Friday, December 30, 2005

Our crapulous press 
In a story about web cookies on the White House website, Associated Press reporter Anick Jesdanun demonstrates, right in his lede, what's wrong with the American press today, and why so many bloggers call reporters for the main-stream media "stenographers:"
U.S. to Probe Contractor's Web Tracking

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer Fri Dec 30, 4:27 AM ET

NEW YORK - Unbeknown to the Bush administration, an outside contractor has been using Internet tracking technologies that may be prohibited to analyze usage and traffic patterns at the White House's Web site, an official said Thursday.

David Almacy, the White House's Internet director, promised an investigation into whether the practice is consistent with a 2003 policy from the White House's Office of Management and Budget banning the use of most such technologies at government sites.

"No one even knew it was happening," Almacy said. "We're going to work with the contractor to ensure that it's consistent with the OMB policy."


Nonetheless, agencies occasionally violate the rules inadvertently. The CIA did in 2002, and the NSA more recently. The NSA disabled the cookies this week and blamed a recent upgrade to software that shipped with cookie settings already on.
The very first words of this story - before we even learn what "it" is or what the facts about "it" are, are that the White House knew nothing about whatever "it" is. Once we learn what "it" is, why should we believe that the assertion is true? Because David Almacy, the White House Internet Director, said so. As if everything (or anything) coming from the White House can be taken at face value. As if we were provided with any background information that would lend credence to Almacy's claim. Even the headline, "U.S. to Probe Contractor's Web Tracking", emphasizes that it was a "contractor," not the White House, who implemented tracking technologies that "may be prohibited". Is no one at the White Houe responsible for oversight of contractors? Not even Mr. Almacy? And what's up with "may be prohibited?" Either they are prohibited, or they aren't - there's no maybe about it.

Then, at the close of the story (to make sure we didn't miss the point, I guess), we're assured that government agencies like CIA and NSA violate the rules only once in a while and, of course, only "inadvertently." At least there was a single source, however compromised, for the the White House assertion, but not a one about the CIA or NSA.

It's just a little story, to be sure, but I think it's reflective of way too much of what our so-called journalists do on a daily basis. Shilling for the government, that is, while doing little or no actual reporting.

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