Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Journalistic Ethics: A Different Take

Will Bunch on Attytood puts it like this:

It's amazing how many journalists are OK with being deceived, as long as they don't have to offend anyone.

Take the editor of the Scranton Times, who when presented a police report showing how a local married congressman who professes family values was himself leading a double life, not only refuses to publish it but writes a scathing assault on the ethics of a nearby newspaper that happens to think that political hypocrisy is newsworthy.

Take the painful hand-wringing from top editors that occured when a Spokane, Wash,. paper -- in an era when government and other investigators frequently won't investigate those in power -- went undercover to help prove that the city's mayor had sexually abused minors and misused his position in seeking sex.

Take the editors of the Washington Post. When confronted with a British government memo that showed that President Bush "fixed" the intelligence on Iraq to make the already-decided case for war, the newspaper did nothing for two weeks, then buried the story -- a story that in a different era, one with more courageous leadership, might be seen as an impeachable offense -- on Page A-18. Odd behavior for a business obsessed with "scoops."

And yet, with so many brave defenders of journalistic purity out there, you would think that newspaper circulation would be soaring. Instead, readership is dropping like a stone, the biggest plunge in almost 15 years. Does anyone truly believe its from a lack of "context?" Of course not.

It's from a lack of cojones, of not only not afflicting the comfortable but knuckling under the first time anyone complains.

Newsweek did make some mistakes. But its biggest one was retracting the story, instead of going back and building on the existing reporting from a half-dozen papers -- that there really was Koran desecration at Guantanamo, that the real damage to America's image came not from an aggressive and free press but from official misconduct.

And that's the real "scoop." Tim Porter, Jeff Jarvis, and the editors of the Scranton Times and the Washington Post can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic of American newspapers and news magazines, if that's what they want.

We prefer to go down fighting.