An innuendo-laden attack on Greenwald

Edward Jay Epstein has written an innuendo-laden column for The Wall Street Journal in which he strongly insinuates that filmmaker Laura Poitras and/or journalist/blogger/lawyer Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian criminally assisted Edward Snowden in leaking National Security Agency documents.

Epstein’s toxic brew of archly worded questions leads to the inescapable conclusion that he believes the two journalists ought to be investigated and possibly charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act.

Josh Stearns, who serves with Greenwald on the Freedom of the Press Foundation board, has some thoughts about journalism and the Espionage Act. He writes:

The First Amendment and press freedom questions that haunt the Espionage Act are particularly important right now. Changes in media and technology have put the tools of journalism and media making in the hands of more and more people, challenging old assumptions about who is a journalist and how journalism is done. Increasingly, independent journalists, nonprofit news outlets and citizens are playing critical roles in newsgathering and reporting on the most important issues of our time.

I don’t think Stearns gives sufficient weight to the idea that merely publishing leaked documents is, in fact, a violation of the law, and that investigative journalism depends on the hopeful notion that the government won’t use its authority. Otherwise, though, it’s a useful guide to the issues at stake.

More: Greenwald responds to the Epstein column in this Storify involving (mainly) Jeff Jarvis and Michael Wolff.

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For the Cape Cod Times, the beginning of the trail

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Image via Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum

You may have heard that a journalistic scandal is unfolding at the Cape Cod Times. A 59-year-old reporter, Karen Jeffrey, left the paper after editor Paul Pronovost and publisher Peter Meyer concluded she had fabricated sources in at least 34 stories dating back to 1998. Jeffrey had worked at the daily since 1981.

According to the apology that the paper has published, the fabrications appear to be restricted to “lighter fare,” and that Jeffrey managed to stick to nonfiction when covering hard news. That might help explain how she got away with it for so long. Then, too, fictional sources don’t call up the editor to complain.

Still, you have to wonder if anyone either inside or outside the newsroom harbored suspicions. This is a big deal — as bad as Mike Barnicle, Patricia Smith and Jayson Blair. The only difference is that Jeffrey’s downfall is playing out on a smaller stage. Count me as one observer who would like to know more.

Jim Romenekso covers the scandal here; Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon has more here; Walter Brooks of Cape Cod Today indulges in a little schadenfreude here.

Rupert Murdoch, believe it or not, actually owns the Times, a consequence of his having bought the Wall Street Journal and its affiliated properties five years ago. Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, a Murdoch protégé, is involved in managing the Times and other Murdoch-owned community papers.

Jeffrey’s reign of error began many years before the Murdoch era. But it will be interesting to see whether Purcell is heard from as this story unfolds.

Marty Baron leaves Globe for Washington Post

Marty Baron

Weeks of rumors and speculation came to an end a little while ago with the announcement that Boston Globe editor Marty Baron will replace Marcus Brauchli as executive editor of the Washington Post. The Huffington Post has memos from Baron, Brauchli and Post publisher Katharine Weymouth.

This is a very smart move for the Post and for Baron, who’ll have the opportunity to rebuild a faded brand. Not that long ago, the New York Times and the Post were invariably mentioned in the same breath. There’s still a lot of great journalism in the Post, but the paper these days lags well behind the Times.

Brauchli, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal, got off to a rocky start at the Post. In 2009 he and then-new publisher Weymouth got embroiled in very bad idea: to put together paid “salons” featuring Post journalists, corporate executives and White House officials. As I wrote in the Guardian, there was evidence that Brauchli knew more about the salons than he was letting on.

I take Weymouth’s decision to replace Brauchli with Baron — and Baron’s decision to accept the offer — as a sign that she’s grown in the job and was able to assure Baron of it.

Baron arrived at the Globe in July 2001 to replace the retiring Matt Storin. (Here’s what I wrote about the transition for the Boston Phoenix.) Baron was executive editor of the Miami Herald before coming to the Globe, but he also had extensive experience at the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Many observers believed his stint in Boston would be relatively short, and indeed he was considered for a top job at the Times less than two years later.

Instead, Baron ended up staying in Boston for more than 11 years, winning six Pulitzers, including the public service award in 2003 for the Globe’s coverage of the Catholic pedophile-priest scandal. He has been a solid, steady presence — a journalist with high standards who made his mark at a time when the newspaper business, including the Globe, was steadily shrinking. He also gets digital.

Last February, at an event honoring him as the recipient of the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award, Baron told journalists they should stand up against the fear and intimidation to which they have been subjected. You’ll find the full text of his speech here, but here’s an excerpt:

In this environment, too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear — fear that we will be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we will be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative, fear that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers will run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fear that we will offend someone, anyone. Fear, in short, that our weakened financial condition will be made weaker because we did something strong and right, because we simply told the truth and told it straight.

What’s good news for the Post is less than good news for the Globe. A new editor after 11 years of Baron would not necessarily be a bad thing, as every institution can benefit from change. But at this point it’s unclear who the candidates might be, and whether the next editor will come from inside or outside the Globe. And whoever gets picked will have a tough act to follow.

Baron will be a successor to the legendary Ben Bradlee and all that represents — the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and a boatload of Pulitzers. I think he was an inspired choice, and I wish him the best.

More: Peter Kadzis of The Phoenix has a must-read blog post on Baron’s departure. Great quote from an unnamed source: “On an existential level, I wonder if Marty gives a shit. He’s like a character out of Camus.”

Orwell, waterboarding and torture

Before the Bush-Cheney years, the New York Times and other large newspapers regularly referred to waterboarding as “torture.” After it was revealed that the United States was waterboarding terrorism suspects, those papers largely stopped. After all, President Bush explained in 2005, “This government does not torture people.”

So in true Orwellian fashion, editors decided that to describe waterboarding as torture would amount to a breach of objectivity, for no reason except that, all of a sudden, there were powerful people who disputed that characterization.

That is the conclusion of a paper released earlier this year by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Titled “Torture at the Times: Waterboarding in the Media” (pdf), the study includes the following findings:

  • From the early 1930s until 1999, the New York Times characterized waterboarding as torture in 44 of 54 articles on the subject (81.5 percent), and the Los Angeles Times in 26 of 27 articles (96.3 percent).
  • From 2002 to 2008, the New York Times referred to waterboarding as torture in just two of 143 articles (1.4 percent); the Los Angeles Times, three of 63 (4.8 percent); the Wall Street Journal, one of 63 (1.6 percent); and USA Today, not at all.
  • “[T]he newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.”

The study also finds that opinion writers at those papers were more likely to associate waterboarding with the T-word than were the news columns — further evidence that news editors deviated from the long-established understanding of what waterboarding really is in order to avoid being accused of anti-administration bias.

The study concludes:

The results of this study demonstrate that there was a sudden, significant, shift in major print media’s treatment of waterboarding at the beginning of the 21st century. The media’s modern coverage of waterboarding did not begin in earnest until 2004, when the first stories about abuses at Abu Ghraib were released. After this point, articles most often used words such as “harsh” or “coercive” to describe waterboarding or simply gave the practice no treatment, rather than labeling it torture as they had done for the previous seven decades.

The Shorenstein Center has documented a shocking abrogation of duty by our top newspapers in helping Americans understand what the Bush-Cheney administration was doing in their name.

The study came out in April. I’m writing about it now because the redoubtable Jay Rosen tweeted about it yesterday. This is important stuff, and I hope Rosen has given it the push it needs to become more widely discussed.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

What Murdoch really wants in New York

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the just-unveiled New York edition of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t have to beat the New York Times in order for Journal owner Rupert Murdoch to accomplish his goal. Murdoch only has to make the Times bleed.

Wall Street Journal blew Madoff story

Financial journalist and blogger Gary Weiss has been paying close attention to the congressional testimony of thwarted whistleblower Harry Markopolos — and finds that Markopolos says he tried to interest the Wall Street Journal in the Bernie Madoff story three years ago to no avail.

According to Markopolos, Journal reporter John Wilke was ready to leap in, but could never get clearance from his superiors.

Sickening. (Via Romenesko.)

WSJ photo blog is found

Photocolumn.org has tracked down the Wall Street Journal’s missing photo blog.

Credit where it’s due

Looks like photocolumn.org noticed the Wall Street Journal’s overly cavalier borrowing of Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” last Friday, beating Media Nation to the punch by three days. And now, photocolumn notes, the Journal’s version is gone. Wonder what happened?

Where does Rupert get his ideas?

After Alan Taylor launched “The Big Picture” on the Boston Globe’s Boston.com site earlier this year, he told an interviewer, “I know it’s totally copy-able.”

No kidding. Last week, the Wall Street Journal — not exactly known for its photojournalism — started a photo blog that was, well, identical to what Boston.com has been doing: a blog featuring huge photos of stories in the news and off the news.

The Journal even took the same name, “The Big Picture.” If you go there now, you’ll see that it’s been changed to “Photo Journal.” But I found last week’s version in Google’s cache, and I’ve reproduced it above. And “thebigpicture” remains part of the URL.

It’s a terrific concept: huge photos, mostly from the wires, of the sort that you’re bombarded with every day, but that you probably don’t really notice because they’re too small. “The Big Picture” invites you to look. As Melanie Lidman wrote in the American Journalism Review, “What sets his blog apart is its simplicity. Taylor lets the photos speak for themselves, one at a time, encouraging the viewer to scroll slowly down the page to take in the images.”

The Journal’s act blog thievery did not go unnoticed. Check out some of the comments, which, to the Journal’s credit, have been left intact:

I think it’s sad that a major news outlet like the WSJ lacks the creativity to come up with a blog name that isn’t already in use by another newspaper.

Agreed. If you’re going to lift someone else’s concept the least you can do is come up with an original name for it.

You couldn’t even change the name slightly? How about, “The Large Picture”? A hella-wicked ripoff, I tell ya! LOL!

“The Big Picture” is a great idea, and there’s no reason other news organizations can’t copy it. But for the Journal to steal the entire concept, right down to its name, without so much as a hat tip to the Globe and no original features of its own, seems like a bit much.

At least someone read the comments and changed the name.

Update: In a bit of irony, I discovered late today that I wasn’t the first to report this. See “Credit where it’s due.”

The skinny on the WSJ’s Obama story

That Wall Street Journal story claiming Barack Obama is too skinny and fit to be president turns out to have been not just stupid — it was a complete mess. Media Nation reader J.G. points to this Gawker explanation. Nice job, Rupert!