagmire to end all quagmires. . . .
The demand that we should learn from history makes sense. But, sadly, none of the comparisons so far drawn with Vietnam display a full sense of the nature of that conflict, or the one we face now.
One of the popular media myths in Vietnam was that there were no good guys on our side. The communists were authentic; our guys were all crooks and dupes. That assumption seems to have carried over here, as the only evidence Ms. Boxer seems to be able to muster for claims that the Iraqi bloggers are bogus is that they are pro-American -- and at the conclusion of her article, she makes clear that criticism of the Bush Administration gets automatic credibility as "genuine." (What must it be like to think so little of your country that you assume all praise of it is bogus? It must be... like working for the New York Times!)
At the moment, the New York Times is in court, demanding constitutional protection for its sources. If they're exposed, it fears, they may suffer consequences that will make others less likely to come forward in the future. That, we're told, would be bad for America.
But the New York Times has no compunctions about putting the lives of pro-American and pro-democracy Iraqis at risk with baseless speculation even though the consequences they face are far worse than those that the Times' leakers have to fear. It seems to me that doing so is far worse for America.
When journalists ask me whether bloggers can live up to the ethical standards of Big Media, my response is: "How hard can that be?" Not very hard, judging by the Times' latest.
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