Tuesday, February 15, 2005

WSJ, meet Mr. Fisk

I'm late to the party on this one, I know. But I can't leave it alone.

Regarding the WSJ editorial yesterday: The Jordan Kerfuffle

Readers might recall that I don't have a habit of cutting editorial pages much slack. I really don't care what laurels they think they're resting on. In the blogosphere trust is a consumable item, not a durable good. In my opinion the WSJ editors consumed a lot of whatever trust they think they had yesterday.
The editorial begins in this manner:

The writers of these columns believe that, in addition to having opinions, we are ultimately in the same information business as the rest of the press corps. Which is why we try to break news whenever we can if a story merits the attention.
An apology for joining others in the news media for burying the Eason Jordan story is sure to follow, right? "Sorry, readers. We made the wrong call here." Surely. But no...

So it was only normal for our Bret Stephens to report a January 27 panel discussion he attended at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during which CNN's Eason Jordan appeared to say--before he tried to unsay it--that U.S. troops had deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq. Mr. Stephens's story appeared the next day in our Political Diary, an e-mail newsletter for subscribers that is part of this Web site. It is the first account by any news organization of what has come to be known as Easongate.
I'm sorry. Did the WSJ just tell us that covering this story in an "e-mail newsletter" proves that they were in the lead on this one? What's that big papery thing I see all the plutocrats and wannabe plutocrats carrying around under their arm? What's that "OpinionJournal" thing all those grubby little bloggers have been raving about for a couple of years? The big story here is that the WSJ has an e-mail newsletter!!! And it's apparently far more important than those other things. Has all the big stories, apparently.

And let's ignore the fact that being the first account by any news organization here, is not unlike being the first geriatric to discover the kids talking about some guy named "Elvis." You weren't really the first, but who care's what those whippersnappers say anyway? You were first enough.

By now, everyone on the Good Ship Earth knows that this particular story ended Friday with Mr. Jordan's abrupt resignation from CNN.

They do? How did they find that out? Oh, right. If we don't subscribe to your e-mail newsletter, how can we hope but to be in the dark?

This has certain pundits chirping delightedly. It has been a particular satisfaction to the right wing of the so-called "blogosphere," the community of writers on the Web that has pushed the Eason story relentlessly and sees it as the natural sequel to the Dan Rather fiasco of last year.
Chirp, chirp. It also has certain old-media types wheezing like asthmatics over... well, over what exactly? A big-media type was discovered to be a habitual slanderer of the U. S. military. He had a chance to provide evidence that either he didn't say what he was reported to have said, or that he had evidence to back his assertions. Instead, he chose to spin and cover-up.

And when did we become the "so called 'blogosphere'"? New word to you WSJ? Too distasteful to print without scare-quotes? Maybe you have reason to be scared.

But Easongate is not Rathergate. Mr. Rather and his CBS team perpetrated a fraud during a prime-time news broadcast; stood by it as it became obvious that the key document upon which their story was based was a forgery, and accused the whistleblowers of the very partisanship they themselves were guilty of. Mr. Rather still hasn't really apologized.

You're right. It's not Rather-gate. It's worse. The head of one of the most influential international news organizations was discovered to habitually slander the U. S. military, supporting anti-American sentiment in a time of war among some of the most influential members of the world community. And he didn't do it based on forged evidence or laziness. He did it all on his own. And if the WSJ has seen anything that counts as a real apology for all of that from Mr. Jordan, how about breaking that story? I know, I know.... the e-mail newsletter...

We then get this evasive and incomplete account of what the affair entailed...
As for Mr. Jordan, he initially claimed that U.S. forces in Iraq had targeted and killed 12 journalists. Perhaps he intended to offer no further specifics in order to leave an impression of American malfeasance in the minds of his audience, but there is no way of knowing for sure. What we do know is that when fellow panelist Representative Barney Frank pressed Mr. Jordan to be specific, the CNN executive said he did not believe it was deliberate U.S. government policy to target journalists. Pressed further, Mr. Jordan could only offer that "there are people who believe there are people in the military who have it out" for journalists, and cite two examples of non-lethal abuse of journalists by ordinary GIs.

None of this does Mr. Jordan credit. Yet the worst that can reasonably be said about his performance is that he made an indefensible remark from which he ineptly tried to climb down at first prompting. This may have been dumb but it wasn't a journalistic felony.

Well, not being a subscriber to your incredibly important e-mail newsletter, I surely wouldn't know. But Jim Geraghty apparently has the great fortune of knowing someone who is, and according to him:

Had Mr. Frank not challenged him, the global elites there might have taken Jordan's words at face value, convinced that Americans were indiscriminately targeting journalists. Thanks to Barney Frank, world leaders assembled in Davos learned that there was no substance to such claims.

Huh. Sounds a little worse than making "an indefensible remark from which he ineptly tried to climb down at first prompting." Perhaps your e-mail newsletter helped your readers understand why this was really no big deal, and we should all let it go.

More troubling to us is that Mr. Jordan seems to have "resigned," if in fact he wasn't forced out, for what hardly looks like a hanging offense. It is true that Mr. Jordan has a knack for indefensible remarks, including a 2003 New York Times op-ed in which he admitted that CNN had remained silent about Saddam's atrocities in order to maintain its access in Baghdad. That really was a firing offense. But CNN stood by Mr. Jordan back then--in part, one suspects, because his confession implicated the whole news organization. Now CNN is throwing Mr. Jordan overboard for this much slighter transgression, despite faithful service through his entire adult career.

Did the WSJ just tell me that the guy deserved to be fired already, but since CNN decided it was such a big problem they decided to ignore it? And did the WSJ just accept that as alright with them? Bygones and all that. And then did they just use that past scandal as the basis for condeming the fact that this time Jordan was actually made to account?

Is this how the WSJ operates incidentally? Do they employ people with long records of fireable offences, which are never taken into account the next time a potentially fireable offense comes up? Maybe I need to subscribe to their e-mail newsletter to learn such important details. But if this is how they assess this case, one can't help but wonder.

That may be old-fashioned damage control. But it does not speak well of CNN that it apparently allowed itself to be stampeded by this Internet and talk-show crew. Of course the network must be responsive to its audience and ratings. But it has other obligations, too, chief among them to show the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs.
Hey! Weren't we the chirping "blogosphere" above? I kind of liked that. Now we're demoted to just some anonymous Internet? What gives?

Nice to know that the WSJ finds CNN too rigorous in disciplining its journalists who commit habitual slander. One wonders how many similar cases have been merely slapped on the wrist at the WSJ.

No doubt this point of view will get us described as part of the "mainstream media." But we'll take that as a compliment since we've long believed that these columns do in fact represent the American mainstream. We hope readers buy our newspaper because we make grown-up decisions about what is newsworthy, and what isn't.
Fine with me. WSJ, I now consider you no better than the rest of the mainstream media. You can now join the rest of them in trying to persuade me how "grown-up" your decisions are, while wondering why your circulation and reputation plummet. You've already got a terrific head start in joining them by replacing journalistic integrity with snarky dismissiveness of those who beat the pants off your "grown-up" decisions about newsworthiness in this case.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Doug this is a very nice piece of writing.

Do you "know stuff" too?

10:46 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

You sound surprised. Thanks for the sympathy reading in the past. :-)

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MSM has been circling the wagons for 2 months. WSJ like Google wants to be part of the MSM so they are s---ing on blogs.

4:51 PM  

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