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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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Times approves another device for journo fakery

You'd have thought that after the (overdone) fuss over Jayson Blair and the (vastly, grotesquely underdone) fuss over Judith Miller and Iraq WMD, Chalabi, etc that the New York Times would have been taking a firm line on fakery, at least in its public statements.

The New York Observer finds otherwise [1].

Metro hack Alan Feuer has scribed the absurdly titled Over There: From the Bronx to Baghdad: Two Months in the Life of a Reluctant Reporter in which it appears that he claims to have fabricated copy he sent back to HQ.

There's a trick to it, though:
The book begins with his third-person narrator—“T.R.”, for “this reporter”—receiving his assignment in New York...

Referring to yourself in the third person is the first sign of madness - of megalomania, even. Or so I'd thought. For the Times journalist, however, it operates as an invaluable cut-out, insulating the writer from the consequences of what he writes:
In the front of the book, Mr. Feuer writes that it is “a book of recollected memory, not recorded fact.” According to Ms. Mathis, the paper concluded that “T.R.” is an unreliable narrator, but Mr. Feuer is a reliable reporter.

Of course, if it were just a single hack who had gone off the reservation, the story would hardly merit comment. But Feuer implicates Times culture editor Jonathan Landman as a fellow adherent of relativism [2]:
As for honesty, Landman seemed to grasp that moral honesty, intellectual honesty, even journalistic honesty did not, at all times and in every case, require a strict adherence to the facts. Which is not to say that Landman lied. He was rather that rare soul who seemed to comprehend that good reporting was not an end to itself but served the purpose of the story, and who understood that underneath the epistemic truth of any story lay a different truth, a difficult and human truth, that did not match, or could not always be contained, by the cold arithmetic of fact …. Landman’s honesty was an impressionistic honesty.

Readers may find this reminiscent of a dispute that arose at the beginning of 2004 in relation to a piece by Peter Landesman (many pieces here) on alleged sex slaves in the New York Times Magazine called The Girls Next Door. The author, as I recall, shared something of the views that Feuer attributes to Landman (no relation, so far as I know).

In the course of the Landesman dispute, a gulf was identified between the values of news and features journalists. Perhaps, the Feuer Furore is more of the same.

  1. If not there, try archives.

  2. Unless Feuer is lying, and the Times is too shame-faced to admit they hired another fabulist, and show him the door.

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