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September 02, 2007

A Tale of Two Papers

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord;
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.

Who steals my purse steals trash;
'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his,
and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

--Iago, Act 3, scene 3, lines 155-61, Othello.

In Slate Online, editor at large Jack Shafer strives mightily to convince us the media are not responsible for the wreckage they leave behind when they commit drive by journalistic malpractice:

Roughly one person a day approaches the Times to complain about how his or her life might be unnecessarily complicated by an old Times story unearthed by a Web search, Hoyt writes. His prime example is Allen Kraus, a former New York City official. Kraus "wonders if" the negative and incomplete Times story from 16 years ago riding atop a Google search of his name might be deterring clients from hiring him in his current incarnation as a consultant.

Notice that Hoyt doesn't cite evidence of harm done to Kraus' reputation by the Google search. He just reports that Kraus wonders if it has scattered potential clients. The other aggrieved individuals described in Hoyt's column—all unnamed, by the way—also fail to offer any evidence of injuries inflicted by incomplete or erroneous Times pieces. One person grouses that the Times published a story about his arrest for fondling a child but didn't report the dropped charges. A woman literally weeps to Hoyt over a Times article about weight loss that inaccurately reported her a size 16. Another woman worries that prospective employers will think her résumé a fraud if they cross-check it against the wedding announcement in the Times from 20 years ago that misnamed her alma mater.

The public editor interviews senior Times editors and others to discuss the "problem" and how to solve it. Pull the offending stories from the archives? Re-report every story challenged as incomplete or wrong? Rig the archives so that incomplete stories get buried in Web searches? Program the public archives to forget "news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints," but still keep them on hand? All overkill, but Hoyt still believes something should be done.

Schafer's logic would do credit to the most sleazy of shysters. To hear him tell it the professionals in this case, trained journalists backed by large corporations who charge the public for their product, have no duty to mitigate harm caused by their negligent failure to do their jobs correctly! On the contrary, the burden (according to Schafer) should fall upon the victims of their negligence who, to take another page from Shakespeare's playbook, are making far too much ado about nothing:

One of the flaws in Hoyt's thinking is his belief that one's reputation is a possession—like a car or a tennis racket—when one's reputation actually resides in the minds of others. A person can have as many reputations as people who know him or know of him. Positing that the top link in a Google search of a name equals somebody's reputation is silly, and Hoyt's column only encourages that notion.

Schafer's solution is for the victim to spend his own time and money on competing website devoted to clearing his own name! Nevermind, for the moment, the thought that any privately owned site will have a hard time competing with the Times for #1 placement on Google. The main objection to Schafer's idea is that it places the burden on the victim - while it may make sense for the Times' hapless victims to engage in a little self-help, that doesn't absolve the paper of their duty to correct the record if clear and convincing evidence of error is provided to them.

Contrast Schafer's and the Times' casual attitudes towards the truth with the example, via Michelle Malkin, of the Idaho Statesman. While reading an article on Larry Craig brouhaha, I came across a remarkable statement:

The Statesman began its inquiry last October, after a gay activist blogger, Mike Rogers, published a claim that Craig had sex with men. Rogers cited anonymous sources. Rogers believed he had the evidence to nail a hypocritical Republican foe of gay rights, raise the din in the Rep. Mark Foley scandal, and help the Democrats win the Congress.

Millions heard or read of Rogers' claims. Amid anticipatory buzz from Web sites like the liberal Wonkette, Rogers published his report at blogactive.com Oct. 17. He also appeared on a liberal talk show in 100 radio markets. Mainstream media — including four Idaho newspapers, the Washington Post, USA Today, MSNBC and Bill Maher on HBO — spread the story widely.

But Statesman editor Vicki Gowler would not rely on Rogers' anonymous sources. Instead, she decided to investigate the widespread rumors that date to 1982, when Craig pre-emptively denied involvement in a gay sex scandal involving congressmen and underage pages.

During its investigation, the Statesman interviewed 300 people, visited the ranch where Craig grew up, and made two trips to Washington, D.C.

What follows is an extremely detailed, dispassionate, and scrupulously fair account of an investigation that examines the story from all sides. It is plain the Statesman neither favored Senator Craig nor was out to "get" him. They were patient, careful, and took the time to get the story right, even at the risk of being scooped by larger, out of town newspapers.

It's an impressive read, and the kind of professional journalism we seldom see anymore because it is plain that there is no agenda at work; merely a desire to present as much information as possible and let the reader decide what to think.

Something else is plain. Editor Vicky Gowler and reporter Dan Popkey took great care not to destroy a man's life. Gowler was aware of the tremendous power the media wield, and therefore she exercised a commensurate degree of responsibility.

It shows.

After reading this article, I still have no idea how Dan Popkey feels about Larry Craig. That is a statement one can rarely make about subjects of the NY Times' advocacy driven journalism, and it's the highest compliment one can pay a professional journalist. It means he managed to keep his personal feelings and his work separate; he realized the subject of the story was Larry Craig, not Dan Popkey.

It's not often these days that we see the real thing, but when we do it makes most of what passes for news reporting look pretty shoddy.

I still haven't decided what to think of Senator Craig. But just as every accused criminal deserves a competent defense attorney, I believe every subject of a news story deserves to have the truth - not half truths, or slanted truths, or even truth accompanied by editorializing disguised as news, but the whole truth - printed about him. Too many people these days are tried and convicted in the popular media. News reporting ought to be about informing the public, not satisfying our desire for instant gratification, our disappointing but all too human urge to humiliate public figures, or our inexplicable wish to point and stare at private tragedies, about which the public has no legitimate need to know.

Posted by Cassandra at September 2, 2007 01:35 AM

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Comments

"...our disappointing but all too human urge to humiliate public figures..."

Really? It's a human urge to humilate others?

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 06:21 PM

Human urge to humiliate your enemies.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 2, 2007 06:50 PM

I phrased that poorly.

I was in a hurry to finish and go somewhere.

I think there is a human tendency to take pleasure in the humiliation of others, or if not that, to have an unhealthy fascination with it (the train wreck phenomenon). That's why news orgs cover all these unfolding train wrecks, like the utter mess Britney Spears is making of her life right now. I can't believe people pay attention to that stuff. If we had any decency we'd turn away, but we don't.

Why is that? That poor girl is tearing herself apart for the cameras and America is gobbling it up. Sickening.

Posted by: Blondie at September 2, 2007 07:02 PM

Ymar,
Humiliation is a means of asserting a measure of superiority within ones societal circle. Humans are not the only ones who do this. It has been seen in animal societies as well. Wolves and apes come immediately to mind.

Blondie, hmmm? Is this another *thought-bubble* in the redecorating phase? Is that supposed to coordinate with the trapeze or the egg salad?

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 07:23 PM

And, FWIW, I agree. It is sickening that the populace prefers to read about the bad or humiliating things that people do rather than hear about Jason Dunham or Bud Day.

I remember about 10 or 20 yrs ago, the major networks tried out the "Feel Good Story" meme whereas they required the inclusion of at least one "good" story in their newscasts. Ratings, though, brought that to a swift and telling end, because no one was calling to say, "Wow, that was a great story!" If they were, it went unreported (Gee, that sounds familiar) or the numbers for which were so infinitesimal as to be irrelevant. However, complaints about this story or that -- most often the horrifying and gruesome -- came in daily by the dozens. So, as children are wont to do, they sought once again the only attention they had been getting. Leaving us with the perpetual train wreck the MSM has become today.

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 07:47 PM

You know, I always used to threaten to dye my hair bright red or blonde when the Unit deployed but I have never done it.

Heh...

At my age though, I don't really think I'd get the same bang for the buck. And I don't think I'd make a very good blonde.

Posted by: Blondie at September 2, 2007 07:59 PM

Humans are not the only ones who do this.

True, but why is that relevant?

If they were, it went unreported (Gee, that sounds familiar) or the numbers for which were so infinitesimal as to be irrelevant.

I think the clincher is that good stories are not controversies. Therefore they don't make people constantly go back to read more and more about it, in addition to argue intensely with others. Analogous to blog posts in which arguments take place. You get more hits with such, you know. Since people come back to read the comments, post their comments, etc.

I don't think that people tune it out, I think that people see it once, integrate it, and then think about something else. This is consistent with how the human brain works on a survival basis. We tend to keep thinking about the negative things that we see or hear, because it is often the NEGATIVE things that threaten our survival. Thinking about it allows more time for preparation, if a person is so capable.

Also, I doubt the media's ability to truly create feel good stories. They are fake liberals after all, and what makes them feel good doesn't apply to the rest of us.

Inspiring story. Very good moment, if you watch the video. Here you have the ultimate underdog going psycho hardline, and all Americans love that kind of story.-Ymar

Here is my example. Link

There is a specific technique in propaganda to make underdog stories into mythical constructs that grab at humanity's heart and does not let go.

But often it requires context for the full effect. Violence doesn't need context, and in point of fact, most of the MSM's violence is without context. It is done without skill, if you will. Good stories require more skill to tell. Because you have to know "why is it good". To know why it is good, you must know what the positives and negatives are. In fact, good underdog stories focus almost entirely on the NEGATIVES to start out with.

The media, with Iraq as an example, are essentially a one trick pony. They quote casualty numbers and... that's it, just about. Anybody can do that.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 2, 2007 08:47 PM

How about a nice platinum? It'll reflect the disco ball lights nicely........

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 08:53 PM

"True, but why is that relevant?"

My point is that the act of humiliating someone comes from an emotional versus species-specific urge. Not everyone feels the urge to humiliate others. In my experiences, it is those who are seeking to assert their superiority (an emotional act) over another that will employ humiliation. How that relates to this post? It speaks to the fact that the desire to humiliate lies within the heart and soul of the individual reporter, not with the human race as a whole. Which, in my mind, speaks loudly of the heart and soul of the Idaho Statesman Journal's editor and reporter. Sadly, it speaks volumns as well as of the New York Times.

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 09:14 PM

And I don't think I'd make a very good blonde.

Au contraire, cherie...

Posted by: BillT at September 2, 2007 10:07 PM

My point is that the act of humiliating someone comes from an emotional versus species-specific urge.

Okay, let's put that in place and say that it is part of emotions.

It speaks to the fact that the desire to humiliate lies within the heart and soul of the individual reporter, not with the human race

A reporter is a human, and a human is a subset of humanity or the human race. Thus anything a reporter can do, has done, or is able to do is also something part of humanity. Whatever emotions one human may feel, another human may feel a similar emotion, if not for the same reasons.

I agree with your view that just because one human does something, that this doesn't mean you, as another human, will do the same thing. God provided free will to individuals, thus everyone has a choice even if sometimes their choices are limited. However, when one person is capable of violence and what not, then it must also be true that every other human being must be capable of it as well. Just because you refuse to indulge in such desires or capacities, Sly, simply means you are an individual exercising your free will.

Anything a human can or has done is human in my view. It may not be "humane" or wise, but it is human.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 2, 2007 10:27 PM

Au contraire, cherie...

So you think she would make a good blonde like this one?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 2, 2007 10:31 PM

You're tired of living, aren't you?

Posted by: Blondie at September 2, 2007 10:52 PM

At least I metaphorically impugned her with Jean Harlot....um Harlow, Harlow.......yeah, that's what I meant to say.

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 2, 2007 11:58 PM

...the populace prefers to read about the bad or humiliating things that people do rather than hear about Jason Dunham or Bud Day.

A sad quirk in human nature -- folks have a tendency to feel humbled when reading about the faith and strength of a Bud Day or a Lance Sijan, whereas they should feel immeasurably proud that such men exist.

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2007 11:50 AM

So you think she would make a good blonde like this one?

There are good blondes, great blondes, and really, really, *really* great blondes.

[savoring the unease thus generated in the mind of blogroyalty]

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2007 12:01 PM

"...folks have a tendency to feel humbled when reading about the faith and strength of a Bud Day or a Lance Sijan, whereas they should feel immeasurably proud that such men exist."

I suspect that is because most people don't believe they could do what these men have done, and perhaps they are feeling a tinge of shame at what they perceive to be their own cowardice. However, I'd be willing to bet (were I a betting person) that Bud Day, Jason Dunham, et al didn't think themselves capable of any heroics -- until they found themselves in that situation. And I'm sure to a man, they would tell you they were just doing what had to be done.

Posted by: Sly2017 at September 3, 2007 01:49 PM

I suspect that is because most people don't believe they could do what these men have done

Hard to say because not many people know their stories.

Vietnam was always going to have to have a final ending, whether Iraq occured or not, so long as the generations had memory of the event.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2007 02:39 PM

...so long as the generations had memory of the event.

It's the Lefty attempts to deny the events that occasioned those memories that grates.

In 2005, I was invited to address an audience of high school students. The teacher/moderator who invited me was under the (mistaken) impression that the VHPA was an offshoot of the VVAW.

I was scheduled to speak for 15 minutes -- the kids asked questions for an hour and a half. To her credit, the moderator asked me to return again in 2006 -- and the administration promptly dropped that portion of the curriculum.

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2007 03:59 PM

No, they aren't out to get you BillT, just forget that the history of the Vietnam war has two sides.
The truth (John Forged His Medals Kerry wouldn't know it if it bit his scrawny butt) and John Forbes Kerrierre.

Posted by: Cricket at September 3, 2007 05:52 PM

...Kerry wouldn't know it if it bit his scrawny butt

Are you feeling okay, Lady C? It's uncharacteristic of you to go all sugar-coated-and-minced-words like that there comment, up there...there.

Ummmm -- got *any* idea where I left that pic of Cassie-as-bombshell, perchance?

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2007 06:07 PM

They just couldn't handle your charisma, Bill.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 3, 2007 07:57 PM

You're right, of course, Ymar.

It's my one flaw...

Posted by: BillT at September 3, 2007 08:56 PM

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