Friday, August 27, 2004

Monkeys with typewriters 
Why does the US news media hire reporters at all? For all the intelligence their reporters put into their work, it would be much more cost-effective just to send out a single pool camera/audio person. Zachary Roth of The Columbia Journalism Review travelled with the reporters covering Dick Cheney's campaign tour the other day:
. . . Marc Levy of the AP was talking to his editor, summarizing the gist of Cheney's comments: that we need a new national security strategy to confront the challenges of a new era, and to replace the cold war strategy of containment.

Levy read quotes from Cheney down the phone to his editor, including the following: "John Kerry said as much in his convention speech, that he wanted to go back to the way things used to be, and that America would resort to military force only when attacked." In reality, Cheney was being disingenuous: Kerry has not said this, and his foreign policy advisers have specifically kept the door open for the use of pre-emptive attacks. But in talking to his editor, Levy didn't offer any hint that Cheney had it wrong, and his editor didn't raise that issue either. (Indeed, not once all day did I hear a reporter attempt to assess the accuracy of anything Cheney said. They were concerned only with accurately transcribing his words and actions, and with assessing the strategic purpose of the trip. Fact-checking the vice president's assertions didn't appear to be on the agenda.) The quote about military force appears in Levy's write-up of Cheney's day, which ran in papers Thursday.

BBC correspondent Dusan Neumann was one of the reporters on that Cheney tour. Of Neumann, Roth says "Like many observers, especially foreign ones, he can't understand the obsession with trivia, and believes the press does a poor job at informing the public about the pressing issues of the day." Unlike the AP's Levy and his American reporter colleagues who seem to think they're actually stenographers, Neumann took his journalist's job seriously and wrote in his lede:
Whilst U.S. Marines, cavalry, Air Force and Iraq's security forces were tightening a noose around al-Sadr Mahdi militia and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was hustled to Najaf, the cream of the national press core was counting apples, tomatoes, green peppers and ears of corn.
Say, whatever happened to that talk of The Guardian starting an American edition?

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