• Walter Lippmann writes three columns based on more than four hours of interviews with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
• John F. Kennedy becomes the first president to regularly conduct live broadcast press conferences.
• The New Yorker publishes “Silent Spring,” a groundbreaking three-part investigation of pesticides by Rachel Carson.
• Communication satellite Telstar 1 goes into orbit and relays first television images.
What Went Uncovered
When New York City’s newspapers resumed publishing after a nearly four-month strike, CJR’s Spring ’63 issue explored the wide effects of the news gap: A key city hall official only learned of two Black Muslims’ arrest on disorderly conduct charges when 400 brethren showed up to protest outside his office. Noting slumlords whose crimes escaped coverage, the city’s building commissioner remarked, “There’s a distinct difference between a $500 fine and a $500 fine plus a story in the Times.” And the citizens’ group against razing Pennsylvania Station, a Beaux-Arts landmark, complained not only of trouble rousing public sympathy, but that without the benefit of advance coverage, they’d literally missed a chance to speak against the demolition before a final vote.
The Los Angeles Times has moved into the Age of the Computer. An RCA 301 now accepts paper tape punched by electric typewriters and in 17 seconds produces enough corrected and spaced tape to give automatic typesetting machines enough to fill a newspaper column. Copy editors’ changes, too, are fed into the computer and incorporated. The tremendous speed of the operation is obviously a breakthrough. Who cannot help wondering, though, about the feelings of reporters plugged in on the system? They must feel a little as cows did when the milking machine was introduced.
—from “Plugged In,”
• ABC airs Crisis, a vérité look at JFK’s showdown with George Wallace over integrating the University of Alabama.
• Almost 20,000 New York City newsworkers end a 114-day strike.
“Note to too many Southern copydesks: Why not drop the loaded word “mixing” as a synonym for integration?”
—from Darts & Laurels,
A voice boomed from the radio: “The President of the United States is dead.” I believed it instantly. It sounded true. I knew it was true. I stood still a moment, then began running. Hugh Sidey of Time, a close friend of the president, was walking slowly ahead of me. “Hugh,” I said, “the president’s dead.” Sidey stopped, looked at me, looked at the ground. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t think about it. I couldn’t do anything but run on to the press room. Then I told the others.
—from New York Times correspondent Tom Wicker’s recollections of Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963,
• David Halberstam (New York Times) and Malcolm Browne (AP) win Pulitzers for coverage of the overthrow of South Vietnam’s Diem regime.
• Supreme Court’s Times v. Sullivan ruling gives legal protection from libel when reporting on public figures.
• Ralph Nader publishes muckraking auto-safety book Unsafe at Any Speed.
• The holdout Boston Herald-Traveller stops running display ads on page one.
• Esquire publishes Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” a New Journalism classic.
• Freedom of Information Act signed, somewhat grudgingly, by President Lyndon Johnson.
Journalists have always struggled to count political crowds; their estimates are inevitably greeted by partisan calls for a higher or lower figure. In CJR’s Spring ’67 issue, Herbert A. Jacobs field tested a method based on crowd density and square footage. He had two advantages: as a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s journalism school, he described the campus as “activist, speech-prone, and rally-prone,” and Sproul Plaza, the locus of the Free Speech Movement, was helpfully divided into regularly-sized squares.
• New York Times prints Harrison Salisbury’s reporting from North Vietnam, drawing charges of treason.
• The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is established
• CBS anchor Walter Cronkite breaks with conventional ideas of objectivity and tells US its troops are “mired in a stalemate” in Vietnam.
• 60 Minutes debuts on CBS, pioneering the television newsmagazine format.
Missing a Massacre
Seymour Hersh was surprised by a representative officer’s reaction when he asked about the My Lai massacre: “I’ll never cease to be amazed that it hasn’t been written about before.” In an article adapted for CJR’s Winter ’69-’70 issue, Hersh wrote that “the notion that those men thought that the press had somehow fallen on the job is, well, significant.” In early September 1969, the AP briefly reported that Lieutenant William Calley would be charged with the murders “of an unspecified number” of Vietnamese civilians. It brought no follow-up. Hersh got on the story after a late-October tip; rejected by both Life and Look, Hersh published with the left-leaning Dispatch News Agency.
• Christian Science Monitor’s Robert Cahn, reporting on national parks, wins the first Pulitzer for work on an ecological issue.
• The Saturday Evening Post, once America’s most popular weekly magazine, suspends publication.
• Scanlan’s Monthly publishes Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” the first work described as Gonzo journalism.
• Newsweek’s female employees complain they are “forced to assume a subsidiary role,” and file a landmark discrimination suit.
A Pleistocene Pamphlet
The May/June ’71 CJR had a critique by eight female student journalists of a pamphlet from the Associated Press Managing Editors dripping with sexism (example: a woman’s sensitivities mandate “one-fourth of the criticism” given to male reporters). That fall, CJR ran the APME’s official response, contending the students’ feminism was “a hobbyhorse teetering to destination nowhere”:
A woman’s womanness shows up consistently… . In the newsroom she does extremely well on bread-and-butter news stories and often is unexcelled on features delineating people’s doings. If you assign her to unravel a complicated financial story she is apt to fall apart… . Women become excellent copy editors. They are patient, careful, cheerful, and the repetitive nature of the work does not seem to bother them.
We had no right not to print it. How could we say to ourselves that we have this information, which we do not consider classified, not bearing on military security; it is a treasure house of, not secrets, but insights into the process of government, and then say, sorry we’ll keep it to ourselves. That is not what the American press is all about.
—New York Times editor A. M . Rosenthal, interviewed about the Pentagon Papers,
Cable TV could change the way Americans live.
By installing a strip of copper wire within an sheath only slightly larger than a lipstick tube, one can bring to every home two-way, broad-band communications that can provide a whole galaxy of news services. These could encompass facsimile reproductions of documents, including possibly newspapers, magazines, and specialized information services
—from Stuart F. Sucherman’s “Cable TV: The Endangered Revolution,”
• CBS airs “The Selling of the Pentagon,” an exposé of the military’s taxpayer-funded public relations apparatus.
• The Supreme Court’s Pentagon Papers decision forbids prior restraint on publication without evidence of “grave and irreparable” damage to national security
Scribes Unite! (And Criticize.)
Newsrooms were not immune to the upheavals of the late sixties and seventies, as reporters agitated for greater power within their news organizations, and for aggressive and more inclusive journalism. One result: more than a dozen short-lived regional journalism reviews, which gave journalists, at some career risk, a platform to pique their employers. In special sections in 1971, ’72, and ’73, CJR published the best of their work. The movement that inspired the publications proved to be as ephemeral as the outlets; a writer in CJR’s November/December ’76 issue noted that, by then, “the reporter power ‘movement’ seemed little more than a memory.”
• Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward produce first joint Washington Post story on Watergate burglary.
• Branzburg v. Hayes hints at a constitutional basis for a journalist’s testimonial privilege.
• Tom Wolfe publishes The New Journalism anthology.
• Lansing, Michigan’s ACLU chapter begins a successful drive to have WJIM’s broadcast license revoked for blacklisting local politicians from TV coverage.
After CBS News’s Daniel Schorr obtained records of a 1971 FBI investigation of him done at White House demand, he wrote about them in CJR’s November/December ’74 issue, suggesting the episode had presaged the dirty tricks that eventually brought President Nixon down. Conducted under the laughable premise that the frequent Nixon antagonist was up for an executive appointment, the incident was incorporated in the House Judiciary Committee’s articles of impeachment. In 1973, Nixon was caught on tape downplaying, but admitting, this abuse of power: “We just ran a name check on the son-of-a-bitch.”
Jann Wenner seems anything but the embodiment of a counter-culture rock publisher. Indeed, in a dark blue suit, neat haircut, and gold wedding band, sipping Ballantine’s scotch, he looks like a slightly mod salesman for Merrill Lynch. Except that in the middle of an interview, he finished off the scotch, opened his leather attaché case, took out a small paper bag, poured some white powder onto his hand, and started sniffing it. “I hope this doesn’t start making me yak,” he commented rather disarmingly.
—from Peter Janssen’s “Rolling Stone’s Quest for Respectability,”
• NPR reads 22 hours of Watergate-related White House tape
transcripts on air.
• The Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Times’s joint operating agreement is the first antitrust exemption approved under the Newspaper Preservation Act.
• Sidney Schanberg reports for The New York Times from Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia.
• The Robert MacNeil Report, forerunner of the PBS NewsHour, debuts.
• Reporting from the 33,000-circulation Niagara Gazette boosts early investigations of toxic Love Canal site.
• Church Committee on Intelligence Activities claims 50 journalists on CIA payroll—subsequent reporting suggests number as high as 400.
On June 2, 1976, Don Bolles was mortally wounded in a Phoenix hotel parking lot when six sticks of dynamite exploded under his Datsun. In response, the Investigative Reporters and Editors professional organization, which Bolles had helped found a year before, sponsored The Arizona Project, a five-month collaborative effort to investigate the murder and organized crime in the state. Executives at the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times said they didn’t believe in group journalism, and declined to detail reporters.They, along with Bolles’s paper, The Arizona Republic, also declined to publish the resulting 80,000-word investigation. Melvin Mencher dissented in CJR’s November/December ’77 issue, claiming the team had exposed a corrupt “way of life long gone in most of the country,” and thereby “demonstrated the practicality of the team method,” setting the stage for today’s blossoming of collaborative reporting.
• Mother Jones reveals that tens of thousands of fire-prone Ford Pintos were knowingly sold.
• Washington Journalism Review, later renamed American Journalism Review, launches.
• The Chicago Sun-Times publishes investigation of payola and bribery at the Mirage, a decoy tavern set up by the paper.
• The New York Times starts a stand-alone business section.
In CJR’s March/April ’79 issue, Pulitzer winner Nick Kotz investigated the “shockingly slow and unacceptably limited” progress in integrating American newsrooms. Two-thirds of the nation’s 1,762 dailies still had not hired one non-white journalist; of the paltry 1,700 minority journalists, only 59 held positions of assistant city editor or higher. Kotz suggested that hiring editors wanted recruits with experience on smaller papers, but failed to recognize that such papers might be the most resistant to hiring minorities. The most diverse newspapers owed their success to internal advocacy by minority journalists, who pushed affirmative efforts “to seek out—and when necessary—train promising candidates.”
• The Progressive prints “The H-Bomb Secret” after a six-month court delay on the grounds the article would reveal classified information.
• Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network is founded.
• “Jimmy’s World,” Janet Cooke’s Pulitzerwinning profile of a heroin-addicted African-American child, later revealed as a fabrication, is published in The
• The Privacy Protection Act prohibits searches of newsrooms or reporters.
The Cable Box
In 1980, when CNN debuted, it launched “in a domain with no existing ground rules,” noted James Traub in CJR’s July/August ’81 issue. “The essence of CNN news, however, remains the two-minute morsel as brief as the typical network segment—and hence, inevitably as superficial.” Traub concluded that “Ted Turner and his boys” had demonstrated their professionalism and dented the networks’ dominance, but because they had failed to bring greater innovations “are not yet heroes—only pros.”
• The Atlantic publishes “The Education of David Stockman,” by William Greider, revealing Reagan’s budget director’s disenchantment with administration policy.
• The Washington Star ceases publication.
On November 20, 1980, the day after a homophobic shooting spree, New York Post reporter Joe Nicholson approached an editor and volunteered to write his “reaction as a gay person.” It was a pioneering move. Reflecting in the March/April ’82 CJR, Nicholson reported that the offer to write that never-published piece had made him the first and still only openly gay daily newspaper reporter in the city. “The Times will not print the word gay,” Nicholson wrote, and “neither the Post”—whose coverage he described as “frequently derogatory”—“nor the Daily News can be said to be eager to cover gay news.” His solution: “I don’t think gay news coverage will improve greatly until others come out.”
A New Kind of File
In CJR’s November/December ’82 issue, Steve Weinberg hailed “a decade of newsroom use” of computer-assisted reporting. One recent example: The Miami Herald, The St. Petersburg Times, and the Orlando Sentinel pooled $75,000 to rent time on a university computer, keying in their own database of campaign-finance reports. The project led to unprecedented stories on influence seekers and the state’s politicians—and allowed one Herald reporter to finally stop relying on a wall of sixty card-catalog boxes.
• Phillip Zweig’s articles in The American Banker predict the collapse of Penn Square Bank.
• CNN’s Crossfire debuts, bringing high-volume political debate programs to cable.
• After press restrictions have been lifted, The New York Times’s Stuart Taylor details “official misinformation” surrounding the invasion of Grenada.
• Anchorwoman Christine Craft goes to court claiming she was demoted because of her age and appearance.
Garry Wills scrutinized television’s lens on the Democrats’ 1984 national convention in San Francisco for CJR’s September/October ’84 issue, and concluded that the event and its coverage, like the election itself, now constituted “more a festive rite than considered debate.” Even so, having found noteworthy if superficial dissent on the way to Mondale’s nomination, Wills rejoined journalists ready to abandon conventions: “It is quite true that the outcome of a modern national convention is predictable, and looks preordained. Still, the conclusion of sexual congress is also supposed to be fairly standard; but how you get there matters.”
• NBC broadcasts “The Faces of Death in Africa,” a report on Ethiopian famine.
• The National News Council, founded in 1973 as a private, blue-ribbon adjudicator of press complaints, folds.
The format of the typical USA Today news story has changed so little since the paper’s 1982 debut that most of its editors and writers can recite it in their sleep: the short snappy “we” lead (as in “We spend much more than we save
,” “We eat our liver
”), a few paragraphs of elaboration and quotes, and, finally, what are known as “factoids”—the bulleted list of boiled down facts and statistics. At times, the paper’s highly
stylized formation has apparently had an effect even on people interviewed by USA Today: many of them have shown a suspicious willingness to talk in the first-person plural, and to refer to the United States consistently as “the USA.”
—from Tom McNichol and Margaret Carlson’s “Al Neuharth’s Technicolor Baby, Part II,”
• J. Anthony Lukas publishes Common Ground, his chronicle of Boston’s busing battle.
• The AP’s chief Mideast correspondent, Terry Anderson, is kidnapped in Lebanon and held hostage until 1991.
“I hope CJR isn’t going to call this journalism.”
—columnist Jack Germond, to a CJR reporter before an appearance on The McLaughlin Group,
• Alex Jones dissects Louisville Courier-Journal owners’ decision to sell in “The Fall of the House of Bingham”.
• Bill Cox, managing editor of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, reveals he has AIDS.
• The Miami Herald cripples Gary Hart’s presidential campaign by reporting on his infidelities.
• The Federal Communications Commission repeals the Fairness Doctrine, saying it is unconstitutional and ineffective.
Amid the chain consolidations of the eighties, Doug Underwood’s March/April ’88 CJR article, “When MBAs Rule the Newsroom,” captured an uneasy time. Editors “have begun to behave more and more like the managers of any other corporate entity,” focusing on marketing, readership surveys, budgeting, and management training. Underwood wrote that many reporters, used to employers that nurtured idiosyncrasies, independence, and irreverence, now felt unwelcome. Journalists complained that stories unappealing to target demographics were being given short shrift, and that personnel concerns were eating up midlevel editors’ time at the expense of copy. A seasoned Seattle Times reporter said he was denied a promotion after a company psychologist judged him a poor fit for the era, concluding he showed “little interest in paperwork or bureaucratic routine.”
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution publishes “The Color of Money,” a series on redlining and a hallmark in datadriven reporting.
• Supreme Court’s Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision curtails student journalists’ free-speech rights.
• The New Yorker publishes Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer”.
• Time Inc. and Warner Communications merge, creating the world’s largest media company.
Since Oliver North’s trial, I have talked to more than a dozen of the reporters who have methodically tried to connect the dots to fill in the Iran-contra picture. Their strongest complaints were reserved for their peers—those editors and colleagues who treated the subject of constitutional violations as academic or, worse, trivial, precisely because Congress had not responded with outrage. The press seemed to share, rather than challenge, Congress’s willingness to pass the buck.
—from Scott Armstrong’s “Iran-Contra: Was the press any match for all the president’s men?”
• PBS airs “Inside Gorbachev’s USSR,” a series by Hedrick Smith and Martin Smith detailing perestroika.
• Bloomberg expands its information services to include Bloomberg News, a financial wire service
Where is the right place to cover a war? After the Gulf War had ended, CJR’s May/June ’91 issue presented at least four perspectives. Christopher Hanson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer joined a Pentagon-controlled (and censored) press pool usually far removed from the battle, sarcastically noting that “at least we got to be part of the big adventure.” New York Times reporter Chris Hedges described quitting the pool system to become a “unilateral,” and donning a uniform and a military haircut to blend in among soldiers “who violated orders to allow us to do our job.” Another article judged CNN correspondent Peter Arnett’s decision to report from Baghdad under the thumb of Saddam Hussein’s press minders as a “close call.” And Michael Massing argued that the press’s front line ought to have been in Washington, where there was digging to be done: “This war needed fewer David Halberstams and more I. F. Stones.”
• There Are No Children Here, Alex Kotlowitz’s book about a family in a Chicago housing project, is published.
• In Masson v. New Yorker, the Supreme Court finds that quotations that distort the speaker’s meaning can be defamatory.
• Philadelphia Inquirer investigative team Don Barlett and Jim Steele publish “What Went Wrong,” their look at America’s weakening middle class.
• Arthur Sulzberger Sr. appoints Arthur Sulzberger Jr. publisher of The New York Times.
• Kevin Carter photographs a vulture stalking an emaciated Sudanese girl.
• Riding the Silicon Valley wave, Wired launches and breaks even in its first year.
After coming under fire for darkening O. J. Simpson’s mugshot for its cover Time’s managing editor took to an AOL chatroom to explain. Writing in CJR’s November/December ’94 issue, Jennifer Wolff reported that it was the first time a journalist of such stature had gone online to make “himself accountable.” So it was in journalism’s early Internet days: “Readers have unprecedented access to reporters and editors, and journalists enjoy the rare opportunity to learn with lightning speed what their audience is thinking.” Not all were so eager to embrace the scrum. Asked if his writers would entertain questions or opinions from online readers, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter demurred: “That’s what cocktail parties are for.”
• The New Republic publishes “No Exit,” Betsy McCaughey’s attack on the Clinton health-care bill.
• Hispanic, black, Asian, and Native American journalist groups host inaugural Unity Conference.
Citizen Journalism 1.0
In the nineties, a movement—known as “public” or “civic” journalism—held that the news industry could no longer, as Mike Hoyt described it in the September/October ’95 issue of CJR, “act merely as a mirror of events.” The call went out to provide forums for citizens and journalists to cooperate to help shape news agendas and forge consensus on important issues. Doubters worried about relinquishing authority and stepping away from traditions of objectivity, and derided the experiments (according to one 1994 tally, attempted in over 170 newsrooms) as little more than egotistical self-promotion. Enthusiasm and foundation support for public journalism waned by decade’s end, just as the Internet exploded the possibilities for citizens to craft their own information and civic landscapes.
For twenty-four days I tracked Tonya Harding for The Boston Globe as she moved from an obscure figure skater to a criminal defendant. No piece of information was too trivial. No effort too ridiculous. I endured the embarrassing experience of slipping in alongside a crowd of ten-year-olds at Harding’s rink, in the hopes that Harding’s coach could speak to me (she wouldn’t). I spent one chilly evening sitting in a rented car while a colleague looked in the windows of the cheaply built A-frame where Harding lived (trespassing by anyone’s definition). “I see some skates,” she said, nose at the glass. When she lifted up the lid on the garbage can, I said, ”Will you get in this car!” and reluctantly she did.
—from Jane Meredith Adams’s “My Twenty-Four Days on the Slippery Slope,”
• Alix Freedman of The Wall Street Journal exposes internal tobacco industry memos.
• This American Life, rejected by National Public Radio, goes on air at Chicago’s WBEZ as Your Radio Playhouse.
Smoke, but No Fire
When CBS and 60 Minutes neutered a story on the tobacco industry in fear of a multibillion-dollar lawsuit, it raised questions about the dangers of television networks operating within conglomerates. In CJR’s January/February ’96 issue, Lawrence Grossman, a former president of nbc News, wrote that while cbs executives had a duty to protect shareholders “from undue risk owning a company with a news division is one of the risks CBS stockholders take.” The network was a corporate sibling to a tobacco company, and a major lawsuit could have interfered with CBS’s pending sale to Westinghouse. Those entanglements were not a decisive factor in the story’s treatment, Grossman concluded, but their existence “almost demanded that CBS do whatever it reasonably could to put the piece on the air,” to avoid the perception that business interests had defanged a report in the public interest.
• The San Jose Mercury News publishes “Dark Alliance,” Gary Webb’s
investigation of crack dealing, the contras, and the CIA.
• Fox News, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera all launch.
• After 58 years, the San Francisco Chronicle publishes Herb Caen’s last column, which joshes the mayor for boarding a bus without exact fare.
• America’s last major newspaper strike ends in Detroit after 583 days.
Washington Rumor Mill
In CJR’s March/April ’98 issue, Washington veteran Jules Witcover took a look at the frenzied first days of reporting on the Lewinsky scandal. “The tabloids were hard pressed to outdo the mainstream,” he wrote, cataloging an array of sensational scoops (some false, many eventually proved true) with opaque, second-hand, or suspect sourcing. As “the story spread like an arsonist’s fire,” a poll found three-quarters of Americans thought the press was giving it too much attention, further tarnishing a news industry that “already struggles under public skepticism, cynicism, and disaffection.”
• The Drudge Report reports Newsweek has “spiked” a story on President Clinton’s affair with a White House intern.
• Spy magazine folds.
• The Associated Press reveals that during the Korean War, US soldiers killed perhaps hundreds of civilians at No Gun Ri.
• Los Angeles Times splits profits from a special section on the city’s new Staples Center with the arena’s owners.
• All television networks and The Associated Press call Florida, and the 2000 presidential election, for Vice President Al Gore.
• America Online and Time Warner’s merger creating the world’s largest media company gets antitrust approval.
Dan Rather’s dramatic, middle-of-the-night announcement of the Bush “win” is now part of election-night legend: “… a hip-hip hooray and a big Texas howdy to the new president… . sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall.” Upon recanting that grandiloquence, Rather told viewers: “If you’re disgusted with us, I don’t blame you.”
—from Neil Hickey’s “The Big Mistake,”
“To be a wise and skeptical journalist these days is to be a patriot.”
—from Mike Hoyt’s “Journalists as Patriots,”
• The New York Times memorializes the 9/11 victims through “Portraits of Grief”.
• Supreme Court decision in Tasini v. New York Times protects freelance authors’ digital copyrights.
• Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller’s co-authored story in The New York Times suggesting Iraq sought aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment bolsters case for war.
• While on assignment in Pakistan, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder is filmed and released by his killers.
The anecdote was chilling. In early 2003, a cable producer phoned an intelligence reporter to ask what he thought of the case supporting the invasion of Iraq. After the reporter offered a geographic analogy from the Vietnam era, the caller asked if he could please spell it: “T-O-N-K-I-N.” On the eve of the war, Ted Gup, writing in CJR’s March/April ’03 issue, warned that journalists must discuss the perils of intelligence: it is subject to political meddling, rarely conclusive, and has an uneven historical record. Gup pointed out that the main casus belli—that Iraq might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists—had been discounted only months before by CIA Director George Tenet. Gup quoted Washington Post veteran Walter Pincus saying any Al Qaeda-Iraq link was “clearly hyped.” He closed by suggesting the next generation would need to learn how to spell another place: “B-A-G-H-D-A-D.”
Are bloggers journalists? Will they soon replace newspapers? The best answer to those questions is: those are really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already. A more productive, tangible line of inquiry is: Is journalism being produced by blogs, is it interesting, and how should journalists react to it? The answers, by my lights, are ”yes,” “yes,” and “in many ways.”
—from Matt Welch’s “Blogworld and its Gravity,”
• Seymour Hersh’s reporting in The New Yorker examines how intelligence went wrong in the run-up to Iraq.
• Junior New York Times reporter Jayson Blair is revealed as serial fabulist and plagiarist, bringing down the paper’s two top editors.
• 60 Minutes II broadcasts photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
• CBS retracts story on Bush’s National Guard service, and launches investigation that will lead to Dan Rather’s departure from the network.
“News Corp.’s Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article yesterday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.” —Wall Street Journal, October 26
—from “Media 2004: Some not-so-high points,”
a list appearing in CJR’s January/February ’05 issue
• The New York Times prints Eric Lichtblau and James Risen’s warrantless wiretapping scoop.
• The Huffington Post launches as a mostly celebrity-written liberal opinion forum.
Prisoners of Convention
In CJR’s September/October ’06 issue, Eric Umansky praised American journalists for unmasking murder, torture, and abuse of detainees post-9/11. But on close examination he found an “ambiguous picture.” Despite the revelations, reporters struggled to trace responsibility up the chain of command. Stories were “buried, played down, or ignored” by doubtful or timid editors. When published, they often drew little follow-up. In the face of arguments that coercive interrogation was necessary, Umansky wrote that it took chutzpah on the part of journalists to suggest that detainee abuse was important and—by giving the mistreatment prominent coverage—“implicitly, wrong.” Before March 2004, when photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib changed the climate, Umansky concluded, “chutzpah was in particularly short supply.”
“The really horrible security situation in Iraq has made it not just terribly dangerous to report there but terribly, terribly expensive. The danger has chased a lot of reporters away. In ’03 and ’04 there were hundreds. And you never really saw them much until some muckety-muck would come to the Green Zone for a press conference, and everybody would crowd in and there were four or five hundred reporters. Now maybe there’s like fifty. There’s nothing—there’s nobody there.”
—from New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins’s quote in “Reporting Iraq, 2003-2006: An Oral History,”
• The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage explores George Bush’s use of presidential signing statements.
• McClatchy buys Knight Ridder, promptly selling just-acquired papers in Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Paul.
• Talking Points Memo connects the dots of the US Attorney firings.
• Politico launches after its founding editors decline an offer to build a similar site for The Washington Post.
• This American Life and NPR explain the origins of the financial crisis in “The Giant Pool of Money”.
• New York Times reporter David Rohde is kidnapped in Afghanistan; more than 40 news organizations will keep his captivity secret.
A Subprime Record
“These are grim times for the nation’s financial media,” began Dean Starkman’s May/June ’09 analysis of more than 700 significant articles preceding 2008’s financial crisis. While many journalists claimed their loud pre-crash alarms had been ignored, Starkman argued that line of
defense unwittingly made a case for the business press’s own “irrelevance—all that newsprint and coated paper, those millions of words, the bar graphs, stipple portraits” would have been for naught. When Starkman dissected the record, alongside many glossy corporate profiles he found some strong work; but what the public needed were “warnings that the Wall Street backed lending industry was running amok. It didn’t get them.”
From the Bottom Up
In CJR’s March/April 2009 issue, Amanda Michel explained the “pro-am model” behind The Huffington Post’s campaign 2008 OffTheBus project. She led a small team of professional editors who wrangled writing, editing, reporting, and fact-checking from at least 8,000 amateurs. Among many other stories, the project used volunteers with accounting skills to estimate how much money Bill Clinton brought into his wife’s campaign, and how much Obama’s made from branded merchandise. One participant sparked controversy, when, at a closed-door fundraiser, she recorded Obama saying he understood why voters might “cling to religion or guns.” Since pro-am relies on interested volunteers, Michel reasoned, it would require some rethinking of the role of objectivity in newsgathering but it could reconnect diminished newsrooms to their audiences while powering “critical collaborative-reporting projects.”
CJR’s running total of journalists laid off or bought out since January 2007 was 11,240 by mid-February, and we surely missed some. Our fear is that America won’t realize what it has lost until the press is a ninety-pound weakling—online, on paper, whatever. We see some faint reasons for hope. There is great and healthy innovation and ferment, both outside and inside the mainstream media, as journalists and engaged citizens collectively search for an economic support system for reporting. Connecting appetites and innovation to income will not be easy, but we don’t really have a choice.
—from “Reasons to Believe,” editorial,
• ProPublica’s Sheri Fink reconstructs the deadly choices made at a Hurricane Katrina-battered hospital, becoming the first journalist from an online outlet to win a Pulitzer.
• Detroit becomes the first major American city without daily home newspaper delivery
• WikiLeaks releases “Collateral Murder,” a leaked video showing the deaths of two Reuters employees.
• Newsweek reportedly sells for one dollar, and merges with The Daily Beast website.