April 21, 2006

So Much for Journalistic "Ethics"

Blogger Patterico, whose "real life" job is prosecuting criminals for the LA County DA's office, has busted the LAT's business columnist Michael Hiltzik for posting comments on his own (and other people's blogs) under phony names. In response, the LAT's editors suspended Hiltzik's LAT-sponsored blog "Golden State" for breach of the paper's ethical guidelines requiring their employees to correctly identify themselves to the public. (By the way, Hiltzik is a twenty five year veteran of the LAT and won a Pulitzer prize in 1999 for exposing corruption in the music business.)

Now, 'splain to me again how professionally-trained journalists with their layers of editorial fact-checking and adult supervision are so much more responsible than the guttersnipes of the blogosphere? At least most bloggers I know would never stoop to posting bogus comments praising their own views and pillorying their critics. Good detective work, Patterico.


The WaPo's media reporter, Howard Kurtz, has a good piece on the LAT's suspension of Michael Hiltzik's column/blog.

The bizarre, and troubling part of all of this is why should a respected, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist resort to this kind of crap? Personally, I have been surprised at the hostility and defensiveness I've encountered from journalists when they learn that I'm a blogger. There is no way to be sure, but I suspect that a lot of this hostility is resentment at what they perceive as a diminution of their privileged status. Previously, journalists were free to criticise others whose only recourse would be to write a letter to the editor that their institution could freely edit or ignore, as they wished. Now, with blogs, anyone can respond, and criticize, and point out hypocrisy and inconsistencies wherever they find them. Evidently, it's enough to drive some of them around the bend in an attempt to regain some of their old power to shape public opinion.

Sad, really.

Further Update

Howard Kurtz has more in his Monday column, including the interesting information that Hiltzik was recalled from the WaPo's Moscow bureau for hacking into colleague's personal email accounts in 1993:

He was exposed through an internal sting operation when he asked about phony messages that had been sent to other staffers in the bureau.

"His answer was that he was nosy and curious," says Carey Goldberg, a former colleague in the Moscow bureau who now works for the Boston Globe. "We were extremely upset. It was an incredible invasion of privacy. There were a lot of personal e-mails in there."

I hate to cast stones, but Mr. Hiltzik does appear to have something of an honesty deficit. Perhaps blogging, which after all is unsupervised (except by its readers), requires a higher level of ethics and intellectual honesty than does traditional journalism, where editors and fact checkers are supposed to enforce basic ethical standards.

April 21, 2006 at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

Brit Hume, an Underappreciated Star

Today's WaPo has a great profile by Howard Kurtz of Fox News' Brit Hume. Personally, I find Hume's 6pm Special Report to be, hands down, the best news program on television. I particularly enjoy the panel discussion segment where conservatives (like Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer) speak with (and not past) moderates like Mort Kondracke and intelligent liberals like Mara Liaason.

It was something of a cheap shot, however, for Kurtz to lead off his article with a story Hume did 36 years ago, that he now admits he wishes he shouldn't have done.

Thirty-six years ago, as a long-haired reporter for columnist Jack Anderson, Hume was handed information that Spiro Agnew's son had left his wife and moved in with a male hairdresser. Hume tracked down the vice president's son in Baltimore, talked his way in with a made-up tale about reports that Randy Agnew was living in a "hippie crash pad" and confirmed the details. Although Hume expressed strong reservations about the story -- his wife thought it was disgraceful -- he convinced himself that it could be a big deal.

Why start with this sorry tale rather then, say, Hume's scoop digging up a memo linking Nixon Attorney General Richard Kleindienst to the settlement of an anti-trust suit against ITT after it gave a $400,000 contribution to the RNC? But this nit aside, if you read the whole story, Kurtz paints a detailed portrait of an interesting -- and underappreciated -- American journalist.

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April 19, 2006 at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2006

Who Knew Pirates Had PR People?

The WaPo's Emily Wax had an interesting piece following up on the recent string of pirate attacks on shipping off the coast of Somalia. Her article is datelined Mombasa, the Kenyan port city along the Indian Ocean, and the focus is the upcoming trial of a group of pirates captured by the crew of the USS Winston S. Churchill in the course of rescuing the crew of an Indian freighter that had been captured by the Somali pirates.

In her article, Wax refers to the capture last month of a group of Somali pirates who made the mistake of opening fire on two US Navy vessels. Always fair -- at least to those critical of the US -- she includes the pirates' version of the events:

Two U.S. Navy warships returned fire on a group of suspected pirates off the Somali coast last month, killing one suspect and wounding five, according to Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Forces Central Force at Bahrain. Ten of the suspects are in U.S. custody at sea, and two are being treated for injuries in an undisclosed country, Breslau said. A spokesman for the pirates has said the Americans fired first, according to news reports. [Emphasis added]

What I want to know is who are these pirate spokespersons? Do they have fax machines to send out press releases? If Wax really wanted to wrie something interesting, she should go to Mogadishu and interview these buccaneer flacks.

(By the way, the Kenyan coast below Mombasa has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sand is a wonderful, ultra fine, white powder that squeeks underfoot. Unlike most sand, it feels great on your skin, almost like talcum powder. Of course, I was there 25 years ago, so things may have changed somewhat.)

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April 3, 2006 at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 01, 2006

ABC Getting It Backwards, Again

Well, I'm back from Greece (which was great), though still spinally impaired (which sucks, big time). However, being forced to write while lying on your back is no excuse for not blogging, so here goes.

Today's WaPo reports that ABC News has decided to suspend producer John Green for one month without pay for his leaked private emails saying that listening to President Bush "makes him sick" and former SecState Madeline Albright "has Jew shame" and that he did not like her. Howard Kurtz' piece goes on to observe that:

Both e-mails were disclosed at a time when public distrust of news organizations and their ability to be fair are at or near an all-time high.

Kurtz ends his article by quoting ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider:

Everyone who works at ABC News is unhappy with the situation because it reflects on all of us. But, I don't think the e-mails tell us anything about the show John Green was putting on the air every Saturday and Sunday, which is fair and balanced and down the middle.

The problem, as ABC sees it, is that Green was guilty of the cardinal sin of allowing his personal views to be leaked into the public record, thereby encouraging the public to see ABC news as having a political axe to grind. This is precisely backward. From my perspective, the problem with Green's inadvertent disclosures is not that he has strong personal views about Bush or Albright, but rather that his distaste for Bush is widely shared among his colleagues. Green's mistake was allowing the outside world a glimpse of this shared worldview.

I would much rather prefer a media that was open about its prejudices, but reflected a diversity of views in the newsroom. In an environment where reporters' and editors' views were similar to those of the American people -- that is to say evenly split between Democrats and Republicans -- there would have to be polite respect for the views of the other side of the ideological divide.

Finally, there is something distasteful about punishing someone for views expressed in a private email leaked by a disgruntled former colleague. Better for ABC to have said these were personal views, privately expressed, which have nothing to do with the editorial position of ABC News. But this would have required ABC to have genuine confidence in the broad spectrum of political views held by its staffers. Unfortunately, this is manifestly not the case.

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April 1, 2006 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

Wishful Thinking Department

Today's NYT has a front page, above the fold story by Michael Slackman suggesting that Iran's leadership may be rethinking its defiant stance viz-a-viz the rest of the world regarding its nuclear program. Why am I skeptical about the NYT running another "why we shouldn't bomb Iran" story?

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March 15, 2006 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2006

A Munich Moment on 43rd Street

I'm not surprised. The NYT has officially come out in favor of accepting a nuclear armed Iran. As usual, their position was telegraphed. Last month the Times ran a mealy-mouthed OpEd by MIT political scientists Barry Posen asserting that "We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran." Then, last Sunday, they ran a long feature by William Broad and David Sanger describing the technical difficulties Iran was believed to be having in perfecting their nuclear weapons technology. (Of course, these assessments come from the same people who assured us that Iraq had WMDs and who failed to predict Soviet, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs over the last sixty years, so who knows how much confidence to have in these estimates.)

So, with the groundwork laid -- a nuclear Iran would not be so bad anyway and, in any case, it's unlikely to happen for a few years yet -- out comes the predictable editorial: Facing Facts on Iran. (Oh, and by the way, it's mainly George Bush's fault, of course.)

I'm just glad that we elected GWB in 2004. At the time, I said that my most important reason for supporting Bush was my confidence that he would have the courage to do whatever was necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I still believe that. Unfortunately, I doubt the Iranian government does, and therefore a number of innocents are likely to die in the coming air strikes on Iran.

On a happier note, Allah Pundit is back and guest blogging up a storm at Alarming News. He is as good as ever, and has been doing a better job of tracking the stories out of Iran than I have.

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March 9, 2006 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


The New York Times: All the news you already knew before you even read the article.

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March 9, 2006 at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2006

QOTD: Anatomy of the Rope-a-Dope Negotiations

From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, 'The Iranians are lying and deceiving you and they have not told you everything.' The Europeans used to respond, 'We trust them'

- Hassan Rowhani

I wonder why the MSM doesn't think former Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani's admission that the negotiations with the "EU Three" were just a delaying tactic is not newsworthy. Luckily, the UK Telegraph disagrees and has this excellent report from their Washington correspondent Philip Sherwell:

The man who for two years led Iran's nuclear negotiations has laid out in unprecedented detail how the regime took advantage of talks with Britain, France and Germany to forge ahead with its secret atomic programme.

In a speech to a closed meeting of leading Islamic clerics and academics, Hassan Rowhani, who headed talks with the so-called EU3 until last year, revealed how Teheran played for time and tried to dupe the West after its secret nuclear programme was uncovered by the Iranian opposition in 2002.

He boasted that while talks were taking place in Teheran, Iran was able to complete the installation of equipment for conversion of yellowcake - a key stage in the nuclear fuel process - at its Isfahan plant but at the same time convince European diplomats that nothing was afoot.

Iran is now threatening the US with "harm and pain" for pressing the UNSC to act on Iran's nuclear weapons program. Somehow I don't see threats working where lies and deception have failed. Call me a psychic, but I see air strikes in Iran's future.

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March 8, 2006 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

Common Sense in Unlikely Places

I was surprised to read an editorial in today's UK Guardian calling on British authorities to take legal action against demonstrators glorifying terrorism or inciting people to murderous behavior:

For centuries, English law has been crammed full of legal powers to arrest people who threaten violence or murder in public, or who go around terrifying ordinary people. On Friday, dozens of prima facie examples of such offences were committed during protests against Danish cartoons which offended Muslims by depicting the prophet Muhammad. One man was dressed in the garb of a suicide bomber, arguably an overt attempt to terrify of the kind that has been illegal in this country since at least the Statute of Northampton in the time of King Edward III, in the 14th century. Others carried placards demanding "Massacre those who insult Islam", "Butcher those who mock Islam", "Europe you'll come crawling when Mujahideen come roaring", "Britain you will pay: 7/7 on its way", several of which appear to breach the law dating from Victorian times that outlaws soliciting to murder. . .

. . . no society can allow the threats that were made on Friday's march to pass without further action. Those who threatened to kill should answer for their threats. They should be arrested, cautioned and placed under surveillance. If appropriate, the authorities must not be afraid of bringing charges. Those who are eligible for deportation should be deported. . . White racists are rightly arrested and charged for their hate campaigns. Muslim fanatics have to face similar severity for their no less repulsive actions. Ours is a tolerant way of life; we must be robust in defending it against its enemies.

Hear, hear!


The Guardian evidently gets results! The man who appeared at the demonstration dressed up as a suicide bomber has been arrested. Not only that, but it turns out that this knucklehead was a convicted crack dealer who had recently been released from prison on parole. Welcome back to the big house, Omar.

February 6, 2006 at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2006

Now Everyone Can Buy Ink by the Barrel

I've been meaning to write about the political significance of the rise of the Fox News Network and the blogosphere for some time now. As frequently happens, others have beaten me to the punch.

Take, for example, Peggy Noonan's column at the Opinion Journal yesterday:

I don't think Democrats understand that the Alito hearings were, for them, not a defeat but an actual disaster. The snarly tone the senators took with a man most Americans could look at and think, "He's like me," and the charges they made--You oppose women and minorities, you only like corporations and not the little guy--went nowhere. Once those charges would have taken flight, would have launched, found their target and knocked down any incoming Republican. Not any more. It's over.

Eleven years ago the Democrats lost control of Congress. Then they lost the presidency. But just as important, maybe more enduringly important, they lost their monopoly on the means of information in America. They lost control of the pipeline. Or rather there are now many pipelines, and many ways to use the information they carry. The other day, Dana Milbank, an important reporter for the Washington Post, the most important newspaper in the capital, wrote a piece deriding Judge Alito. Once such a piece would have been important. Men in the White House would have fretted over its implications. But within hours of filing, Mr. Milbank found his thinking analyzed and dismissed on the Internet; National Review Online called him a "policy bimbo."

Or, perhaps even more tellingly, consider this article from earlier in the month by Katharine Q. Seelye in the NYT:

Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, or so goes the old saw. For decades, the famous and the infamous alike largely followed this advice. Even when subjects of news stories felt they had been misunderstood or badly treated, they were unlikely to take on reporters or publishers, believing that the power of the press gave the press the final word.

The Internet, and especially the amplifying power of blogs, is changing that. Unhappy subjects discovered a decade ago that they could use their Web sites to correct the record or deconstruct articles to expose what they perceived as a journalist's bias or wrongheaded narration.

But now they are going a step further. Subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts now fight back with the same methods reporters use to generate articles and broadcasts - taping interviews, gathering e-mail exchanges, taking notes on phone conversations - and publish them on their own Web sites. This new weapon in the media wars is shifting the center of gravity in the way that news is gathered and presented, and it carries implications for the future of journalism.

She's right of course, it does have implications for the future of journalism, but also for American politics. In the bad old days, the largely East Coast liberal elite media ordinarily controlled the agenda for public debate. If a news story appeared in the NYT or WaPo or on CBS, then it was considered newsworthy and would be taken up over the following days by newspapers and television journalists across the land. Conversely, if one of these papers did not cover a story, then it was considered out of the mainstream and rarely gained any traction in other media outlets. There were exceptions, of course, like the role played by the WSJ's editorial page regarding Whitewater and the related Clinton scandals. (Though this story was originally broken by the NYT, they did not aggressively follow-up as they would have if, mutatis mutandis, Clinton had been a conservative Republican.) But in general, this rule applied.

Now this rulebook has been thrown out the window. WIth Fox News and the blogosphere, the largely liberal MSM can no longer push stories down the memory hole by simply ignoring them. (As, for example, they tried to do with the Kerry Swift Boat story during the 2004 elections.) Conversely, the NYT or CBS or the WaPo can no longer rely on the rest of the media world to fall into line when they decide something is news.

Howell Raines, famously, did not understand this new paradigm. For example, he tried, by pure repetition, to make a national issue over the Augusta Golf Club's tradition of not admitting women. His NYT ran something like 90 stories on the subject, in spite of the fact that only a handful of kooky local protesters managed to show up and protest during the Master's Tournement. More seriously, Raines' NYT was unable to ignite the political firestorm they so badly wanted over the release of the photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. They ran an above-the-fold, page one story on Abu Ghraib every day for more than three weeks running. Raines was acting like one of those cartoon British colonialists who raise their voice so the natives can understand them. However, the American public, thanks to other sources of news and analysis, judged that this was an isolated incident and was important only as a propaganda weapon that could be used against the US in the Islamic world (or against the administration in this country). In the end, President Bush kept his job and Howell Raines lost his.

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Monopolies are good things if you happen to own one or work for one. But they are not very conducive to economic efficiency or open political debate. Thanks to Messrs. Murdock and Ailes, as well as blogosphere pioneers like Glenn Reynolds and Charles Johnson, we now have some real competition in the marketplace of ideas.

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January 21, 2006 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack