Thomas Friedman writes:
I find Nasr’s firing troubling. Yes, she made a mistake. Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover. It undermines their credibility. But we also gain a great deal by having an Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-Christian female journalist covering the Middle East for CNN, and if her only sin in 20 years is a 140-character message about a complex figure like Fadlallah, she deserved some slack. She should have been suspended for a month, but not fired. It’s wrong on several counts.
To begin with, what has gotten into us? One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you — and your bosses scrambling for cover. A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias — but not for a message like this one.
What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.
Mr. Friedman and I agree that the CNN reporter shouldn’t have been fired.
Here I merely want to point out that even the standard he suggests is absurd. “Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover,” he writes. “It undermines their credibility.” Nonsense. Expressing condolences upon a death is the most natural thing in the world, and completely uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases. Had Tom Brokaw said, “My condolences to Nancy Reagan, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions,” would anyone have lifted an eyebrow? On several occasions, I’ve interviewed the families of people who died — one car accident, one murder victim, and the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, off the top of my head — and I expressed my condolences in every instance.
Did that undermine my credibility?
This is a tentative sketch subject to revision. Suggestions encouraged.
Liberals: X is a problem, and the government should do Y1 about it.
Voters: Yeah, X is a problem, but conservatives make good points about how Y1 isn’t the answer.
Liberals: X is an even bigger problem than before, and the government should do Y2 about it.
Conservatives: Opposition to Y1 was a winning issue for us five years ago. It’s probably smart to oppose Y2.
Voters: Overall we’re still with you, conservatives, but by a lesser margin, because this does sort of seem like a problem, yeah?
Liberals: X is an even bigger problem now. The solution Y3 is an urgent national priority.
Conservatives: The Founders would hate Y3. It’s European. In other words, socialist. Why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed?
Voters: Yeah, why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed? And Y3 is a flawed solution. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any conservative alternative for addressing X. And we’re sorta worried about X.
Liberals: We’re campaigning on Y3B. And you don’t even care about X.
Conservatives: We do so care about X. Look at this white paper from Heritage!
Voters: We’re divided on this issue, but the growing number of us who think it’s a problem trust the liberals more because it has never seemed like the conservative movement actually cared about addressing it, so much as opposing efforts to address it. Even when Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat proposed what seemed like very smart ideas for reform, they were basically chastised by some talk radio hosts and ignored by the whole right-of-center political establishment, which took advantage of the political landscape for short term electoral gain.
Liberals: We’re putting YC3 to a vote, and the American people support us enough to get it passed.
Conservatives: Rather than negotiate, we’re going to just oppose this outright. The people passing it are basically radical socialists. Anyone who compromises with them is a traitor.
Voters: Gee, we’d be more comfortable if this bill was improved by conservative insights. We’d maybe even prefer a totally different approach to reform if we’d been educated about one over a sustained period. On the other hand, maybe the liberals are right that this is necessary? We’re going to uneasily cross our fingers.
Liberals: Yay! We won! Also, yikes, we hope this goes over okay.
Conservatives: This is a catastrophic disaster. You’ll pay for it in November. Yay!
Voters: What contempt we have for all of you. Especially those of you currently in Congress.
Liberals: I know we’re in the minority now. But Z is a real problem. The government should do something about it.
Conservatives: We’re back in power!! Did you here how excited Rush was today about this huge victory for our side? What’s that? You said something about Z? We’re going to ignore you. What could go wrong? We’ve probably got a permanent majority now anyway. Right of center nation and all that.
Voters: How about some tax cuts? And no new wars, please?
If you haven’t already, go read this column, which has been making the rounds.
Okay, are you back?
The only possible way to respond is by imagining the writer engaged in a conversation about his ideas. All the lines spoken by the male in this video come directly from the column.
On the Fourth of July, Andrew Breitbart launched a new Web site, Big Peace, adding another vertical to his media empire. Its introductory post explains the timing. “It took nine months because this site has to be done right, and with Hoover Institution Research Fellow and bestselling author Peter Schweizer, we found the perfect editor,” Mr. Breitbart writes. “Because I am not a foreign policy or military expert, I needed to create a core editorial unit that represented the highest-end understanding of policy while at the same time bringing, at a time of war, a “boots-on-the-ground” perspective.”
What I find most interesting about Mr. Breitbart’s post is his invocation of journalistic standards. Here’s another key excerpt:
As the site’s resident skeptic of main stream media accountability, I have noticed that the amount of reporters and media outlets covering national security and the war has dwindled and skepticism over American military commitment has waned now that there isn’t a Bush or a Republican in charge. The war beat is getting short shrift. Big Peace was created to fill this void and to provide biased coverage.
The site is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, and pro-American but will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda. The unique mix of Schweizer, Gaffney, and Blackfive and our collective reputations will provide a check and balance.
Note that Mr. Breitbart doesn’t say he is launching a site to motivate the conservative base, or that he’ll publish propaganda so long as it serves conservative ends, or that the audience should treat the content on Big Peace as entertainment more than journalism — on the contrary, he is promising that Big Peace “will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda.”
He should be held to those standards.
And if it turns out that the site doesn’t live up to them, it should be noted that he has misled his conservative audience.
Should that happen, it wouldn’t be the first time. On Big Government, another site published by Mr. Breitbart, there remains a blog post wherein ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera is shown on hidden video. Mr. Vera appears to be offering to assist James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border so that they can work in a brothel. That is the impression that the audience of Big Government is given to this day, because Andrew Breitbart is convinced that ACORN was irredeemably corrupt — in all likelihood he is is right about that — and the moral code he is practicing in this instance is “the end justifies the means.”
What indefensible means does Mr. Breitbart employ? Well it turns out that Mr. Vera, confronted with undercover filmmakers claiming to be a pimp and a prostitute engaged in sex-trafficking, pretended to be willing to help them out only so he could gather information, which he quickly turned over to police, expressing concern about the possibility of human trafficking. In all likelihood, Mr. Breitbart didn’t know this when he published the video from ACORN’s San Diego office.
But he has long since become aware of Mr. Vera’s innocence. It is documented at length in this report published by the California Attorney General’s Office. If you read the narrative beginning on page 13 of that report, and compare it to the uncorrected blog post that still appears on Mr. Breitbart’s site — despite the fact that he and Mike Flynn, Big Government’s editor, have both been notified about the significant discrepancies — you’ll see how much you can trust the journalistic integrity of Mr. Breitbart and his sites.
Their unwillingness to correct the record on this matter, whatever their reasoning, is causing an innocent person, Juan Carlos Vera, to be unjustly portrayed online in a horrific manner that does not correspond to reality.
It is also interesting to read the lofty language that Mr. Breitbart uses to describe his newest site, and to compare it to the actual content on offer.