May 17, 2005

I WAS ON HUGH HEWITT'S SHOW EARLIER, with Jay Rosen, talking about the Newsweek scandal. Hugh seemed to think that Newsweek should be at risk of legal action. I didn't agree, and neither did Jay. (The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, seem to agree with Hugh).

Jay and I did agree that Newsweek's admission of ignorance regarding the consequences of its reporting was truly stunning. And Jay seemed surprised that my warnings about the consequences for freedom of the press of such irresponsibility were just that: warnings, not a desired state. But they are. Today's expansive press freedom, which I support wholeheartedly, is of recent origin (essentially, it's a post-World War II phenomenon) and not to be taken for granted. Remember all the talk about the Enron scandal, and how free enterprise was at risk if greedy corporations didn't clean up their acts? Well, I'm afraid that press freedom is at risk if it's seen as a vehicle for out-of-touch corporations to peddle defective products without fear of consequences. (Ironically, the rise of blogs and other people-based media -- "we-dia" as Jim Treacher calls them -- may be the best defense against that).

Both Jay and I rated this scandal an 8 on a scale where RatherGate was a 10. While there will be specific consequences, for Newsweek and its staff, the bigger damage will be yet another incremental loss of press credibility. I'd rather have a press that was trusted, and trustworthy. We're still some distance from that, I'm afraid.

There will be a transcript up at Radioblogger, later.

UPDATE: Comments on how the press is handling all this -- in a word, badly -- here.

You know, when I used to watch old war movies, I never understood the scene where a character would ask "don't you know there's a war on?" Of course he does, I'd think, It's a war movie, for Chrissake!

In the real world, however, it seems less obvious to some people. To the Newsweek folks this was a minor domestic "gotcha" story, and they seem to have completely missed the fact that in wartime, where the enemy is using this sort of thing as the centerpiece of its propaganda campaign, it's a lot more than that.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh writes:

Speaking personally, I have a great many things on my To-Do List that take precedence over a war with the mainstream media, and contrary to the import of these moronic conspiracy theories, I would love to work hand-in-glove with the mainstream media to ensure a somewhat interesting and educational debate. And here's a news flash: I have this belief--call me nave, but I hope that you would be wrong in doing so--that bloggers on the other side of the ideological and partisan divide have the exact same wish.