The Weekend’s Good and Bad

Rudy don't know Iran, Gawker don't know Iraq.

First, the good.

A big knock against the “MSM” by partisans on both sides of the ideological divide has long been that reporters too often serve as barely disguised stenographers for whomever is doing the speaking. We’ve leveled this charge on more than one occasion, when we’ve felt that reporters hewed unnecessarily close to an impossible interpretation of what it means to be objective, rather than call someone on an obvious falsehood.

And with the 2008 presidential race already at full gallop, we expect the stenography charge to surge as politicians and their minions fire up the spin machines, and deadline-oppressed (and, let’s be honest, often bored) reporters crank out an endless stream of event-driven stories.

So it was refreshing, and encouraging, to see New York Times reporter Marc Santora’s Saturday piece about Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.

Speaking about Iran and terrorism, Rudy got a little sloppy, and instead of merely letting him spout off, Santora called him on the carpet. The last few paragraphs of the piece unfolded like this:

As for Iran, Mr. Giuliani said that “in the long term,” it might be “more dangerous than Iraq.”

He then casually lumped Iran with Al Qaeda. “Their movement has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he said.

Mr. Giuliani was asked in an interview to clarify that, inasmuch as Iran had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Further, most of its people are Shiites, whereas Al Qaeda is an organization of Sunnis.

“They have a similar objective,” he replied, “in their anger at the modern world.”

In other words, he said, they hate America.

While this isn’t going to break Giuliani’s campaign — unlike, say, John McCain’s stroll through Baghdad last week — it’s indicative of something we’d like to see more of: reporters taking an extra few minutes, and an extra few lines, (Santora did it in thirty-six words) to expose an absurd and inaccurate statement for what it is—an effort to muddy the waters of debate in order to score political points.

Now to the painfully lame.

On Sunday, one of Gawker’s weekend fill-ins thought it would be funny to e-mail the Times’ former Iraq correspondent Dexter Filkins with a jokey little query about Iraqi newspapers, asking him “What are the papers like on Saturday and Sunday over there in Iraq? Is it all arts, leisure, and reflective whimsy like it is here?”

If there’s anything worse than a bad joke, it’s a bad joke coming from a tone-deaf guest blogger. Arts coverage in Iraqi newspapers! Hilarious! When’s brunch?

Filkins didn’t seem to appreciate the joke either, writing back that, “I don’t think I’d be of much help. Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, and there isn’t much to say about arts and leisure there at the moment.”

Maybe we’re just cranky, but the folks at Gawker should probably just stick to the important work of linking to Page Six and dissecting the love lives of privileged Manhattan bloggers, and stop trying to be cute about the war. They’re punching above their weight.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.