Monday, July 04, 2005

NYT: "Journalists Say Threat of Subpoena Intensifies"

In this morning's New York Times, Katharine Q. Seelye does what the Times should have been doing all along, explaining history. Seelye's article is entitled "Journalists Say Threat of Subpoena Intensifies."

This will be a short Times entry because little in the paper this morning impresses me (favorably or unfavorably). The international coverage is old news as it so often is on Mondays (due to the fact that on Sundays we do the "What are the reporting outside the US" entry or entries).

Seelye walks you through recent history. She starts with the Hill-Thomas hearings. (See yesterday's entry and The Third Estate Sunday Review roundtable for discussions on how the matter was turned into "Who's the leaker? Who's the leaker?") She notes that efforts to gather the phone records of Nina Totenberg (NPR) and Timothy Phelps (Newsday) eventually were quashed. She also notes that the climate has changed. Whether that's due to the a lower regard for the press by the public (indicated in polls) or whether it's something else is open to debate (she notes this, I'm summarizing her article). Also open to debate is whether or not there are more effots to force reporters to share sources (possibly, some offer, it's just the impression left by high profile attention to a few cases).

She quotes an attorney for Wen Ho Lee. I think Seelye will be criticized for not noting that the Times' own Jeff Gerth is one of the people being asked about information in that matter. People who want to criticize for that aspect are on solid ground. (And the paper's coverage was embarrassing at the very least.)

But overall, she's the only reporter for the paper that's yet to do anything resembling a historical overview of what is involved. (Adam Liptak did his best article on Saturday.) From Seelye's article:

"It does feel like open season," said Laura Handman, a First Amendment lawyer based in Washington. "There are more instances of courts ordering confidential sources to be disclosed," she said, adding that she believed the Bush administration's emphasis on secrecy was partly to blame. "This leads to more leak inquiries, which, in turn, leads to more subpoenas."
In the last year, more than two dozen reporters across the country have been subpoenaed or questioned about their confidential sources in cases before federal courts, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Paul J. Boyle, senior vice president of the association, said he believed that "the filing of subpoenas, as well as the letters and phone calls that media companies receive from prosecutors and civil litigants, is on the rise."

Seelye's article needs to be carried further by the paper. She's addressed the recent past and someone else (or Seelye herself) needs to now discuss it in long range history. Whether that will happen or not, who knows? But Seelye's article does a better job of getting to the issues then anything else involved.

That's getting to the issue of the First Amendment. Nothing excuses that Times shoddy coverage of the Plame outing.

Seelye's reporting in 2000 on the Gore campaign has earned her deserved criticism (see Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler -- just type in her name; for an overview of the pack mentality
see also Eric Boehlert's "The Press vs. Al Gore" from Rolling Stone for online resources; check out Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman's book The Press Effect Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World if you're looking for a non-online resource or an additional one). This site didn't exist then; however, I did read the Times and Somerby's critiques are sound. That said, Seelye's reporting for the business section has struck me as solid (this article appears in the business section).

If the community consisted merely of the members who were around in December, I wouldn't even raise the issue of the Gore reporting. "Goes to pattern" isn't a remark I'd make on her writing. If it did, I would raise the issue each and every time. In our year-in-review , Seeyle was cited for blogging.

Seelye did do a strong job blogging during the debates. Had the Times raised issues she raised (some were, some weren't), the articles on the debates would have been stronger. She was also frequently funny while blogging. Jodi Wilgoren's coverage of the Kerry campaign was appalling. When Wilgoren got serious about her job, I didn't choke, stammer or stutter when I noted it and applauded her writing.

If Wilgoren or anyone else clowns then it does go to pattern and we'll happily mention it here.
The reason all of that has to be said is because we've added members since December and I'm not in the mood to sift through a multitude of e-mails asking me if I'm unaware of Seelye's 2000 coverage. I am aware of it. She writes today (my opinion) like she is as well. If there's a need to mock her, we will. (And any member who wants to weigh in on her piece today -- positively or negatively -- feel free but note if your remarks are for the community or a private e-mail.)

If she backslides, we'll note it. But if she's doing her job, we'll note that. (And not in any attempt to appear "moderate." I'm not and have no desire to come off that way.) The last time an article of her's was cited here, it was brought home how many members we've added since December and instead of dealing with this issue in private e-mails (which wasn't a problem in December but was a problem last time), I'm putting this up here.

Again, the lack of disclosure re: Wen Ho Lee will probably be a sticking point for some. And if you feel it is for you, you're entitled to weigh in. The Times is supposed to avoid being self-referential. Whether that factored into the decision not to note Jeff Gerth or not, I honestly don't know. It was a mistake (on Seelye's part or an editior who cut the ref is she included it in her draft). Other than that, I'm not finding any issue that needs noting. If you read one article in the paper today, this should probably be it.

One article you should skip is Elisabeth Bumiller's "Speculation on Contenders Begins Despite Entreaties." It's not a White House Letter. Bumiller's trying to report. That's obvious from reading the article. There are none of the hallmarks that have made her the squad leader of the Elite Fluff Patrol. However, her passing over the issue of John G. Roberts, Jr. makes her attempt very weak. If she's unaware of Roberts' record or the opposition to him from those concerned with the issue of choice, it was her job to be aware of it. "Some say" isn't a hallmark of this piece but she does tell us that Democrats and Republicans have already begun speaking of him as a replacement. The context of that statement, coming where it does within the piece, suggests that their is bipartisan support for him.

The remarking on Roberts from Dems is never credited to direct individuals. Possibly she didn't speak to them and is just going by the Chat & Chew summaries from Sunday. Biden was a guest and he's never one to shy from the "middle of the road." Possibly he or another Dem guest (or he and other Dem guests) made statements in support of Roberts.

But when she presents the arguments "in favor" of Roberts, it's also incumbent on her, especially since she's telling readers for the first time that Roberts is a possibility, to explain the arguments "in opposition" to Roberts. That an editor didn't catch that may mean too many people at the Times are on vacation. (Which would explain the wasted Sunday paper.) Or possibly her arguments against Roberts were editied out.

Regardless Bumiller or "Bumiller" turns in a piece of bad reporting today and that's a shame because it does look like efforts were made to do some serious reporting. Serious reporting, however, requires that you inform readers of arguments in favor of and opposed to a Supreme Court Justice nominee. Bumiller's article doesn't do that.

From Feminist Daily News Wire, "Right-Wing Judicial Nominee Ducks Questions in Second Hearing" (May 2, 2003):

Roberts, currently an attorney in private practice in Washington, DC, helped write a brief in 1991 that called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. He also has argued against civil rights laws being used to protect abortion clinics from violence, affirmative action for minority business contractors and the application of Title IX to the NCAA. During his hearing, he refused to tell the judiciary committee which three past Supreme Court cases he most disagrees with and he refused to describe which justices have the most divergent philosophies.
In response to direct questioning about Roe v. Wade, Roberts refused to characterize his opinion on the case - he instead told the committee that he would uphold settled law. "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land, it was even reaffirmed," Roberts said. "There is nothing in my personal views that would keep me from upholding it." Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told Roberts that his answers in regard to Roe v. Wade were evasive. "I need more," Durbin said.

The above isn't something you find in Bumiller's article. Having described the "in favor," she needed to provide the "in opposition."

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[Note: Post corrected 7-6-05: Katharine Q. Seelye not "Seeyle." Thanks to ____ for catching that.]