Monday, June 09, 2003

Speaking of lies, there's been a lot of tooth-gnashing recently on the left about lies, distortion and plaigiarism -- on the left. The Guardian, with its distorted quotes and fabricated meetings. The endless hair-shirt laments over disgraced Times reporter Jayson Blair, which has most lately claimed the two top editors at the paper as victims. (See for example the Poor Man, who takes the lead in Guardian-bashing -- though, unsatisfied with this attack on such a soft target, he has gone on to fire himself for referring to Brit Hume's head as "galaxy-sized", even though it is signficiantly smaller than most major galaxies). And in our own little corner, there's the continuing rain of stones hurled toward The Agonist.

Let's put this in context, with another set of stories in the New York Times. As Howard Kurtz reported a few weeks ago (and many, many bloggers picked up), Times reporter Judith Miller very nearly bragged in email to another Times reporter that

I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.

Let's say that again: the source of numerous front-page exclusives on Iraqi WMD in the New York Times was Ahmed Chalabi -- a convicted embezzler and soi-disant "exile leader" who had left the country as a child and had barely ever been back. But he had gained powerful friends in the American defense establishment (by spending years telling them what they wanted to hear), so uncritically reporting whatever he was making up was, I gather, acceptable.

Now, I'm not defending Jayson Blair. Making stuff up about, say, a POW's home is unacceptable. But these fabrications, as egregious as they may have been, didn't have much lasting impact on national policy. Miller's front-pagers, several, over years, arguably did. And she hasn't even faced a reprimand.

The Guardian and the Agonist, for their parts, were both quick to acknowledge their sins and publish corrections -- which is more than the Times has done for years' worth of unsubstantiated stories about Whitewater (and an endless rain of calumnies on the editorial page, penned by Howell Raines, which his latter-day critics seem never to mention).

Nobody's perfect. In particular, no one of the left. But the Times's errors don't uniformly tend in any particular direction -- though (as Daniel Davies notes in the comments here) its true bias, to my eyes, is towards stenography to the powerful, and against the notion that its well-placed and well-groomed sources might nevertheless be full of shit.

Now, can we get back to talking about the news?

One last thing: I'm not going to cheer for plaigiarism. But let's remember who's the victim. It's not so much the readers, as the other writers whose work was ripped off unacknowledged. To my way of thinking, it really isn't as bad as publishing as fact reports that you know, or should have known, to be suspect. I've seen Jayson Blair described as a "plaigiarist", but he wasn't -- finding reliable sources to plaigiarize would have served readers better than what he actually did, which was to just make things up. Which is worth remembering in, say, the case of the Agonist, who attributed snippets of Stratfor briefings to "his sources", without acknowledging the source was Stratfor. Sean-Paul Kelly and the Stratfor crew seem to have made their peace about this affair, which puts the bloggers who are still worked up about it in a somewhat peculiar position.

Oh, see also Calpundit regarding the Times.


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