May 31, 2003

QUO VADIS?

Clymer to co-workers: Stop feeding this monster (Posted By: Jim Romenesko, 5/30/2003, Poynter.org)
To: xxxxx@nytimes.com
From: Adam Clymer (xxxx@nytimes.com)
Subject: The Times
Colleagues,

I think it's time to take a deep breath and think about the New York Times.

I share your contempt for Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg. And I share your anger at some of the failures of management that enabled them. I agree with a lot of what Times people have told outside reporters, either directly or in internal E-mails that have quickly found their way to the Internet. In particular, Peter Kilborn made the case against Bragg's excuses with telling effect.

But I think by now we have hit back, fairly and convincingly, and Blair and Bragg are gone, belatedly, from our ranks. The time has come to stop feeding this destructive monster. The Times that we are honored to work for will be damaged if we continue to fight with each other in public. And that's more important than our own grievously, justifiably injured pride.

Like any conservative, but especially those who came of age in the 60's and 70's, I've a great deal of contempt for the press and for no press outlet more than the Times. So it has been a tremendous pleasure, not at all guilty, to watch the Gray Lady implode over the last few weeks.

Mr. Clymer's letter captures, almost accidentally, something of the reason why this is so. The "beast" to which he refers is, ironically enough, the very media that the Times is a part of. Like so many institutions before it, but usually at its own hands, the Times has discovered that once there's blood in the water the sharks go into a feeding frenzy and no one really gives a good goddamn about collateral damage, reputations, strict adherence to the facts, etc. [One story in particular that has always infuriated me concerns Oliver "Billy" Sipple, who struck at Sarah Jane Moore as she fired a gun at Gerald Ford, perhaps saving the President from assassination. How was this ex-marine repaid for his heroic act? The SF Chronicle revealed that he was, unknown to friends and family, a homosexual and destroyed his life.] What makes the Times' agony so enjoyable though is that the insufferable mavens of the press have been telling us all for thirty-plus years--ever since they decided they didn't much care for Vietnam or Nixon--that it is their solemn duty to pursue the story no matter where it leads and no matter who gets hurt, because the "truth" must out (so to speak).

Indeed, in one of the most appallingly self-righteous moments in television history, several newmen explained how their precious code of ethics would even prevent them from saving the lives of American soldiers if it might interfere with their story. Here's an account from MediaWatch:
In a future war involving U.S. soldiers what would a TV reporter do if he learned the enemy troops with which he was traveling were about to launch a surprise attack on an American unit? That's just the question Harvard University professor Charles Ogletree Jr, as moderator of PBS' Ethics in America series, posed to ABC anchor PeterJennings and 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace. Both agreed getting ambush footage for the evening news would come before warning the U.S. troops.

For the March 7 installment on battlefield ethics Ogletree set up a theoretical war between the North Kosanese and the U.S.-supported South Kosanese. At first Jennings responded: "If I was with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

Wallace countered that other reporters, including himself, "would regard it simply as another story that they are there to cover." Jennings' position bewildered Wallace: "I'm a little bit of a loss to understand why, because you are an American, you would not have covered that story."

"Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?" Ogletree asked. Without hesitating Wallace responded: "No, you don't have higher duty... you're a reporter." This convinces Jennings, who concedes, "I think he's right too, I chickened out."

Ogletree turns to Brent Scowcroft, now the National Security Adviser, who argues "you're Americans first, and you're journalists second." Wallace is mystified by the concept, wondering "what in the world is wrong with photographing this attack by North Kosanese on American soldiers?" Retired General William Westmoreland then points out that "it would be repugnant to the American listening public to see on film an ambush of an American platoon by our national enemy."

A few minutes later Ogletree notes the "venomous reaction" from George Connell, a Marine Corps Colonel. "I feel utter contempt. Two days later they're both walking off my hilltop, they're two hundred yards away and they get ambushed. And they're lying there wounded. And they're going to expect I'm going to send Marines up there to get them. They're just journalists, they're not Americans."

Wallace and Jennings agree, "it's a fair reaction." The discussion concludes as Connell says: "But I'll do it. And that's what makes me so contemptuous of them. And Marines will die, going to get a couple of journalists."

No one who saw the show--at least no one with a scrap of human decency, an iota of moral sense, and a smidgen of patriotism--will ever forget how this contemptible performance by two of America's most celebrated newsmen made the gorge rise in one's throat.

So as the press now becomes Oroborus, the beast that feeds on itself, you'll pardon us if we crack open a Pabst, open a bag of Cheez-Waffles, and enjoy the spectacle. We feel like Christians getting to watch the Romans be fed to the lions.


MORE:
Fresh embarrassment for New York Times (Ciar Byrne, May 29, 2003, The Guardian) Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2003 3:02 PM
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