Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Democracy & Journalists

Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review, is worried about the decline in newspaper readership and the consequent decline in what he calls “large armies of [MSM] reporters.”

In Sunday’s Raleigh News & Observer Rieder tells us why he thinks we should worry too:

Here's why: democracy.

An informed electorate is critical to democracy. And providing that information properly is expensive. It requires a lot of reporting firepower. And large reporting staffs tend to be fielded by newspapers.
I decided to send Rieder the following electronic letter.

Rem Rieder, Editor and Senior Vice President
American Journalism Review

Dear Editor Rieder:

I blog at John in Carolina where I report and comment concerning MSM news organizations, particularly the Raleigh News & Observer.

I read your opinion column in Sunday’s Raleigh N&O. I’ve also listened to an audio tape of the May 22 National Press Club’s Duke lacrosse newsmakers forum at which you served as a panelist.

In your N&O column you noted the vital link between journalists and democracy.

I agree. Honest and accurate news reporting enables democracy as surely as dishonest and inaccurate reporting destroys it.

With that in mind, I’d like to ask you some questions concerning your response and the audience’s response to statements N&O investigative reporter Joseph (Joe) Neff made when he served with you as a panelist at the press club forum. I transcribed Neff’s statements in question from an audio purchased from the club. (Purchase information is in this post.)

Neff said:
“One of the things that I think really helped our paper throughout this story is we have a really strict policy against the use of anonymous sources and we did not use a single anonymous source or unnamed source in our – uh – I think as of now we’ve written 541 articles by – with at least 19 different bylines on it and what that (Neff pauses)

It was really frustrating in the initial couple of weeks when it was so competitive and no other newspaper and no other radio or TV station felt compelled to – they were going with 'sources close to the prosecution' or 'we have learned' or 'Nightline has found out' and they would just put stuff out there.

Now some of it we knew because we were told off the record, but we won’t use it, but some of it was absolute nonsense –ah – ah – so it allowed us to get beat on some very small things, but in general by not using anonymous sources, we were really saved – ah – from putting some –ah- some bad stuff in the paper.”
(Moderator moves to another matter)
Could there have been more than one or two journalists at the forum who didn’t know the N&O story which launched witch hunt and media frenzy, Dancer gives details of ordeal , was based on an anonymous source interview?

The N&O’s Duke lacrosse reporting relied on so many anonymous and/or unnamed sources ( Is there a difference?) that three weeks after the “Dancer … ordeal” story appeared, the N&O published a story, Mother, dancer, accuser , identifying its sources as “former classmates and neighbors, friends and family members.”

The N&O even published on April 2, 2006 a photo of a “Vigilante” poster which it obtained from an anonymous source.

I felt sure you’d call Neff’s statements to his attention and invite him to correct or clarify them.

But you said nothing?

Why not?

The current issue of the American Journalism Review contains your managing editor, Rachel Smolkin’s, 8,000 word critique of media coverage of the Duke lacrosse case. It includes the following:
[N&O executive editor for news Melanie] Sill's reporters also watched in frustration as national media vied for their sources. "It was a messy story, and the outside media coverage, especially the cable television shows, the presence of every national media outlet here, made it much harder to report," she says. "People we would normally just go interview were having press conferences, or wouldn't talk, or would only talk in a leaking situation." But top editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable.
Why, Editor Rieder, did AJR tell its readers “top [N&O] editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable” without also telling them the N&O repeatedly used such sources?

Will you issue a prominent correction?

Press club staffers told me there was “very good attendance” at the forum and that almost everyone there had press credentials.

Yet during the Q&A no one asked Neff about his statements, which just about everyone had to know were false.

I’d have thought the last place someone could make a series of false statements and not be called on them was the National Press Club.

Am I naïve?

Lest you tell me to contact Neff and ask him to correct or clarify, I’ve done that repeatedly (See here, here and here ). He's responded by saying I’d have to disclose who I am before he’d even talk to me.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. I look forward to your response.


John in Carolina


I'll keep you posted as to what I hear back from Rieder.



Insufficiently Sensitive said...

There's fun to be had with Rem Reider's pious little homily:

"Here's why: democracy.
An informed electorate is critical to democracy...." (and he goes on to praise the large staffs of MSM reporters).

After the breathtaking misfeasance of most MSM in its treatment of the Duke LAX case, we see what Reider means when he says 'informed electorate'. Fully informed with necessary and sufficient facts, NOT.

He means, an electorate informed by sufficient cherry-picked items (factual they needn't be) that it will vote in the direction preferred by those large staffs of reporters, 90% of whom donate their hard-earned money to candidates with donkey's ears.

And if you think that those entering the journalistic profession do so to fully and accurately inform the public of all current events, instead of to 'make a difference' by steering public opinion, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn you can have cheap, this week only.

Anonymous said...


"An informed electorate is critical to democracy"

Unfortunately, keeping the electrorate informed is difficult because the facts keep changing.


Anonymous said...

John: Once again, I commend you for your persistence and your civility in dealing with these maggots who infest MSM. Don't you know you're spinning your wheels? Don't you know they will never respond honestly? Do you really think you're accomplishing anything? A pox on the lot of 'em says I.

Anonymous said...

From SC Mom:

The MSM, regardless of how it behaves, is about democracy only as long as it isn't the only speaker or format. For far too long - over one hundred years - it was the only game in town. Now it isn't, which means democracy is finally working.

Take the case of the three students who were murdered in New Jersey. For years the MSM told the Black community how to vote, how and what to think about the rest of the country - it's all white and Blacks are the only minority. This case makes it clear that politicians, using the MSM, lied to the Black community - exactly as it did in the Lacrosse case. Yes, there are plenty of hard working illegal immigrants, but the "safe harbor" attitude of certain cities was merely a cover that protected the city's vested interests who employed illegal aliens as underpaid cleaning staff and cooks. The policy didn't provide a safe environment for those four young black kids, who by all accounts, were on their way to leading successful lives. In this case, the Blacks were just like everyone else: not protected by either the government or the MSM who ignored the dangers and corruption behind the "safe harbor" clause. Perhaps now the Black community will begin to think for themselves rather than believing - carte blanc - the MSM.

The greatest problem with the MSM is the assumption that it is apolitical, or at least not biased. It is political and biased. Prior to the War between the State (the War of Northern Aggression as the Southern press called it), the country was blanketed with newspapers, each representing their own view. Prior to the war, Greenville's (S.C.) paper was staunchly unionist, but Charleston's was secessionist. Everyone knew the bias and read the articles accordingly. That's what is missing today, or was missing until the internet blew a hole in the MSM tattered veneer.

The MSM has a political bias and should be read accordingly. College presidents and the older professors (Baby boomers) now hold the reins of power. Unfortunately, most of them lack the one characteristic - attribute - that led the Black community in South Carolina to vote for Strom Thurman in his final election in 1996 - thus awarding him an accolade (he was 100 year old) that may - and perhaps should - never be eclipsed. Their vote put him over top when young white voters thought he was an old fogie. Older black voted for him in droves because he recognized that the world had changed. He judged the value of the change - integration was good - and supported it and the black community.

Today's Democrats and the MSM seem to be locked in 1968 mode. Hence they called Crystal Magnum a mother and student instead of slut. They need to take a lesson from Strom: change is good.

PS: I keep checking this site and other to see when commonsense returns to Duke and both Dick Brodhead and Bob Steel - such ironically appropriate names - quit.

Anonymous said...

To SC Mom:
Amen! You rock Mom!!
From Hawkeye in the Old North State