THURSDAY’S LETTERS: Difficulties of War Coverage, No Liberal Media Bias, Hiltzik’s Ethical Misdeeds More Serious

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By: E&P Staff

In today’s letters, a call for a freer press, making a distinction between liberal and corporate media, questions about whether writers need to fear blogging about their personal life, and a charge that Hirschman’s column went too easy on Hiltzik.


Declining Circ a Repudiation of Vietnam Era?

Thank you for this attempt at an objective view of media coverage on the War on Terror. …

Several thoughts:

1) Re: Your thought that the media does not have enough financial strength to put in sufficient human resources for complete reporting, seems to be saying we have only enough staff to supply bad news (if it bleeds, it leads, your phrase, not mine). Paraphrasing … “We need more expense money to provide the better, more positive news”. That is just silly, as walking around in the very well protected military bases would yield a plethora of superb, positive, balancing stories, without going outside the wire. The troops report that the press is there often, buying supplies, and drinking beer, but not soliciting information or stories.

2) Your other complaint can be summarized as “The military does not like the media, so we cannot embed successfully any longer…”. Same military, same press, but, there is now a record of highly biased reporting in this war, just as there was in Viet Nam, even after a very creative, welcoming, Iraqi era embed program. You had a chance to start this reporting cycle successfully and in conjunction with the military. You lost this one on performance, and this is extremely well documented.

3) A more successful press strategy would be to claim that all stories go back to the editors, but that the good news gets rejected by editors. I suspect this was once true, but too politically incorrect to claim in print. Many of us have been in conflict zones, and are in frequent touch with the troops and are frequent readers of (Michael Yon, Iraqthemodel, etc.) on-site blogs, and were readers of the early embeds. We know what the solid stores are today, we know the details and exchange these details all around you, via the Internet.

4) The heavily liberal-stacked press, both in reporting and in management, are spinning this reporting cycle as they did in Viet Nam, and are being reprimanded by the Internet. This is the free information flow that corrects all market operations, and it is correcting your inadequacies in this perhaps 25 year long war effort.

5) You are currently trotting out 8 or so liberal, clinton appointee staff level officers, as valid critics of the President and Secy. Rumsfeld’s prosecution of this war … and you are again being corrected by this free flowing of superior, corrected information. The 8 staff level officers are a very tiny percentage ( less than 0.1%) of the current star ranked officers, and are operating outside of the legitimate behavior of Staff officers … and you are being called on your representation of these sad clerks as authorities. You are not as ambitiously reporting the comments from current, functioning staff officers, refuting these comments (per lexusnexus search parameters). Note that the 8 were all sent home prior to or during the conflict. The adage … “after the battle is waged, the clerks ooze in to bayonet the wounded” … applies. Again you are being corrected in Internet “print”, and the information is circulating all around you.

Please keep up the good work that you do, but please pay attention to declining readership and declining ad revenues, as investment capital dries up for your organizations. These signals are strong, as is the rejection of your Viet Nam era, liberal reporting style. We urgently require a free press, but at the front of this potentially long war, we do not have one. What we have instead is a constitutional crime.

Richard McPhillips
Williamsville, NY


What Liberal Media?

Gil McLean, Esq. writes to E&P: “I’m sure if you took the media as whole and not just dailies, you would find even lower percentages of political conservatives.”

First off, media ownership is overwhelmingly corporate, which makes it conservative. And in my experience as an employee, family ownership is just as conservative, if not more so. Owners call the shots, and owners have the money. Money breeds a conservative outlook and one that plays it safe. It’s not concerned with left or right but with playing it down the middle, which is no help to people trying to separate fact from fiction.

Katie Couric, as an example, is not liberal, she’s corporate. She makes $15 million a year or thereabouts being corporate. She’s not rocking any boats for fear of losing access to high government officials and her star’s salary. I’d also like to know what writers and editors and producers at national papers and networks make, because I think the amount makes them treasure their big paychecks over the truth. How long did it take for the word “lie” to be used to characterize anything George Bush said when it’s obvious to anyone with a clear mind that he’s been telling whoppers for his whole political career.

People also confuse editorials and op-eds with straight reporting. Views are not news. Granted, people make choices on what to cover and what to ignore. But if the press is so liberal and powerful and dangerous, how could it not stop Bill Clinton from being impeached or Iraq from being occupied or the U.S. Treasury from being sacked by rich Americans?

By the way, I’m a liberal media person and don’t apologize for it. But I don’t spread lies or spin like the Bill O’Reillys of the world. I am biased in favor of open government and getting the truth out. However, my political leanings have never had anything to do with my being hired. It simply doesn’t come up. And no conservative is denied or offered a job on those grounds in the newsgathering business. It may be a self-selecting process. People with open, inquiring minds may drift left. I would love to sit through a week of nightly newscasts and shows like Washington Week in Review with a conservative on the couch and point out just how NOT liberal the content is. That’s not practical but this is: Read the “Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media” by David Edwards and David Cromwell.

Bill Dunn
Middleton, Wis.


Why Should People Have to Be Perfect on Their Blogs?

I often read [Steve Outing’s] pieces at Poynter’s website, and as someone who does a bit “citizen journalism” I’ve often found your opinions on the matter to be ahead of the curve of other journalists’s opinions.

However, [his] recent piece in Editor & Publisher regarding newspapers and social networks misses a few important points about how much of oneself to reveal on the internet — and the cost of what one reveals to one’s professional reputation.

I currently keep two blogs — one that is personal and one that is more or less professional. The personal blog is sometimes *very* personal (if you read a recent entry titled True Love and the Muse you’ll see what I mean — and that’s pretty mild.) As a 45 year old woman who is struggling as a freelancer as much as she is struggling to build a professional reputation, I’ve found the personal blog to be both a blessing and a bane. While my personal writing is what helped me get a position blogging for an organization, many other people have thought it wildly unprofessional to talk about my personal life on a blog. It has, at times, cost me.

Why? Because my personal life’s a bit more colorful than the average 45 year old woman…

And that’s part of the difficulty, and reason why, many many adults should not mix their personal blogs or too much personal information with their professional writing. Face it, Steve, unless an adult has a wonderful, wholesome personal life — replete with spouse, kids, and the right social connections — his/her personal life is not something that most people want to know about. It becomes, in colloquial lexicon “Too Much Information.”

And, let’s face another fact, some of the best journalists and writers are folks who live a bit on the edge — who are single, who are a bit debauched, who are free spirits with complicated lives. They’re not always good family men and women attending the right charity fundraiser.

It would be a shame to force journalists to put up personal pages that would be constructed only to show the world a perfected public personna that one is agreeable to the wider world. That would be just as, if not more, dishonest than if they’d made up a story about a kid dying of cancer.

Danah Boyd once said that kids had less to lose than adults when it came to living “la vida loca” and blogging about it. To some degree, she’s right. They can erase their blogs before they start out in the world of work. But for adults blogging in the personal, the consequences are indeed far greater unless they are as normal as white bread toast.

Tish Grier
Corante Media Hub


Hirschman’s Column on Hiltzik Misses the Point

In [yesterday’s] column covering LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik’s blogging woes, you were kind enough to provide readers with links to the LA Times’ Editors’ Note, as well as to the NY Times story on the matter.

Readers would have benefitted from a link to the web-log that broke the story. They might then notice that blogger Patrick Frey’s charge was _not_ that Hiltzik used a pseudonym, a common practice. Rather, it was that he employed two pseudonyms to shill for himself, pretending to be two separate people in comments to his own and other blogs. That practice is neither common nor ethical.

It is unfortunate that Editor & Publisher has joined the Times in misstating the central problem with the actions that Hiltzik is alleged to have performed.

I hope that, after investigating further, you will consider amending your story to more accurately reflect the circumstances of this case.

Alastair Mackay
Towson, MD

It was just pointed out that I misread a sentence in your column. You wrote: “But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful.”

Your readers should be aware that this view is accepted by almost nobody in the blogging or newspapering communities. For example, academic John Lott got a world of grief from both erstwhile allies and longtime enemies when his use of pseudonym “Mary Rosh” to shill for his position and needle his adversaries became public knowledge. See this 2003 Washington Post article and its references for details of that case.

I think that the best reporting practice would be to explain the central allegation to readers before dismissing it as frivolous. I hope you agree.

Alastair Mackay
Towson, MD

I enjoyed [David Hirschman’s] article; you made some excellent points. Regarding the case of Michael Hiltzik, however, I think you perhaps missed the point: it’s not the fact that he used pseudonyms in his posts to the Times and elsewhere, it’s the dishonest way in which he did so — by pretending to be someone else, and by using anonymous postings to try to deceptively bolster his own arguments. It is reminiscent of the authors who anonymously write glowing reviews of their own books and post them on Amazon to sway potential readers to buy their books. Both practices are unethical. In doing so, Hiltzik also comes across as petty and childish, which. while not unethical, is certainly below what one would expect of someone who won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. The posts in question also severely compromise his credibility, which is perhaps the most important of all the issues here.

Stuart Larson


Newspaperboys Ride Into the Sunset, Circ Follows

I believe the shift from newspaperboys (and girls) to adult independent contractors is one of the major reasons for the decline in newspaper circulation.

As a carrier, I repeatedly visited the homes of people on my route to ask them to subscribe to The Indianapolis News so that I could win a bike, or a trip to Washington, DC, or some other prize. It worked: I got the orders ? and the bike, trip and other prizes.

Now the papers seek to sell through telemarketing, but my number’s on a federal Do-Not-Call list, or direct mail.

To turn newspapers around, start with how they are sold and delivered. Then go on and deal with editorial issues.

Joel Whitaker
Editor, Beverage News Daily
Burtonsville, MD

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