Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Controlling the Press

Kudos to Knight-Ridder. How embarassing for the rest of them. The constitutional protections afforded to a free press should come with certain obligations -- the willingness to be independent of government influence chief among them.

At first, Hoyt says, Knight Ridder papers gave Landay and Strobel's stories inconsistent play. But "as time went by, the play got better and better."

And the heat, hotter.

"As the pressure built on the administration and their case got shakier and shakier, there was obviously a lot greater stress, and there was some shouting that was done at us over the telephone," Hoyt says. Some of those calls came from well-known names in high places, Bureau Chief John Walcott adds, declining to drop any names.

Around that time, the White House turned up the pressure, Strobel says, and "tried to freeze us out of briefings."

Landay adds: "I think this administration may have a fairly punitive policy when it comes to journalists who get in their face. And if you talk to some White House reporters, there is a fear of losing access." He says that fear may have played into the relatively uncritical approach of news organizations like the Times.

Another likely factor in that equation were the calls for national unity following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. "Many other news organizations were willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, particularly in the post-9/11 environment," Strobel says. "We were not."

The Times' editor's note, which acknowledges Knight Ridder in its seventh paragraph, applauds the chain's efforts to examine "the failings of American and allied intelligence" in Iraq, adding, "it is past time we turn the same light on ourselves."

The note suggests a variety of reasons for the paper's failings, everything from the faults of "individual reporters" (without naming any) to editors "perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper" to a lack of proper follow-ups, especially when key sources for several Times accounts were later found not to be credible.

The Times declined to elaborate on the editor's note.