Friday, September 15, 2006

Post-Gazette editorializes it's time to leave, Dexy Rats Out

Lest we forget, this week Iraq has presented an especially bloody tableau to the world, with some 62 bodies having been found in Baghdad alone, many of them mutilated indicating torture, as well as other high-toll car bomb attacks (four U.S. soldiers died yesterday).
This occurred in spite of the weeks-long campaign that both American and Iraqi forces have carried out to try to improve the security climate in the capital. One byproduct of the pullback of forces to Baghdad has been that the security situation in other parts of Iraq has deteriorated, causing the senior U.S. Marine intelligence officer in Anbar province in bloody western Iraq, for example, to let slip the fact that in his view another U.S. division would be required there to bring the insurgents under control.

[. . .]
At the risk of sounding like a stuck CD, or worse, seeming to agree with part of the Democratic Party, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is definitely time for the United States to get out of Dodge, to disengage itself in as dignified a manner as possible from what is a hopeless mess in Iraq, one which soaks up U.S. time, lives and money with no end in sight.
[. . .]

A serious president would, instead, step up to the plate and take steps to get America out of Iraq.

The above is from "Editorial: The Iraq mess / Harsh reality underscores the need to leave" (Pittsburg Post-Gazette). So the Post-Gazette calls for withdrawal and the New York Times? The Post-Gazette can be traced back to 1786 when it was The Gazette. At 220 years of publication, it appears to have the bravery the New York Timid can only dream of.

Well don't expect bravery. And let's save the applause for Dexy -- though I'm sure it's coming. "Oh, how honest he is!" Not in print. Never in print.

But Editor & Publisher reports (David S. Hirschman's "Filkins, 'NYT' War Reporter: 'Anarchy' Curtails Reporting in Iraq") that Dexy gave a speech where he told some truths. He's actually done that before. Then returned to the Green Zone to spin again.

As Danny Schechter pointed out when Filkins reviewed Paul Bremer's laughable book, nothing prevented Filkins from reporting what he saw in real time. He didn't need an "official" to tell him what he saw. But too many let Dexy slide and expect to hear the usual praise of pistol-packing Dexy, the sob sister of the Green Zone.

Just don't expect his Times co-horts to be too pleased. Dexy's given that speech in American several times. Usually to college audiences. This time he gave it at a forum where it's being reported.

Now let's say you're a Green Zoner for the Times and you are just so offended by the wisecracks one site makes and you're offended by points made at that site about things that don't go into the paper re: Green Zone. You're a little outraged that too much backstory is known. But you know damn well, damn well, that you are busting your butt in the Green Zone and you fire off an angry little e-mail or two (or maybe an overly long one) about just how hard you work and how you are out there getting the story and blah, blah, blah, wah, wah, wah.

Well it only elects chuckles on this end because I know too many in the Green Zone (in the press, in the military) and I only know too well what little the Times does. ("Filky Rats Out All" should be E&P's headline.)

But I don't think his Green Zoners will be laughing with me at Dexy's speech.

Let's pull some of the highlights:

1) In 98% of Iraq (the 'liberated' nation), reporters can't travel. That's also true of Baghdad.

2) If a reporter for the Times speaks to an Iraqi, they do so under very careful situations ("using back channels" and "tight security" -- can't even leave a vehicle at the site of violence because it "would expose a Western journalist to mob attacks and kidnappings").

3) Dexy tells that seventy Iraqi staffers do the reporting (reporters and translators). They do "everything" according to Dexy.

4) "American journalists, he said, spend their days piecing together scraps of information from the Iraqi reporters to construct a picture, albeit incomplete, of what life is like these days in the war-torn country."

Not exactly the picture that those still in the Green Zone want painted and, more than likely, not the sort of thing Arthur expects to be picked up by the press (again, Dexy's given this speech before, this is the first time it's been written up that I'm aware of).

He talks of the 45 bodyguards employed by the Times. (And all the money that and the villa costs to maintain.)

He also thinks Iraq is in "anarchy" and that a "civil war" has already started.

Oh, how brave he is. When he's not churning out sob stories or rewriting press releases or being the US military's go-to-guy for propaganda. (As Christian Parenti pointed out to Laura Flanders years ago, back when the show was called The Laura Flanders Show, the Dexy in the paper and the Dexy in person are not the same person.)

Here's the thing, Dexy's not paid by the paper for speeches. He's paid to report. He's supposedly a reporter. If he has seen Iraq descend into anarcy, his reporting should have reflected that. If he sees that a civil war has started, his reporting should have reflected that.
Instead readers got Reading Press Releases Live From The Green Zone. That wasn't reality.

And for him to play war correspondent as the actual work, the more dangerous work, was farmed out to stringers, wasn't reality. Readers of the Times may be shocked by Dexy's speech. (His cohorts may be outraged.) You can't paly reporter in front of audiences if you don't do the work required to back up the preformance.

If you'll remember the Times denied that white phosphorus was used in Falluja (in November of 2004). When that news came out and started to get traction over a year later, a reporter who'd never been in Falluja denied it and the reason for denying it was that Filkins (among other Times reporters) was there. (Filkins actually won a prize for his rah-rah 'reporting' that omitted key details.) Then the US government admitted that white phosphorus had been used. The Times noted that -- the same reporter, Scott Shane, wrote the denial and the affirmation.

Shane should have been able to depend on Filkins' 'reporting.' The paper ran with it. (Well, slow jogged it. Check the dateline on the 'award winning' piece and compare it to when it was actually published -- you'll understand why many whispers of military revisions/censorship still surround that 'award winning' piece.) Shane got burned by the paper's own reporting. And the Times that was happy to dismiss the story with the oh-so-informed reasoning that they had reporters in Falluja didn't follow up (in the piece where they admitted white phosphorus was used) by asking the obvious question: Why hadn't the same reporters that were used to refute the (true) claim being asked to explain how the paper could use them and their work to deny something that turned out to be true?

How does that happen?

You only have to read about Filkins' speech. He's a Chatty Cathy in person. When he's supposed to be reporting, he buries a lot. Wouldn't be the go-to-guy for the US military if he didn't.

So before someone rushes to applaud Filkins' 'honesty,' they should ask the question Danny Schechter asked months ago -- if Filkins saw something, why didn't he report it?

When Thomas E. Ricks (Washington Post) noted how much the military loved them some Dexy, media critics should have paid attention. They didn't. One 'followed' the story by reducing it to a headline where they teamed it up with Fox "News" -- as if the Times and Fox "News" are seen by most news consumers as equivalents and as if the news of a being a go-to-guy wasn't worthy of exploration.

This month, Filkins begins his Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. We've long made the point here that if Judith Miller got the U.S. into Iraq (that's the conventional wisdom -- she was one of many reporters and the rest of them weren't lynched in the town square), Dexy and 'reporters' like him kept the U.S. over there by minimizing, fluffing and, as one reporter stated publicly, cancelling interviews with Iraqis if the US military gave him a frown.

The current American fatality count stands at 2682. No matter how much you hate Judith Miller, you can't pin it all on her. Not just because there were a lot of people aping her lead (in print, on TV, on the radio -- and she was not the Queen of All Media) but because Judith Miller was out of Iraq fairly quickly. The Times pulled her and put her on UN duty (around the time her friend David Kelly died). The so-called cakewalk walked on without her.

Dexy ended up being party to an issue that drug in the Guild. That might have raised warning signals . . . but it didn't. He offered hideous 'reporting' which should have raised signals . . . but it didn't. So where were the media critics? (I don't mean Media Matters. They follow domestic coverage.) Outside of Danny Schechter, I can't think of one who bothered to seriously address Dexy's shortcomings.

A New York Times reporter was bragged about, by the military, as the go-to-guy when they needed something in print real bad. And the media critics? They ignored it. One teamed it up with a Fox "News" item.

Today, one of them noted Katie Couric's news content -- I know, we're all shocked that they're still on Katie Couric. And then ended their 'coverage' by wondering if the ratings on 9-11 being down was a reflection of that? The ratings had been lower before Couric joined The Evening News. It might also have had to do with needing a familiar evening face. Or it may have had to do with some people not watching news that night because they didn't want to see footage of the towers falling. But it's always good to get your smear in.

I know Couric, I like Couric. (Ava and I both do and we noted that in "Katie Was a Cheerleader.") I don't watch any of the evening news unless someone (usually a producer proud of a segment) calls and asks me to watch or I get a call from someone at another network calls and says, "You've got to turn on ___! You won't believe what they're doing!".

Media Matters has criticized her frequently and that doesn't bother me because they are covering all the networks. (And, as Ruth has noted, they've upped their coverage of NPR.) Ava and I are wondering right now if we're giving Meredith's hideous performance a pass? But we don't want to comment on it. There's enough 'criticism' that seems less to be a press critique and more to be a game of bash-the-bitch.

But no one wanted to address that with regards to Judith Miller. Which is why her co-writers got off and which is why, last month, an intelligent and informed press critic could make the mistake of blaming her for writing a story (October, 2001) that she didn't even write.

By all means, hold Miller accountable for what she wrote. When she co-wrote a piece, hold her and her co-writer accountable for what they both wrote. But don't act like her co-writers don't bear responsibility (or her editors) and don't pin the blame on her for stories she didn't even write.

The criticism of Couric? It's really a case of "uppity bitch, who the hell does she think she is?" for many. Again, if you're Media Matters and you're covering everyone, that's one thing. If you're a press critic or a watch dog -- especially one obsessed over photos of Tom Cruise & Katie Holme's child -- maybe you need to lose that obsession for Katie Couric.

It's a nice narrative that she's the one who moved from daytime talkshow to evening news. But it's not reality when you give the male who made the same move a pass. And unlike him, Couric didn't fall asleep on live TV. Unlike him, she wasn't famous for cutting off guests by telling them that the feed wasn't coming in. (When the feed was just fine.) Unlike him, her ascenscion didn't require that a pregnant woman and an injured man lose their jobs. So all the little titters about what Katie Couric did or didn't do while you give the other networks a pass (yeah, they tossed Tim Russert today --oh, brave watchdogs) isn't cutting it as press criticism and you're fooling yourself it you think it is.

Ratings is press criticism now? Ratings? When you're supposedly concerned about whether or not the news accurate, you want to offer ratings? That seems a little superficial. But it seems a little superficial that outside of a chapter of NOW, most were silent on the fact that Elizabeth Vargas got demoted for being pregnant. So before you prepare your next study on gender and racial representation, you might want to ask yourself where you were when that happened?

Apparently, you were a smoke break and you were on it whenever the opportunity presented itself to fully explore Dexter Filkins' 'reporting.'

Compare and contrast his public remarks with his 'reporting' and you're left with the impression that he's unable or unwilling to report reality. And that didn't start with the E&P report. Miller's been gone from the Times for over a year now. The fact that she's still the most cited Times reporter in press criticques gives the impression that a lot of critics are sleeping on the job.

David Gregory and the Bully Boy both had a melt down today. Wally ("THIS JUST IN! D.C. LOVE GOES SOUR! ON A MUSICAL NOTE!") and Cedric [The end of a love affair (humor)"] captured it perfectly. There's polite and then there's fawning. Gregory, as Bob Somerby captured Margaret Warner at her worst on the NewsHour this week) in their zeal to go after Couric week after week.

Couric being a woman doesn't mean she be cut any slack. Nor does her being "a first" mean she should be cut any slack. It also doesn't mean, if you're on the left, that her gender means open war. The continued reluctance to address the work of Dexter Filkins (all this time after) and the current zeal with which some feel the need to capture Couric's every moment (while giving the other two evening newscasts a pass) suggests that the glomming on Miller had as much to do with gender as it did to do with her 'reporting.' When you're left to make snide comments on ratings, and you're on public radio, it really seems like you're scraping the bottom of the barrel in your desire to play bash-the-bitch. It doesn't seem like press criticism.

Since the critique on aired Friday and it made ratings an issue, probably it should have included the ratings after 9-11. If it had, listeners would have known that on September 12th, CBS Evening News was back at number one. That sort of nullifies the snide little remark. So maybe they knew and it just didn't fit the narrative being created?

To imply that a content analysis (that's not discussed) may be why viewers turned away on September 11th is just idiotic. Especially when the following day (a Tuesday, many days before your show was taped), The CBS Evening News was number one. Real press criticism might have felt the need to note that on September 11th, compared to September 12th, viewership was down for the big three: 23.7 million viewers watched on Monday the 11th, 24.6 million for Tuesday the 12th. That's almost a million viewers who decided not to watch on any evening news on the big three on September 11th.

Here's another thing that doesn't seem like press criticism: "hard" and "soft" features with no effort to define the terms. Those with a half-hour or hour long show who devote maybe five or ten minutes to headlines (hard news) and then do sit down interviews maybe ought to think twice about repeating "hard" and "soft" in their zeal to crucify Couric. That's not a slam against sit down interviews. That is saying that just because some news 'analyst' used the term 'hard' and 'soft' doesn't mean you run with it. A sit-down can qualify as news or newsworthy. Tyndall doesn't define the term. (The Tyndall Report, by Andrew Tyndall.) The media critcs on air Friday, put it in the same terms Peter Johnson did in USA Today:

Tyndall says features, interviews and commentary took up 74 minutes on the Evening News last week, compared with 51 on Nightly News and 44 on World News.

(That's from D1, the front page of the "Life" section on September 13, 2006 and the title was "CBS' Couric slides to No. 3." I'm not in the mood to hunt down links. I'm only covering this because a friend who produces on cable news asked me to. She heard the program before I did -- it airs earlier in her area and called me to ask that I listen and write something about it because "the double standard is translating as a higher standard." Hopefully, this will be the last time we'll note it here. And, if anyone's wondering, I plan to check out The CBS Evening News in a few months when it would make more sense to evaluate Couric's performance -- not while they're still figuring out the format. That's not a slam at Media Matters. They're evaulating specific incidents and not suggesting that the show's losing viewers as a result of some mythical hard/soft divide.)

Tyndall, in that "report" (it's a paragraph online -- the section on the minutes) also notes (at the end of the report) this:

CBS' enthusiasm for features includes Exclusives. Lara Logan's scoop took us behind Taliban lines in Afghanistan's Ghazni Province and David Martin landed a one-on-one with Richard Armitage, the leaker who told columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, wife of diplomat Joe Wilson, was a spy. "I let down the President. I let down the Secretary of State. I let down my department, my family. And I also let down Mr and Mrs Wilson." "Do you feel you owe the Wilsons an apology?" "I think I have just done it."

Those two features, not hard news by Tyndall's standard apparently, strike me as news worthy.
So before you slam for hard and soft, you might want to figure out how Tyndall is quantifying. Or better yet, do your own study of the big three.

Now it's not as fun, probably, as implying that Couric's turned the network over to fluff non-stop or implying that as a result of the content, viewers are turning off the CBS Evening News in strong numbers (almost one million people elected not to watch the evening news on the big three on September 11th -- I'm surprised the figure that low). But it's not reality either. It's not reality when you use someone else's terms ("hard" and "soft") without defining them or when you rush in (on a show that aired Friday) with suppositions that the viewers may be leaving due to the content and you use Monday the 11th as your example -- when on Tuesday the 12th, CBS Evening News was back on top.

I really don't see what ratings have to do with news quality but since a snide remark was made at the end of this week's slime-Couric effort, it is worth noting that the show that aired on Friday ran with Monday numbers when Tuesday numbers were available. Either the critics didn't know the numbers (which, if they're going to bring them up, they should know the numbers) or they chose not to include them because it wouldn't have allowed a mini-ha-ha to go out on.

But it wasn't press criticism and they don't need to kid themselves that it was.

Again, I'm not planning to write about this every week and hope this is the last time we have to address it. This is the second time and both times it was because friends in TV news felt something was seriously wrong in the criticism. (I agree with them.) Katie Couric doesn't merit a pass because she's a woman. She also doesn't need to be held to a different (higher) standard than the men who do the job.

There seems to be some shock that she moved from morning talkshow to evening news. I don't know why. We noted here that it was a done deal about a year ago. Yes, others were still stumbling around for months with their Who's-it-going-to-be coverage but we noted it and then dropped it. But we do note sexism and that's what's going on to a large degree. If you're Media Matters, you don't need to worry. You're covering everyone. But if you're another watchdog and you're only barking at Couric, you should probably take a long hard look at that.

As it stands now, a Friday broadcast gave us the "news" that the Couric-anchored newscast was "soft"er than the other two. That "soft"ness apparently included an interview with the man claiming to have leaked (by "gossip") the name of an undercover CIA agent and the "soft"ness of an indepth look at Afghanistan. Those are "soft" topics?

As it stands now, a Friday broadcast ended their Couric-watch with the suggestion that Couric's ratings may have dived as a result of her "soft" content. The reality was that it was one day and ratings go up and they go down. On the day in question, almost a million viewers chose not to watch the evening news compared to the figures for the next day. That may mean they didn't want to see the endlessly recycled footage of the towers falling or it may have meant they had a life. Monday and Tuesday's numbers indicate that Williams lost 200,000 viewers on Tuesday (second on Tuesday, first on Monday), Gibson stayed the same (third place on Tuesday, second on Monday) and that Couric gained 1.1 million viewers on Tuesday (first on Tuesday, third on Monday). There could be any number of reasons to explain how about a million cheked out on Monday. Real press critiques would at least note that.

But then real press critiques, to return to the topic of Iraq, would have addressed Dexter Filkins a long time ago.

The e-mail address for this site is