Friday, April 08, 2005

Let's talk New York Times . . .

Let's talk New York Times.

First off, I'll note that Betty has another post up at her blog Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man.
I won't quote from it because when dealing with humor, it's very easy to spoil a joke. So visit it and read the latest PARODY of Thomas Friedman.

Now let's note Rebecca who addressed the issue of news and p.r. today at her blog Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. [Disclosure, as Rebecca notes, I passed an article on to her Thursday. I do that quite often to many people, and many do the same for me. Since Thursdays is supposed to be independent media focus, I felt she'd be able to get to the issue of what the Times didn't tell you faster than I would. Blogger put us both behind schedule.]
From Rebecca's entry "lost in pope-arama, the new york times chooses public relations over journalism:"

and while the pope-arama went on, you missed out on some serious stories.
'but becky,' you say, 'the new york times was caught up in the pope-arama like every 1 else.'
that doesn't wash.
they ran 2 stories on torture czar alberto gonzales. on tuesday he was questioned by the senate. on wednesday eric lichtblau turned in his article on that. but he didn't tell you about brandon mayfield. he took dictation but seemed to put his pen down when he came across some thing that was actually news, that actually mattered.
as if it wasn't bad enough that lichtblau ignored it on wednesday, he returned to the same topic on thursday to explain to us that 'hey alberto's pretty groovy.'
that piece of printed drool made wednesday's story look better but even it could turn wednesday's story into news.
how does the new york times miss this story? how does eric lichtblau? he was assigned to cover gonzales's appearence before the senate.
[. . .]
the 'all the news that's fit to print' new york times could have had a story, a real story. they didn't bother. unless they want to change the slogan to 'all the p.r. that's fit to spin,' they need to take a hard look at their actions this week. there is news and there is p.r. and they might be able to argue with me of how news worthy a news story was, but i was trained in public relations and i know p.r. when i see it. that's basically what we got, p.r., in this week's new york times.
and they still haven't told readers that the government has lied repeatedly. that the government did use a sneak & peak aspect of the patriot act to search brandon mayfield's home.and that they lied when they repeatedly stated that they hadn't done that.
they did do it. and gonzales admitted it or bragged about it tuesday on the senate floor. why didn't the new york times cover that?

Why didn't the Times make that a front page story? "Despite Claiming Otherwise, A Sneak & Peak Was Used On Mayfield." That's a story. But we got p.r. about how Gonzales bravely spoke to the Senate. The day after that story ran, we got how Brand New Me Alberto was building a following. At what point do we get the truth?

Or is the Times too busy cozing up, yet again, for access, that the truth no longer matters?

Even when it's spoken on the Senate floor?

Like their trading access for basic journalism to get ahold of the report from Columbia University last week, are they making promises behind the scenes that will question their credibility?

And what exactly is going on behind the scenes?

Ron (Why Are We Back In Iraq?) e-mailed me a story from Editor & Publisher. (Thank you, Ron.)

Joe Strupp's "Fired 'NYT' Foreign Correspondent Angrily Denies
" doesn't paint a picture of a responsible press.

From Strupp's article:

New York Times foreign correspondent Susan Sachs, who lost her job for allegedly sending anonymous e-mails to the wives of Times reporters in Baghdad commenting on their sexual behavior, contends she is innocent and will fight the charges against her.
"I am completely absolutely innocent of the accusations made by The Times," Sachs said in an e-mail to E&P late Friday. "To underline that fact, I have taken a polygraph test administered by a competent and independent expert, during which I repeated that I am innocent of these accusations, and I passed the polygraph test with flying colors."

Anyone want to try to explain that?

Who's telling the truth? Who knows?

Will give Sachs the benefit of the doubt. (She's not been convicted of anything, just lost her job.)
But what if Sachs did send e-mails out? (She denies it and we're not calling her a liar.)

The Editor & Publisher article references The New York Daily News. There you'll find Lloyd Groves' "Times' Iraq bureau grief."

From Groves' article:

The Gray Lady's management has just fired Sachs, a widely respected and experienced journalist who has tangled bitterly with Burns and Filkins, over allegations that she sent anonymous letters and an E-mail to their wives alleging bad behavior with women in the war zone.
Sachs - who didn't respond to a message left for her in France yesterday - has stoutly denied the charges, and the Newspaper Guild is defending her in arbitration proceedings against The Times.

[. . .]
According to my sources, Filkins' wife, novelist Ana Menendez, and Burns' wife, Jane Scott-Long, received the mystery missives in the past few months, purporting to rat out their husbands' alleged infidelities.
I hear that The Times conducted an investigation and linked postmarks on the envelopes to Sachs' purported whereabouts on the dates the letters were apparently sent - and also claimed to have linked an E-mail to Sachs.

Let's say for a moment that Sach's was guilty of what the Times alleges (for speculation sake).
What does that have to do with her job? Let's say she was doing that, that she was the worst office gossip in the world. So what?

If bad reporting can't get you fired (Judith Miller), apparently the only thing that can is alleged loose lips (about staff members of the Times).

What could cause this kind of reaction (very over the top reaction)? I'd be inclined to guess that whomever passed on the news wasn't off the mark. If that's the case, Sach's firing makes perfect sense from a paper that's long believed in the "male perogative." If whomever wrote the letters and e-mails was correct, maybe we've found yet another reason why Times reporters are so reluctant to leave the Green Zone -- and we suspected it was just the danger!

You'll learn that Filkins was packing a piece. He probably sees himself as a big bad ass. Of course, his whimpering interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air destroyed that image, but hey, he can dream.

And about Filkins. The Peabody awards have been announced. That's the spotlight story now in terms of journalism awards. So let's talk about his Polk.

He won it for an article ("In Faulluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War") that appeared in the Sunday paper, many, many days after it the event took place. (The destruction of Falluja.) Absent from his "award winning" piece was any perspective. It was a "I'm embedded with the troops!" and he came off as peaking behind the shoulders. He can win any award someone's foolish enough to give to him. That still doesn't make it reporting.

[Note "an article." That takes you to the official George Polk Award page. There you will find, that contrary to what was implied by the Associated Press, Filkins won for one article, not for a series of articles. Those winning for more than one article have all the articles they won for listed. Filkins, on the official George Polk Award page is only listed for the Nov. 21st article.]

Reporting requires that he write what happened. And what happened wasn't just one-sided.
Filkins didn't fill you in on how men and older boys were not allowed to leave Falluja. He wasn't too concerned about those killed and the possibilities that some were not resistors or insurgents.
Males were not allowed to leave the city as Filkins & co. moved in.

It was glorification of violence, it was a video game, a feature story, but it wasn't hard news.
And it was six days old by the time it made the front page of the November 21st Sunday edition of the New York Times.

"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.
After four attempts, Corporal Miller's lifeless body emerged from the tower, his comrades choking and covered with dust. With more insurgents closing in, the marines ran through volleys of machine-gun fire back to their base.
"I was trying to be careful, but I was trying to get him out, you know what I'm saying?" Lance Cpl. Michael Gogin, 19, said afterward.

Next on Inside Edition!

Filkins might get the uber patriot of the year award, but at some point, his article will be looked at closely and people will wonder where in the overwrought, non-objective piece was there anything worth praising as "hard news."

Or breaking news -- not only did it take six days for it to appear in print, it took three days for it to be written. What was the reason for the delay? Did it need approval from someone or did Filkins just need to get his whatever up to write such purple prose?

I don't know.

And I have no idea what's going on re: Filkins (or Burns) in the Green Zone.

But I do know that having embarrassed themselves with the Green Zone reporting repeatedly (which is getting as bad as Judith Miller's pre-invasion reporting), the last thing the Times needs is another scandal. But they have it now by firing someone they allege gossipped.

Having pushed the "values debate" (Adam Nagourney) over and over until January rolled around when suddenly they (Adam Nagourney) scratched their heads and seemed to wonder how that false narrative got started (one Frank Rich said at the time was false), maybe they shouldn't fire someone they allege squealed on extra-marital going ons in the Green Zone?

Hey, the Times pushed that "values" nonsense like crazy. They pushed the "red" state/"blue" state narrative like crazy. (Whether they realized it or not, it was in their own interests to do so.
The Times is centerists and the centerists Dems were trying to use that nonsense -- and continue to try to use it -- to push the party to the right.) Having done their part (and then some) to force the "values" debate, if Sachs squealed (if, we're giving her the benefit of the doubt) on affairs (I have no idea if the charges are true) then wouldn't that be her "value" responsibility? Didn't we have a preacher, not all that long ago, get away with squealing on a woman who was having an affair? She spoke to the clergy member in privacy but he felt his duty to the bounds of marriage was to great to remain silent. (Or that's what he said anyway.)
So by the same token, having pushed the "values" narrative, maybe the Times is in no position to fire anyone they think might have passed on extra-marital rumors or news?

But they did that. And now they look silly. And this will be talked about and talked about. (Hey, anything to take the focus of Judith Miller, I guess.) If the rumors were false, then Burns & Filkins should be able to straighten their own personal lives out without anyone being fired.
If they were true, the Times operates under some "what happens in the Green Zone, stays in the Green Zone" policy that's unwritten but long in play at the Grey Lady.

Sachs was fired for allegedy outing alleged private behaviors of Dexter Filkins and John F. Burns. Anyone else raising an eye brow?

Anyone else thinking, "But Daniel Okrent outed a private citizen, named him, gave his city and state, over his objection. Over a private e-mail to a reporter for the Times. It wasn't meant for publication, though Okrent quoted from this private correspondence without permission which is legally questionable since he identified the author, and he put the paper of record in a strange position to say the least.

According to Randy Cohen, Okrent was "censured" over that. The paper never saw fit to inform the readers of that. But, if Cohen was correct, he wasn't fired over it. Guess that tells you whom the Times values and whom it doesn't.

Okrent's stepping down (at the pre-arranged end of his tenure) and some of his peers rush up to toss a halo on him and speak of all the great things he did as the public editor, as the readers' advocate. They ignore that he outed a reader, that he behaved in a manner that not only appeared petty but also appeared to place himself and the paper on questionable legal grounds.
Now we learn that Sachs is fired for allegedly outing two alleged cheaters.

If Filkins and Burns are humiliated (or their spouses), blame the Times and not Sachs. If she were guilty (if), the Times botched it (as usual) and thereby allowed the news to travel far beyond anything that whomever wrote the letters and e-mails did.

The New York Times just can't seem to get its act together these days. There are a lot of people putting things into print about the paper. There's the rumor that Judith Miller forced Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.'s hand. (E-mails to this site state his hand wasn't forced. He was backing Miller from day one. Due to the long nature of his and Miller's relationship, I'm inclined to believe those e-mails.)

In the past year, we've seen a lot of journalists make news. Jane Mayer and Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, for instance. But they made news on the basis of their reporting. More and more, the Times is making news not for anything in the paper but for what's going on behind the scenes. That ought to worry the paper because image is what has always kept it afloat.

People should be talking about the front page (and if the Times would lay off the p.r. and break more stories, maybe that would happen). They shouldn't be discussing who may or may not be
living it up like a heavy metal rock star.

In another period, the Times could probably shrug off the increasingly embarrassing behind the scenes revelations. They could do it today if they were breaking any news. (As opposed to their breathless "scoops" on reports due to be released hours after the paper hits the doorsteps.)

I've praised John F. Burns' reporting here many times. Even knowing that it would mean e-mails coming in questioning that. (Which is fine. And anyone can be quoted on that. My opinion's aren't always correct. I'm wrong many times over.) But Burns has gotten sloppy. Filkins never had a high point to fall from.

My opinion, the Times has two high periods for regular readers. The first is the initial two weeks of tsunami coverage when reporters such as Amy Waldman and Ian Fisher filled in for the regulars (who were on holiday) and actually wrote honest to God news stories. The second high would be Jodi Wilgoren who has gone from the worst, my opinion, journalist at the paper to a serious journalist worth reading.

That's really it. You could include Scott Shane's Saturday reporting where he grabs the mop to clean up the earlier reporting by others. No offense to Shane, but it's hard to get really excited since he's writing to correct earlier reporting. We could get excited over Douglas Jehl's inside the paper reporting (such as the Nazi stories) or but that would mean we'd have to overlook the front page "scoops" bearing his name. When he does have an honest to God scoop, he's forced to sit it out. Why is the New York Timid refusing to let him break news even when he has a scoop? (As opposed to a "scoop.") The same comments could be made of Eric Schmitt's reporting. Or for Raymond Bonner who gets printed occassionally but no one at the paper seems to read his articles since his revelations vanish into a memory hole. And let's not forget that while they were rushing to sing the praises of Bernie Kerik, practically every other paper was breaking news. Or that from the start, they couldn't accurately report the Giuliana Sgrena story.

The Timid's given America so little to talk about, that of course they'll focus on this personal, behind the scenes, story. Starved for real news (and conditioned by the paper to get excited over the tawdry -- no one forced them to treat the Michael Jackson case as an earth shattering story in need of five days a week reporting), why wouldn't readers enjoy the titilation factor of this tale full of alleged sex, alleged backstabbing, and a firing?

No one forced the paper of record to play tabloid. No one forced them to send out the Elite Fluff Patrol to the front page repeatedly. They've made these decisions. They've also allowed a hell of a lot of attitude to creep into the hard news. (And sports metaphors. Every story is ripe for sports metaphors in the Times these days.) I'm not referring to Bumiller's floating op-ed "White House Letter." I'm speaking of supposed news stories that try to strut with all sorts of lingo and attitude.

No one loves the master narrative like the Times. Well here's a master narrative for you: the paper has embarrassed itself in print repeatedly, perhaps that's the result of embarrassments going on behind the scenes? And if some people want to start peering into the early childhoods of Sachs and Burns and Filkins to find some "life altering & shaping event" -- well, hey, the paper's encouraged that for some time with their own articles (and book reviews).

Bill Keller should realize how the paper's image is in increasing danger and he should start advocating for hard news on the front page. And for real scoops, not "scoops." Unless that happens, people will be more focused on what goes on behind the scenes then what makes the front page. (My opinion, as always, I could be wrong.)

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