The Times' Jill Abramson is Coming to Town. Be Sure to Follow Her Speech on Twitter.

Categories: Schutze

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Jill Abramson, executive editor of my favorite daily newspaper, The New York Times, will speak in town a week from tomorrow, 10 days later than originally planned. Her announced topic will be the same thing that delayed her: "The Boston Marathon Tragedy: 'Quality Journalism's Role in the Hyper Speed News Cycle.'"

For what's probably a pretty good preview of her remarks, I refer you to the op-ed piece by Times "public editor" Margaret Sullivan that ran Sunday, called "A Model of Restraint in the Race for News." Sullivan said of the paper:

"On Wednesday, it stayed on the safe side of 'the Rubicon of inaccuracy' -- in the words of Jill Abramson, the executive editor. That regrettable river was crossed, in a bizarre chain of events that was painful for any journalist to watch, by CNN, by the normally cautious Associated Press, and by many others who cited unnamed law enforcement sources."

Ah, the "Rubicon of Inaccuracy," or, as we call it in the biz, "Old Man River." We've all toted that barge at one time or another, haven't we? In fact, Abramson's trip down that river occurs at an especially ironic moment here in Dallas, if she's really going to brag about not making any mistakes on the Boston bombings, which I assume she will.

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Jill Abramson
This week those of us who travel down the city's central corridor have been driving by bitter reminders of a much, much bigger bombing story 10 years ago, "Shock and Awe" in Baghdad, subject of protests outside the just now opening George W. Bush Policy Center, self-described as an "action-oriented think-tank." In terms of the death and dismemberment of innocent women, men and children, Boston was bad, but it didn't hold a candle to Baghdad. Not even a match.

If memory serves -- it does -- The New York Times blew Baghdad. Big time. The New York Times didn't just get the reporting wrong after it happened. The paper actively promoted the war beforehand in its news columns, publishing stories promising the existence of weapons of mass destruction written by a reporter described later very obliquely as having been "too close to her sources."

I know the Times did a mea culpa afterward, ending with this promise: "We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight." Indeed, since then the paper has done a lot of good reporting on WMD.

But what about setting the record straight on TCTHS (too close to her sources)? Close how? Close what? How does that work exactly? How close do you have to be? If we're going to get all juicy about CNN's John King blowing the arrest story in Boston, how about some juicy details on TCTHS?

All of the old-school news media, not just the Times by any means, are making a last stand for the industry by trenching themselves in around a castle of so-called professionalism. We should trust them because they're so good at what they do. But is that true?

Do I have to mention Baghdad again? Maybe they're good at getting the cop-shop stories pretty right as they're breaking, mainly by being slow and allowing themselves to get scooped every hour on the hour. But what about the big stuff where it's much harder for us to see them at work? And by the way, when did getting scooped become a good thing? Is that what they teach now in the J schools? In the vocabulary of the new media, I must say both OMG and LOL!

Anyway, I never believed journalism was a profession. It takes more technical knowledge to sell aluminum siding. The arguments for professionalism always start with a box score on Pulitzer Prizes, which most people outside the business probably think have something to do with dress design. And then, as in Sullivan's piece, we always get a lurid catalog of bad mistakes made by naughty less than professional people, with an implicit suggestion that only the slow and deliberate pros can protect us from contamination by bad info, mainly by stalling us on the story.

But what protects a reader from bad information about WMDs? In the old days when daily newspapers were aggressively and intensely competitive with each other, it was that -- the competition. Every daily in a market scoped out every other daily hoping for an error to stick in the enemy's eye, while living in dreadful fear of making itself vulnerable to the same attack. In fact the closest thing to real integrity in the news business has always been competitive anxiety.

That was how it was always supposed to work. It was always supposed to be the reader, scanning competing versions of the truth, who would be its judge and final arbiter. The suggestion that truth could ever be trusted to some kind of journalistic priesthood would have made the founding fathers toss their cookies.

For that, I always go back to Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson, architect of the First Amendment, believed fervently in a free press, arguing its existence was more essential to the survival of democracy than any of the three branches of the federal government. But when he was asked what he thought about the people who actually did the work, Jefferson said, "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."

It was all crap, in other words. But if the reader had access to enough of it, and if there was true competition between the purveyors of the crap, the reader, in her or his wisdom, would ferret out the bread-crumbs of truth in the forest of crap. In terms of Boston Marathon coverage, what does that sound more like to you -- The New York Times or Twitter?

My own bias here is transparent. The invention of a journalistic priestly order of professionals not only fails to replace competition as a basic engine of truth. It's a scam that operates directly against the truth. Every time I hear journalism described as a profession, I want to bring in Ricky Jay.

My wife and I wrecked a good vacation glued to two iPads, two phones and a Kindle with a really bad web browser scarfing up every bit of junk we could get about Boston and West. I'm always going to go with the crazy, messy, wildly inaccurate, uncannily accurate goulash of information that crashed over the world last week from the linkosphere.

Hey. I go with the Times, too. I said it was my favorite daily. I meant it. But I don't go with it first, and I won't go with it forever. Somehow I don't see the linkosphere ever being remotely capable of ginning up a whole war against another nation no matter how close it gets to its sources, precisely because it's so crazy, so wild and always gnawing off its own paws.

Give me crazy I can see any day, as opposed to something called "too close to her sources" that I can't see because it hides behind a wall of ersatz professionalism. Somebody asked me once when I decided I wanted to be a reporter. Thought about it. Told him I never did. I always wanted to be a reader. Now there's a real profession for you. By the way, do they get prizes?


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14 comments
Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Add this to your NYT list "Conservative bloggers cheered The New York Times on Friday for a 5,000-word investigative report dissecting abuse of a federal program to compensate farmers who had faced discrimination that writers on the right said vindicated the work of one of their icons — the late Andrew Breitbart."

 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@Scott

I hope you are not as right as I believe you are. The US has fostered a possible tripartite alliance among Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Egypt is a frightening open question. Democracy is just a another way to choose bad leaders, take civilized Russia as an example, without the supporting institutions. We need to be more careful for that we wish.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Pity Jim, stewing over the spilt milk of Baghdad.  They say they've learned their lesson, but they're doing the same thing in Syria.  Assad isn't shooting police, blowing up car bombs, those are the terroristic actions of those we're arming, providing command control intel/info, funding and recruiting for.  Jim, go check those sources on Syria, every last one is with the Salafists terrorist we're arming.  This is another story fitted to print.  The grey lady is really shaming herself.  It's more like a Rose for Emily, sick, demented, and everyone is doing their best to keep up pretenses.  You give Jill Abramson too much credit.  Furthermore, the Times has never been liberal on foreign policy--don't be so stupid to fall for that "liberal NYT" crap.  They're more likud than Bibi.

Fred
Fred

Jason Blair and Walter Duranty, the Times too biggest professional goof, are still loved the by Times staff.  accuracy be damned as long as the editors and upper management can get into the popular crowd and screw the folks trying to find facts.

Fred
Fred

Jason Blair and Walter Duranty, the Times too biggest professional goof, are still loved the by Times staff.  accuracy be damned as long as the editors and upper management can get into the popular crowd and screw the folks trying to find facts.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

lets hope she doesnt threaten to throw Joe off of a 2 story parking garage

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

Jim, the NYT long ago ceased to be neither the newspaper of record nor did it have "All The News That's Fit To Print."

When it had to issue an appalling correction to it's story on Pope Francis's first Easter message by it's own Vatican reporter who told readers this:

"Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life."

C'mon. It may be a shame for journalism, but irrelevancy is calling.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@Fred no, Judith Miller is the most notorious former Times employee.  She was publishing pure propaganda, she was the reporter Jim was writing about.

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

@JimSX @OakParkStudio The correction read: "An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter." It is the celebration of Jesus's resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven."

As if any follower of Jesus ever believed he was "resurrected into heaven."

Hardly something to be overlooked in my opinion.

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