Take Name, Wag Finger

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

I could start a regular feature called something like "Media Misdeeds and Mistakes," and I'd never lack for examples.

Let's look at a few recent ones of interest: After GQ magazine commissioned a critical story about infighting among Hillary Clinton's senior campaign staff, one of her husband's aides apparently warned GQ editor Jim Nelson that it might be tough for the magazine to talk with the former president for its "Man of the Year" issue.

"Clinton's aides pulled a page from the book of Hollywood publicists and offered GQ a stark choice: Kill the piece, or lose access to planned celebrity coverboy Bill Clinton," as Ben Smith reported on Politico.com.

"Any editor with a backbone would say, 'Thank you, your crude effort to kill this story will be included in the story. Goodbye,'" Ron Rosenbaum wrote last week on Slate.com. "Instead, the GQ editor killed the story."

What is even more reprehensible, Rosenbaum said, is that GQ's editor then claimed that the Clinton threat had nothing to do with his killing the piece. "Instead, unforgivably, he turned on his own reporter and in a spectacularly demeaning way suddenly claimed there were 'problems' with the story."

Over at the New York Times Magazine, editors were embarrassed by news that one of its regular contributing writers, Deborah Solomon, might have played fast and loose with her transcriptions of interviews.

Matt Elzweig, who writes for the New York Press, found out about Solomon's penchant for doctoring her Q & A's in the course of researching a profile of her. Two of Solomon's subjects, advice columnist Amy Dickinson and public-radio host Ira Glass, said that in the published versions of their interviews, "Solomon had made up questions, after the fact, to match answers that, at least in one instance, she had taken out of their original context," Rachel Sklar wrote on HuffingtonPost.com.

Elzweig's piece "rang an instant bell, because the exact same claim was made by Tim Russert after his interview with Solomon" last year.

As Matthew Felling noted on CBSnews.com, "Journalism is the rough draft of history," and Carl Bernstein called it "the best obtainable version of the truth."

"But when it begins to feel like a writer's workshop where you tinker freely," Felling said, "that's when it stops being journalism and starts to resemble creative writing."

It was just that sort of "creative writing" that got the people at SF Weekly, an alternative paper in the Bay Area, into trouble a few days ago. They ran a cover story titled "Steroids Confidential," about Barry Bonds' use of performance-enhancing substances, including, the story said, the semen of an elk. There was no obvious indication that it was actually satire.

Josh Wolf, writing on cnet.com, said satire is an integral part of the press, "but it is of critical importance that readers are able to recognize where the 'real news' ends and the fiction begins."

Media watchers were also critical of Joe Cannon, editor of the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City, for attending a conservative policy conference that barred media coverage. In an editorial, the rival Salt Lake Tribune said Cannon, until last year a lobbyist and chairman of the Republican Party in Utah, should not have agreed to keep quiet about what was said at the conference, where "professional spinners and policy wonks with an obvious political agenda" met in private with Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney.

Cannon's participation in the meeting was an insult to the role of a free press, the Tribune said.

"That role includes fighting for the public's right to know, not abetting those who, like Cheney, are contemptuous of that right."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan