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Michael Moore: L.A. Is ‘the Most Racist, Segregated City in the Country’: Must be truly liberating, to be so utterly unconcerned with the truth, or getting things right. Imagine all the time you could save!

3/16/2002 05:47:42 PM

A New Morality? Jeff Jarvis has some interesting thoughts tying together Enron, Andersen, the Catholic scandal and the war on terrorism (scroll to the “Right v. wrong” post):
I predict that this all will lead to some fundamental moral changes in society in our time. Because of Enron and Andersen and the Catholic crimes (not to mention the black-v.-white fight against terrorism and religious evil and not to mention President Clinton's moral lapses), I think people will seek simpler, clearer moral rules (and they won't necessarily look to religion to help formulate them). On the one hand, this could be good and healthy: We will raise a generation that comes to expect and demand truth and adherence to laws. On the other hand, this could lead to a moral absolutism that could be just as dangerous and difficult to live with as religious fundamentalism. All this destruction, all this change, all this danger because a few people, a powerful few chose to ignore the difference between right and wrong. What a sin.
I think there will also be a lasting new Responsibility, along the lines of wrestling down hijackers and such. People will be more likely to believe it is up to them to guarantee things like their own family’s safety, and will probably fight back when attacked, and jump into burning buildings to pull out humans. Unlike, say, Saudi Arabian moralists. Speaking of that disgusting act, please consult William Quick’s angry and eloquent reaction. We now have the responsibility to express outrage at the truly outrageous, and to fact-check the truly false. But don’t forget Jarvis’ warnings about “moral absolutism.” The truth hurts, but especially when you’re wrong.

3/16/2002 05:35:32 PM

The Chronicle’s Dishonest Non-Apology: This was the headline on the letters page of the March 14 San Francisco Chronicle:
Pentagon challenges Chronicle editorial
What might you expect under such a headline? Perhaps the Pentagon is arguing against one of the editorial board’s recent policy prescriptions involving the war on terrorism. Maybe Donald Rumsfeld is “challenging” the opinion editor to some kind of contest, like a footrace through the Khyber Pass, or to see who can be the first to name the leader of Yemen without consulting Google. Whatever the challenge, the headline does not give any indication as to which one of the two parties may be right; if anything, it leans toward the newspaper’s side of the story. So what really happened?

Here's what: The Pentagon accused a Chronicle editorial of inventing quotes by Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. And the editors admitted to it. Well, at least sort of.

Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, charged the Chron with three specific journalistic transgressions: Fabricating a quote, fabricating the context of a quote, and fabricating a paraphrase. Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz kicks off his response by saying:

Ms. Clarke is correct on two key points.
What about the third? Diaz doesn’t say. The Pentagon catches the paper engaging in two offenses that would have gotten me fired from my college newspaper – two offenses that, incidentally or not, fit in neatly with the Chronicle’s deep editorial skepticism of George Bush’s War Cabinet, and could lead some to conclude that the Chron values ideology over truth – and yet the readers don’t need to know what happened with that third charge.

Well, I want to know if the Chronicle editorial writers made up a paraphrase, so I’m going to go waste my time checking the transcripts. In the meantime, let’s take a good look at the made-up context and the made-up quote. For those playing at home, here’s the original editorial, the handy DoD transcript of the actual Wolfowitz interview upon which the editorial was based, and the March 14 letter & response.

Clarke: The editorial goes on to state, "When we pointed out that those allegations (about Iraq's nuclear development program) are unproved and are disputed by many experts, he scoffed." This exchange never occurred. The only allegations mentioned by your interviewer concerned Iraq's connection to Sept. 11. Had he referred to "allegations" that Iraq has been covertly developing nuclear, as well as chemical and biological weapons, a very different exchange would have occurred because of the powerful evidence on that point.

Diaz: The editorial provided an inaccurate context for a Wolfowitz quote. It was not made in response to a question about Iraq's nuclear development program, as the editorial stated. A transcript of the interview makes plain that Wolfowitz was responding to a question about Iraq's alleged complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks when he said, "We can't afford to wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a way in which any number of terrorist regimes have, over the last 20 years, gotten away with doing things."

In fact, that answer came in response to a fifth consecutive question about Iraq’s possible connection to Sept. 11 and Al Qaeda. The reporter, Robert Collier, did not ask Wolfowitz a single question about Iraq’s nuclear arsenal. Clarke, not Diaz, encourages readers to visit www.defenselink.mil for a transcript. The DoD transcript, not Diaz or the Chronicle, provide Robert Collier’s name. Now, the misquote:
Clarke: The editorial claims in discussing Iraq's links to terrorism that Wolfowitz said "it depends on the use of the word ‘evidence.’” This is another fabrication; the deputy secretary of defense did not utter those words.

Diaz: Ms. Clarke also is right in asserting that Wolfowitz was misquoted as saying, "It depends on the use of the word ‘evidence.’ We never have any perfect picture about what's out there."

What he actually said was: "But you know the use of the word evidence, there are, I think people shouldn't be under the impression that we have a perfect picture of what's out there."

These discrepancies resulted from the writer's inadvertent errors in transcribing a tape recording of the interview.

Italics mine. Which writer? Robert Collier (who Diaz doesn’t name)? The writer who wrote the editorial? Does Robert Collier write editorials? The closest thing to a staffbox on the Chron’s website reveals neither Collier’s job description nor a list of op-ed employees; doing a Google search on “Robert Collier” and “San Francisco Chronicle” seems to indicate that he’s a staff writer specializing in foreign affairs.

What about Clarke’s third claim, the one that Diaz simply ignores?

The editorial stated, "Although he stressed that President Bush has not made any final decision to attack Iraq, Wolfowitz said the frequent allegations that Saddam Hussein has been covertly working on nuclear weapons development would justify any U.S. decision to go to war." Wolfowitz said nothing of the kind.
As far as I can tell, this issue – that “the frequent allegations that Saddam Hussein has been covertly working on nuclear weapons development would justify any U.S. decision to go to war” – is covered in two exchanges on the transcript. And in both, Wolfowitz goes out of his way to stress that people should not jump to the conclusion that President Bush has decided to go to war. If I were paraphrasing these responses, it would look something more like “Wolfowitz said that, in general, a key lesson of Sept. 11 is to be aware of and prevent hostilities from organizations and countries that are known to be stockpiling weapons and agitating against the U.S. At the same time, he cautioned against jumping to conclusions about how the Bush Administration might deal with such problems.” Nowhere does Wolfowitz indicate, as the editorial’s paraphrase would have it, that any U.S. attack on Iraq would be justified. Judge for yourself (or skip down if you want to see my conclusion):
Collier: On Iraq... regime change. There is some fair amount of debate whether the Iraqi National Congress is a real viable operation or whether it's a farce. What's your take?

Wolfowitz: There is so much excitement over Iraq, and the President has said some things very, very clearly and I don't want to start embellishing on what he said. What he has said and what I think people need to think a little harder about is that in effect we've got regimes that are open in their hostility towards the United States, that support terrorism and then pursue weapons of mass destruction. That combination of hostile terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is something that is so deadly that you can't afford to wait until you catch them doing it to deal with the problem. I think one way of putting it is that Sept. 11 has now given us a very visceral and un-theoretical understanding of what commercial airliners can do and what suicide bombers are capable of. If you've said it back in August you would have been perhaps accused of fantasizing, and now we know what can actually happen. And you can't wait until we have a clear visceral, un-theoretical understanding of what a massive anthrax attack or a radiological or nuclear attack would do to an American city before you work to prevent that from happening.

So the countries that pose that connection are a problem. But there's a lot of I think jumping to conclusions that because the President has identified that as a problem that he's also come to a conclusion about what the solution is. Sort of by implication that it is military force, and I don't think he's made any decisions on what to do or suggest that the solution in all three cases is the same. […]

Collier: Well, al Qaeda, the war against al Qaeda of course is large and expanding and complicated. Al Qaeda and its allied international organizations is a huge operation and any major, the concern is, any major offensive against or action dealing with Iraq would both distract US resources in the fight against Al Qaeda and extremely diplomatically complicate the war against al Qaeda.

Wolfowitz: Look, you're assuming that the President has decided a whole bunch of things that he hasn't decided to do and whether or not he can get the whole world to stand by him. What I'm quite sure of is whatever he decides to do, probably the major objective will remain, how does this support or hurt against this primary terrorist network. I don't know if primary is right word, the one that is our primary target, but not our only target. But, sometimes focus may be the right thing; sometimes a broader campaign may be the right thing. I remember an early stage in the campaign in Afghanistan where people were suggesting that the crucial thing was to separate the al Qaeda from the Taliban and not to attack the Taliban but to only attack al Qaeda. I think in retrospect that was totally impracticable advice and to the contrary what turned out when the Taliban fell was all kinds of governments that had bad records in this area suddenly started getting very cooperative with us. So, I think anything we do has got to be evaluated against standards of this broad campaign and I think it will be evaluated in that way. I would just sort of caution people to not assume before the President decided what to do that he has decided what to do. I think it is perfectly appropriate to ask the question if we do something with any of those three countries that he mentions how will that affect our ability to get cooperation against other targets, and in particular against al Qaeda. It's, I'm sure, going to be one of the principal considerations.

For my money, Clarke’s third assertion is also right – the editorial fabricated the paraphrase.

So let’s sum up what we have seen here. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial unconscionably distorts the words of Paul Wolfowitz on three separate occasions (out of just five total quotes or paraphrases), in support of the paper’s claim that “if administration hard-liners get their way … the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could be used as a green light to attack any U.S. enemies, even if they had nothing to do with bin Laden's al Qaeda network.” When the Pentagon points out these egregious offenses, the Chronicle prints the letter under the vague and even misleading headline “Pentagon challenges Chronicle editorial.” The paper responds by saying the Pentagon is “right on two key points,” but ignores the third, which also happens to be true. It blames the mistake on “the writer’s inadvertent errors in transcribing,” without naming the writer, or mentioning whether any editorial employee would be disciplined. It does not encourage readers to seek out the transcript online.

Newspapers are supposed to be transparent, not opaque. They are supposed to fight doggedly for accountability, not evade responsibility for even discussing plausible allegations of their own misconduct. They send their editors to a never-ending series of industry seminars dedicated to overcoming the profession’s “credibility crisis,” yet when an incident calls that very credibility into very real question – by suggesting to reasonable readers that the Chron may routinely twist people’s words to support its ideology – the paper acts like a student forced to write “I will not make up quotes” on the chalkboard in front of the whole class. “The Chronicle is committed to presenting quotes accurately and in context,” Diaz concludes. “This editorial did not meet those standards.” If the Chronicle is committed to being a good newspaper, this editorial response did not meet those standards either.

3/16/2002 03:49:43 PM

Why Heather Havrilesky Is My Favorite Advice Columnist

3/15/2002 05:06:46 PM

Brains Over Softcore: And look who’s number one when you Google the name Emmanuelle!

3/15/2002 03:12:41 PM

The Joys of Meeting Smart People: That’s all I’ve been doing since Tuesday night, and I can’t recommend it enough. Ken Layne has already described it better than I might, so go there if you’re interested in such things. Deserving of special praise are Peter Pribik and his girlfriend Christina, who threw together a magical party on impossibly short notice, and UCLA’s Eugene Volokh, who did likewise with a bit more lead time. Also my bailiffs-and-carriers-obsessed pal Nick Denton, and the ex-Hungarian MP and blogger-to-be Peter Molnar, for generously inviting us to mix it up with J-school students. Do you ever go through a phase where you don’t meet any stimulating new friends for a year or two? I’ve met at least a dozen this week.

A brief note about linking, before I get back to actual posting on actual topics – I haven’t updated the links on the left since October or something. Many of my must-read daily favorites, such as Tim Blair, William Quick and the unnaturally youthful looking Dr. Frank, are nowhere to be found. Brilliant creatures like Richard Bennett? As absent as my responses to 617 of your e-mails. The links situation is tied together with a group-wide shift toward Moveable Type, and when enough of us can get it together at the same time, I will repair the gap. In the meantime, do not take it as an insult, or as a comment of any kind aside from a general one about my slovenliness. And try to be patient with the e-mails.

OK! Back to work!

3/15/2002 11:59:57 AM

Off to Berkeley: I’ll be back posting again Friday. Here’s a good story about a D.C. teacher who has made a difference in hundreds of lives.

3/13/2002 08:15:26 AM

The Cuban Senators: Here’s a new story of mine, about first baseman Julio Becquer and the dozens of Cubans who played for the last-place Washington Senators in the 1950s. He was a very inspiring guy to talk to, and his story doesn’t get told very often. It’s also my first piece for ESPN.com, so click early and often!

3/12/2002 01:07:07 PM

‘To Be Honest With You, I’m Not Interested in Debating This One’: Some of Tom Tomorrow’s readers took umbrage at the alt weekly cartoonist’s assertion that “the world changed” six months ago, and argued instead that (in Perkins' paraphrase) that "You know, nothing has really changed, the U.S. is still an imperial superpower imposing its will, blah blah blah." His response:
To be honest with you, I'm not interested in debating this one. The world turned upside down the morning that vile cloud of ash rose in the wake of the twin towers and three thousand people whose only crime was making it to work on time that day were callously executed, and anyone who argues otherwise is just playing semantic games.

3/12/2002 11:58:51 AM

Deep in the Heart of Anti-War, Texas: The Opinion Journal’s Brendan Miniter goes to UT and interviews students who think Osama’s innocent, professors like Robert Jensen, and some pro-Israeli kid he deems “serious.”

3/12/2002 11:46:07 AM

Tony Pierce Now Has a Baseball Blog, Too

3/12/2002 11:30:51 AM

What To Do in Hollywood Tonight: If you are not otherwise engaged, please go see a gaggle of great bands at the Martini Lounge, who are playing a benefit to help 29-year-old Gina Anderson pay for the radiation treatments necessary to kill off the rest of her brain tumor. Gina doesn’t have health insurance, radiation is expensive as hell, and you’ll get to see terrific acts like Rick Royale. If you don’t live in L.A. and want to help out a cool girl, go here.

3/12/2002 11:10:05 AM

Journalism Ethicists vs. Trustworthy Biases: There was a great point in Ken Layne’s fine new Fox column praising David Letterman and Jon Stewart at the expense of the Journalism Ethics establishment:
They're like the famed newspaper columnists previous generations relied upon. We trust them because they don't hide behind a journalistic integrity we don't trust.

3/12/2002 10:59:17 AM

Reason, Random Theft, and the Sean Connery Golf Project: Many people have asked me whether my sudden appearance in Reason magazine heralds an ideological transformation of sorts. Well, not really, no. It’s mostly the randomness of free-lance … and because Reason people tend to do uniquely weird stuff like this.

3/11/2002 09:36:25 PM

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Rebuts Denton: It’s a good post … and the last time I’ll be commenting on this particular non-issue.

3/11/2002 09:16:44 PM

Thank God for Jeff Jarvis: There’s still three hours left on this mournful anniversary, at least on the West Coast, so by all means take a good long read at Jeff Jarvis’ site before the gong strikes 12. Jeff is someone whose name I had heard maybe twice before Sept. 11, yet he helped me and a lot of other people come to emotional grips with things countless times since. If you’ve never clicked on any of his audio files on the right-hand column, go do that, too, grab yourself some wine, and let yourself cry. I could delete all the crap below this post, and no one would be the worse for it; you’ll be worse off if you don’t read Jeff’s site today.

3/11/2002 08:56:11 PM

L.A. Tupperware Parties: Remember that gal Phranc, the Jewish lesbian folksinger with a flattop who sorta made the acoustic punk-rock scene in the late ‘80s? Well, yesterday, I noticed the strange sound of a guitar coming from opposite my window. Usually, all string noises in my complex emanate from my filthy next-door neighbor, Ben Peeler, so I just turned up my boom box and kept typing. Later, Ben dropped by to tell a few jokes and nurse his hangover. “There’s a great Tupperware party across the way,” he said. “I just bought some. From Phranc.”

3/11/2002 08:43:12 PM

Meta-Meta-Meta! Ben Sullivan leaps boldly into the Denton/Welch trade dispute and asks:
Is a blog a private endeavor, akin to writing in a diary, which --- well, if you must (blush, blush) --- others can glance in on? Or is it entertainment, produced mainly for others?

Mostly it's the latter; bloggers do it for the feedback their efforts generate, if only via Web stats. "You like me. You really like me!"

As such, it's within the rights of readers (be they Joe Public, or an intellectual challenger) to compliment or complain about what is written --- or left unaddressed. Wonderfully, because few bloggers depend on their sites for income, they have the luxury to agree, disagree, or completely ignore such feedback. It is akin to an unsigned band listening to or ignoring their fans.

To which I’ll only reiterate, unhelpfully, that the bloggings of a freelancer should be treated differently, for good and ill, than the way in which a full-time national columnist utilizes his/her prominent op-ed slot. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But I firmly believe I’m right in being hostile to judging writers’ records in addressing this or that particular topic, weighed against various political spectrums and suspected motivations (though I've certainly been guilty of the practice). To use Ben’s analogy, nothing irritates me more than a rock critic assuming they just know why a band has chosen to sound a certain way, or write a certain type of song. It almost always says more about the biases of the critic than those being criticized. It’s also duller than a box of hair.

3/11/2002 02:01:39 PM

Administration: Trade War is About Forcing Japan and Europe to ‘Reflate’: I may be out of my depth, but this sure seems to be awful news. Bad enough that we’ve been treating our pal Japan like a red-headed stepchild because of its poor economic record this past decade (even while kissing up to Communist China); now we’re openly using tariffs to bludgeon our allies into making macroeconomic decisions more to our momentary liking. Such as, it would seem, slashing interest rates in inflation-wary Europe. The Financial Times (Nick Denton’s alma mater!) interviewed Grant Aldonas, Dubya’s under-secretary of commerce for international trade “and one of the architects of the decision last week.”
"We have told people over time that if you don't see stronger growth abroad, you end up seeing friction on the trade account," he said. "There is only so much patience that you have when you are talking about very serious macro-economic issues that have been out there for a long time." […]

He said failure by the EU and Japan to reflate their economies, combined with the strength of the dollar, would imperil recovery by the US agriculture and high-technology industries, which depended heavily on sales abroad.

On agriculture, Mr Aldonas said the effect of deflation in Japan and recession in Europe had been "to drag down commodity prices across the board in the US," while the strong dollar had hurt exports.

Of course, low commodity prices and a strong dollar helped stave off a global financial crisis in 1998, but never mind all that now. Run your economy as we say, our we’ll touch of a global trade war, for the bloody punitive hell of it! Or, as Aldonas put it, “This is one of those situations ... where things have to get worse before they can get better."

3/11/2002 01:16:34 PM

Biting the Hand That Feeds: Nick Denton, who is about to pay me a few scheckels (er, "shekels," as he just corrected me) to talk to his Berkeley class, says this today:
And now the political weblogs - at least the ones to which we all link - have become monotously hawkish. Not the Jerry Falwell conservative, of course. But yelling talk-radio poor-are-lazy Clinton-is-evil fuck-the-Saudis fuck-the-Europeans fuck-everybody conservatives. They make me feel like a bleeding-heart liberal, which is quite an achievement. Where are the liberal weblogs? Okay, let me rephrase that: where are the well-written liberal weblogs?
I won’t speak to my own writing abilities, but to answer his question, which has been asked before: I’m a liberal. I take liberalism to mean a belief in policy geared toward easing poverty, extending rights to every walking human who hasn’t utterly forfeited them, getting the government out of the morality business, regulating markets judiciously, ensuring the pervasive yet hopefully efficient delivery of non-market goods such as education, health care and national defense, and otherwise having the sense to let the private sector handle private concerns. What makes me not “liberal” in the way that people who call themselves “progressives” are seen as “liberal,” is that I don’t think the U.S. is the primary fount of global wickedness, I am heartily in favor of the war against Al-Qaeda, I believe free trade and exchange is an excellent method for reducing poverty and staving off war, and I don’t mind getting good advice from people who don’t vote Democrat or Green. This, to me, is consistent with “liberalism” (it’s also probably consistent with Denton’s beliefs); others may disagree. What I think? We have allowed ideologues to hijack the word “liberal,” and we have become lazy enough ourselves to confuse common-sense support for a just war with creeping Republicanism.

I don’t know what the hell we should do in Iraq, though I’m rooting for an elegant sanctions-for-real-weapons-inspections deal. I detest Ariel Sharon (and Yasser Arafat), am sickened by the war there, and if someone put me in charge of the Final Treaty it would involve telling Israeli settlers to pack up and get the hell out (in addition to free Palestinian elections, and real security guarantees for Israel). Yeah, the let’s-invade-everybody plan seems a tad ridiculous to me, but I’m not exactly coming up with better solutions. Does this make me “monstrously hawkish,” Nick?

A final note about the Dentonoid’s absurd campaign to criticize bloggers for what they don’t write about enough (for his tastes) on their sites: I see here he’s made a list of his brave anti-tariff writings … since November 2001. Not bad, Nick! But where were you, in 2000, when Al Gore lurched leftward on trade during his Democratic Convention acceptance speech? Me, I was at the convention, writing critically about it for a left-wing audience at WorkingForChange.com. What about later that fall, when Ralph Nader was packing arenas with fiery anti-trade speeches? Did you follow him around for days on end, trying to nail down his vague positions on trade, immigration and foreign policy? Did you write multiple columns in 2000-2001 arguing for trade to an anti-trade audience, and taking on the Left’s favorite economist for suggesting that stock trading was no better than gambling? What, exactly, were you doing back then, as the forces of Seattle gathered, and fast-track authority languished forgotten, except by the editors of Reason and The Economist?

Oh yeah. You were running an Internet company. Trying to strike it rich.

There is no logical conclusion to the how-come-you-didn’t-write-about-that? game, except to waste everybody’s time with political paranoia and divined motivations. Some of us turned down Internet jobs, Nick, because we wanted to continue to engage with and write about issues that interested us, rather than provide business information to a rich, niche audience. I don’t at all disparage your choice (especially since what you were doing was fascinating & entrepreneurial, not just some job writing about office furniture for an office-furniture dot-com), but in return I ask you to respect mine, and to understand that a free website by a poor writer maybe ought to be judged a little differently than a twice-a-week column by a syndicated economist.

3/11/2002 11:38:41 AM

Six Months: There have been fine half-year reflections everywhere I look today; go now and read all the usual suspects, and more.

Last week I had a gander at my first week’s worth of post-Sept. 11 writing. Here’s my first post; it’s – surprise! - an angry & wounded rant about the Chomskyite Left, an attempt to seek comfort through George Orwell, and a call for clear & energetic thinking. Many of the other posts, and some of the first published columns, I don’t remember writing.

3/11/2002 10:43:04 AM

Vile LAT Column Lifted From Arab News, Says Charles Johnson: I love throwing CJ alley-oops.

3/10/2002 02:35:57 PM

The LAT’s Weak Case About ‘Self-Censorship’: I was going to write a detailed criticism of the L.A. Times’ unconvincing front-pager today about the post-Sept. 11 erosion of civil liberties and the “atmosphere of self-censorship,” but Glenn Reynolds did it earlier and better (scroll down to his post at 11:09; the individual link isn’t working). I would just add one thing: Take a look at one of the few examples purportedly supporting the rather strong assertion that “free speech gives way to self-censorship.” It’s a quote by Salam Al-Marayati, national director of the L.A.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"The message basically is, you cannot talk about certain issues," he said. "You cannot talk about foreign policy, you cannot talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That if that were to be brought up, we would immediately be branded as being on the other side. … And our concern is that we're going to lose the America that we're trying to protect."
Well, I don’t know who is giving Salam this “message,” but it’s not the L.A. Times. Over in the Opinion section today there’s a vile column, with a Saudi Arabian dateline, that talks plenty about foreign policy and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In fact, it argues that “the greatest threat to world peace today is clearly ‘terrorism’ -- not the behavior to which the word is applied but the word itself.” Here are just a few of author John Whitbeck’s asinine claims:
For years, people have recited the truism that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." However, with the world's sole superpower declaring an open-ended, worldwide war on terrorism, the notorious subjectivity of this word is no longer a joke. […]

If everyone recognized that the word "terrorism" is fundamentally an epithet and a term of abuse with no intrinsic meaning, there would be no more reason to worry about the word now than prior to Sept. 11. […]

The Bush administration appears to be feeding the U.S. Constitution and America's traditions of civil liberties, due process and the rule of law into a shredder -- mostly to domestic applause or acquiescence. Who would have imagined that 19 men armed only with knives could accomplish so much, provoking a response beyond their wildest dreams, which threatens to be vastly more damaging to their enemies even than their own appalling acts?

It gets worse than that, but I’ll leave it for Charles Johnson. The point is this: John Whitbeck is perfectly free to write whatever he wants (like, say, that the “the entire Zionist experiment is morally and ethically indefensible” and analogous to Communism and Fascism). He and his ilk will continue to be given prime real estate in the national media, and receive no harsher rebuke than a few angry weblog postings. If they suffer from “self-censorship,” that’s their own damned problem. Our Bill of Rights protections may be eroding, and our free press may require eternal vigilance, but I know this: Harsh U.S. critics like Arundhati Roy will never be arrested in this country for writing a column or making a speech. If the Times wants to make a front-page claim about our “atmosphere of self-censorship,” they should come up with a little more evidence than this.

3/10/2002 11:58:57 AM

The Filthy Sin of Letting Subjects Vet Stories: In media-gossip news, there is a hubbub about Harvard Business Review Editor Suzy Wetlaufer having an affair with an interview subject, former GE CEO and lifetime management God Jack Welch (no relation). In the process, we have learned that the venerable HBR routinely “allows interview subjects to read and edit stories about themselves before publication.” The latter of the two sins is ... what’s the word? ... execrable. Everybody involved in setting up and participating in this practice should be fired and publicly humiliated. Howard Kurtz, or some other enterprising Media Ethics reporter, should ask absolutely everyone on the Business Review’s masthead about whether they have knowingly and willingly allowed their own sources to write their stories. Perhaps we should have an annual “Wetlaufer Award” for people and publications discovered to be engaging in this pathetic and demeaning habit. Fuck who you want, but don’t make my life harder by letting CEOs think they can edit their own damned interviews.

Indulge me in a couple of Central Europe anecdotes. In spring of 1991, I noticed that several Prague newspapers were devoting much editorial space to praising certain new western car models. I spent a few weeks interviewing ad agencies and newspapers, and let them tell me about how advertisers were suddenly commissioning news stories to flatter their products. In the majority of cases, they said, the thought hadn’t occurred to the newspapers before the suggestion and intervention of western manufacturers, PR executives and media owners. I found this atrocious, and wrote a story about it for our newspaper.

Five years later, in the more casually corrupt country of Hungary, we tried to confront a practice that even PR companies were complaining about to our Business Journal: All the country’s leading newspapers were selling out prominent editorial space, typically on page 3, to the highest bidder, in articles that were typically given the tagline of “X.” For those few in the know, “X” meant “advertorial”; for the typical Hungarian, it was a news story with an odd letter at the bottom. For an English-language business weekly trying to establish a brand new set of ground rules with its sources, it was a fucking disaster. Every single work day, with few exceptions, one of our reporters would have to explain “no, we won’t fax our questions in advance, and no, we will not give you the right to review and edit your responses before they go to the printer.” This last bit was especially difficult, because it was Hungarian law. As far as I know, it still is -- I’ll find out this week when Layne & I will give a talk at a Berkeley journalism class co-taught by Peter Molnar, an anti-communist Hungarian hero who was the single most responsible person for modernizing the Magyars’ unfortunate media laws.

In 1996, our two best reporters, Ben Sullivan and Miklos Gaspar, went on a two-month undercover sting operation to buy page-3 space in Hungary’s top newspapers. They came back with a dynamite series that rocked the Hungarian PR/ad/media world, but we got sued, and eventually lost, on the technicality of not allowing one of the sources to edit and revise his damning comments. After a court trial, we were forced by law to print a front-page retraction.

Let me slow this down so that even someone from Harvard can understand it: We spent as much energy as possible, in between scrambling to put out decent papers in challenging circumstances, trying to convince people that there was an idealized relationship between the press and its sources, regardless of local laws and mores, and that we were prepared to suffer financial losses and humiliation to support that ideal. As managing editor, I probably fielded an average of one phone call per week from a prominent source who tried to leverage his status as a major advertiser to influence our editorial decision-making. In one memorable case, we lost tens of thousands in advertising from a guy who wanted to change a paragraph or two on some page-11 real estate round-up. Luckily for me, we had advertising managers and owners who understood, if with some annoyance, that part of what we were selling was a different level of trustworthiness than Hungarians had ever seen before.

I bring this up because the Budapest Business Journal makes maybe 1/50th the revenue of the Harvard Business Review, while operating in a newsgathering climate roughly 50 times more hostile than Massachusetts. The BBJ does not have the name “Harvard” in its masthead, and is not attached to one of the leading educational institutions in the world. It has never been given a drop of money from the Freedom Forum or the Open Society Institute to proselytize about journalism values. Its handsome and talented editon the Pulitzer Prize board.

I’m really not concerned that publications like the Budapest Business Journal do not get the credit they deserve – I’m more worried about how fat institutions like the Harvard Business Review, despite enjoying every conceivable advantage, have made the deliberate choice to screw over every publication and free-lance journalist who shares the modest but sensible values of the BBJ, by establishing a set of ground rules more fit for 19th century Vienna than 21st century America. Shame on you, Wetlaufer. I don’t give a rat’s ass who you sleep with, but you and your colleagues have fucked my profession.

3/10/2002 01:25:36 AM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

ng disaster. Every single work day, with few exceptions, one of our reporters would have to explain “no, we won’t fax our questions in advance, and no, we will not give you the right to review and edit your responses before they go to the printer.” This last bit was especially difficult, because it was Hungarian law. As far as I know, it still is -- I’ll find out this week when Layne & I will give a talk at a Berkeley journalism class co-taught by Peter Molnar, an anti-communist Hungarian hero who was the single most responsible person for modernizing the Magyars’ unfortunate media laws.

In 1996, our two best reporters, Ben Sullivan and Miklos Gaspar, went on a two-month undercover sting operation to buy page-3 space in Hungary’s top newspapers. They came back with a dynamite series that rocked the Hungarian PR/ad/media world, but we got sued, and eventually lost, on the technicality of not allowing one of the sources to edit and revise his damning comments. After a court trial, we were forced by law to print a front-page retraction.

Let me slow this down so that even someone from Harvard can understand it: We spent as much energy as possible, in between scrambling to put out decent papers in challenging circumstances, trying to convince people that there was an idealized relationship between the press and its sources, regardless of local laws and mores, and that we were prepared to suffer financial losses and humiliation to support that ideal. As managing editor, I probably fielded an average of one phone call per week from a prominent source who tried to leverage his status as a major advertiser to influence our editorial decision-making. In one memorable case, we lost tens of thousands in advertising from a guy who wanted to change a paragraph or two on some page-11 real estate round-up. Luckily for me, we had advertising managers and owners who understood, if with some annoyance, that part of what we were selling was a different level of trustworthiness than Hungarians had ever seen before.

I bring this up because the Budapest Business Journal makes maybe 1/50th the revenue of the Harvard Business Review, while operating in a newsgathering climate roughly 50 times more hostile than Massachusetts. The BBJ does not have the name “Harvard” in its masthead, and is not attached to one of the leading educational institutions in the world. It has never been given a drop of money from the Freedom Forum or the Open Society Institute to proselytize about journalism values. Its handsome and talented editor will not soon be writing a book about media ethics, or be given a slot on the Pulitzer Prize board.

I’m really not concerned that publications like the Budapest Business Journal do not get the credit they deserve – I’m more worried about how fat institutions like the Harvard Business Review, despite enjoying every conceivable advantage, have made the deliberate choice to screw over every publication and free-lance journalist who shares the modest but sensible values of the BBJ, by establishing a set of ground rules more fit for 19th century Vienna than 21st century America. Shame on you, Wetlaufer. I don’t give a rat’s ass who you sleep with, but you and your colleagues have fucked my profession.

3/10/2002 01:25:36 AM

Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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© 1997-2000; All rights reserved.

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