2008/05/26

The value of mea culpas (Not much)

Glenn Greenwald acknowledges the sort-of mea culpa offered by the Politico's John Harris in which Harris admits that he and his organization focused too much on:

Trivial stories -- the kind that are tailor-made for forwarding to your brother-in-law or college roommate with a wisecracking note at the top -- can dominate the campaign narrative for days. . . .
As leaders of a new publication, Politico's senior editors and I are relentlessly focused on audience traffic. The way to build traffic on the Web is to get links from other websites. The way to get links is to be first with news -- sometimes big news, sometimes small -- that drives that day's conversation. [emphasis added by Greenwald]

It's all very fine and well that Harris is now sorry over his and his organization's misguided emphasis on going after audience traffic at the expense of serious reporting, but I'm reminded of another scandal in the political media:

On May 26, 2004 -- more than a year after the invasion of Iraq -- the Times published a belated semi-mea-culpa article by two top editors, including executive editor Bill Keller. The piece contended that the Times, along with policy makers in Washington, were victims rather than perpetrators: “Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations -- in particular, this one.”

But the Times did not “fall for misinformation” as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.

Even worse, on 10 Feb 07, the NY Times reporter Michael Gordon published a piece on how Iran was sending a diabolical device into Iraq that was killing American soldiers, i.e., Iran was waging a proxy war against the US by arming Iraqi insurgents. Media Matters reports that Gordon was permitted to issue this without any hint of skepticism or even any voices other than those of government spokespeople. On 5 May 08, Gordon did it again, acting as a stenographer for anonymous government sources and passing on the scary, scary tale of how Iraqi insurgents were receiving training in Iran. In a slight modification (Owing to the skepticism that the EFP story had received, such as in: "EFPs are Made in Iraq by Iraqis") the story now read:

In a possible effort to be less obtrusive, it appears that Iran is now bringing small groups of Iraqi Shiite militants to camps in Iran, where they are taught how to do their own training, American officials say.
The militants then return to Iraq to teach comrades how to fire rockets and mortars, fight as snipers or assemble explosively formed penetrators, a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb made of Iranian components, according to American officials. The officials describe this approach as “training the trainers.”

Of course, one could also say "In an effort to make our propaganda less blatantly obvious, we're just saying that Iranians are teaching Iraqis how to make EFPs as opposed to saying the Iranians are producing EFPs." The point is that although the NY Times issued a "semi-mea-culpa article" on Judith Miller and her fanciful WMD tales they haven't changed their essential mode of reporting and are still putting out highly questionable stories that seem designed to lead to war.
Only time will tell if Harris' reporting in the Politico will change for the better. All we have now is a "semi-mea-culpa article" that may or may not lead to any changes in how they cover the issues.

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