The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, October 09, 2004
 

Pre-emptive cringing in the media - the WSJ and the Baghdad Email


The case of Wall Street Journal journo Farnaz Fassihi and her email with the real dope on conditions in Iraq has been all over - so I've stayed away.

Jay Rosen has a piece which usefully rounds up links to the original and the commentary. His line is: why couldn't the stuff in the email have made it into the paper?

Why, indeed. There's nothing shocking there in style or content: the value comes in the confirmation, from a source liable to be as unbiased and knowledgeable as one could hope for, of allegations already widely disseminated.

The shock comes in the reaction of WSJ: they freaked out. Could not have been more defensive if the woman had accused them of fiddling their circulation numbers. They came down on the story, if not on the journo, like a ton of bricks.

Managing Editor Paul Steiger's press release said:
Ms. Fassihi's private opinions have in no way distorted her coverage, which has been a model of intelligent and courageous reporting, and scrupulous accuracy and fairness.

And, he might have added, she's also not guilty of bestiality and arson in a naval dockyard!

The reaction from the paper is utterly hysterical: it even gets into questions of Fassihi's vacation arrangements (she returned to the US for a scheduled vacation period), thus fuelling rumours that she was recalled in disgrace over the email.

Is this post-Rathergate, election-fevered corporate ass-covering? What contacts, one wonders, have WSJ management had over the issue with representatives of USG, or the Bush campaign?

And note the evil effects of the doctrine of objective journalism here (inveighed against in several dozen earlier pieces here): the weapon forged by the press for its own moral self-aggrandisement so often, as here, turned against it by those wishing to control or skew its output.

Merely by making the absurd claim that objectivity is a goal that can be achieved, the press has offered a giant wedge to the spinners and chiselers: the effectiveness of their complaints is greatly assisted by their being able to point to a press falling short of its own standard; and, since that standard is absurdly unrealistic, the opportunities to make such complaints are artificially multiplied [1].

Chances of the combined ranks of Big Media recanting the odious doctrine? About the same as their giving up anonymity for Administration spokesmen!

  1. The obsession with empty formulas is, I believe, a mark of Spain in the eighteenth century; a hollowed-out polity, fit for a power capable of laying claim to half the world (which resulted in the Treaty of Tordesillas), absurd for a decayed and feeble relic: not so much the Sick Man of Europe, more the Miss Havisham!

    The gross Baron Ochs in Strauss' Der Rosenkavelier refers with some disgust to spanische Tuerei in the Hapsburg court of Maria Theresa: the notion of objective journalism is equally other-worldly, but does much more damage in this one.



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