Tuesday, December 11, 2018

TIME CHOOSES JOURNALISTS AS "PERSON OF THE YEAR"

Bravo! to Time magazine choosing a group of journalists as their "Person of the Year." A great reminder of what many news people go through to bring the truth out in the age of abuse, assassinations and Donald Trump. 

The deserved honorees and horribly treated news people include murdered newsman Jamal Khashoggi, who is the first deceased person to win the honor, according to editors. Also the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, where five journalists were murdered; defiant international reporter Maria Ressa; and two jailed Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, each sentenced to seven years "for defying the ethnic divisions that rend that country (and) ... documenting the deaths of 10 minority Rohingya Muslims."

Read the great story HERE and see Time's insightful video on the choices below:

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A MURDERED JOURNALIST'S FINAL COLUMN AND A PRESIDENT'S DECEPTIVE BUSINESS TOP MUST READS TODAY

There are two important news items online today.

First, the final column from murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, in which he emphasizes yet again how tyrannical governments are suppressing rights and press freedom.

Read it HERE.

You can also hear my Joe's Media Corner podcast talking to experts about Saudi Arabia's history of poor press treatment HERE.

Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah offered this note with the column explaining how it came about on his last apparent day alive:

I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. 

This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.

Also out this week is a great ProPublica investigation into the Trump Organization's history of misleading business colleagues and clients.

Among it's findings:

The Trumps were typically way more than mere licensors or bystanders in their often-troubled deals. They were deeply involved in these projects. They helped mislead investors and buyers — and they profited handsomely from it. 

Patterns of deceptive practices occurred in a dozen deals across the globe, as the business expanded into international projects, and the Trumps often participated. One common pattern, visible in more than half of those transactions, was a tendency to misstate key sales numbers.

See that report in full HERE.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

WASHINGTON POST BEEFING UP ELECTION COVERAGE FOR 2020

If you think election coverage won't be big during the next two years, check out this ad for election reporters posted today at The Washington Post:

The Washington Post is looking for six reporters and an editor to expand our team covering the 2020 presidential election. 
These are once-in-a-lifetime jobs. 

The coming presidential campaign will be as hard-fought, captivating and consequential as any in recent memory, and The Post is committed to building on its leading role in political coverage. We are looking for reporters who can do it all: travel extensively, deliver scoops, spot off-beat tales, capture pivotal moments and write about the candidates in a revealing and compelling way. We also want people who are as eager to provide aggressive coverage of the administration that follows the election as they are the campaign. After the election, we will use these six additional reporting positions for increased accountability of the executive branch, although some individual reporters may end up remaining on the politics team or moving on to other areas of coverage. 

The ideal editor candidate relishes breaking news, has a proven ability to manage a large and collaborative team, and has an eye for innovative storytelling. We want someone who can shape and elevate a story and who enjoys working with photographers, graphic artists and videographers to find new ways to tell it. 

Applicants should send a letter describing their approach to political reporting, a resume and five clips to Peter Wallsten (peter.wallsten@washpost.com) and Tracy Grant (tracy.grant@washpost.com) by Oct. 22. In the subject line, please note “Election Editor” or “Election Reporter.”

Thursday, October 4, 2018

DAILY NEWSPAPER CIRCULATION DOWN 10%

This is not great news, from the Pew Research Center, among the best sources for media and other information:


State of the News Media: Newspapers Fact Sheet

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 13, 2018) – The newspaper industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the early 2000s. A new Pew Research Center analysis of Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data finds that in 2017 the estimated U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11% and 10%, respectively, from the previous year.

Since 2004, Pew Research Center has published analyses of key audience and economic indicators for a variety of sectors within the U.S. news media industry. Instead of a single summary report, the Center now produces a series of fact sheets showcasing the most important and trendable data points for each sector in an easy-to-digest format. Today’s fact sheet focuses on the newspaper industry. Additional fact sheets will be rolled out over the coming months.

Among the key findings for newspapers:

Total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2017 was $16.5 billion, a 10% decrease from 2016 based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11 billion, which is changed only slightly from 2016, up by 3%. Meanwhile, digital advertising accounted for 31% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2017. The portion stood at 29% in 2016.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, there was an average of 11.5 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) to the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, according to comScore data. This is nearly the same as in 2016 (11.7 million), making this the first year that did not show a double-digit rise in web traffic since Pew Research Center began tracking the trend.

Average minutes per visit to the websites of the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, is about two-and-a-half minutes. This is roughly the same as 2016.

Despite overall declines in newspaper circulation, digital circulation rose for some national newspapers. In recent years The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have not fully reported their digital circulation to AAM, the group that audits the circulation figures of many of the largest North American newspapers and other publications. However, in independently produced reports, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported large gains in digital circulation in 2017: 42% for the Times and 26% for the Journal. But because these independently produced figures may not be counted under the same rules used by AAM, they are not included in the overall circulation analysis.

Average circulation for the top 20 U.S. alt-weekly newspapers is just over 55,000, a 10% decline from 2016 according to data from AAM, Verified Audit Circulation, Circulation Verification Council and independently produced reports. Alt-weekly newspapers are generally distributed for free in many U.S. cities and are heavily focused on arts and culture content.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, 39,210 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers or film and video editors in the newspaper industry in 2017. That is down 15% from 2014. Median wages in 2017 were about $49,000 for newspaper editors and about $34,000 for newspaper reporters.

Read the report: http://www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/newspapers/  


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

SEVERAL WHITE HOUSE REPORTERS NEED SECURITY DUE TO "CREDIBLE THREATS"

WHCA President Olivier Knox
At least three White House correspondents have obtained a security detail to protect them from "credible threats," according to White House Correspondents Association President Olivier Knox, who said the threats were at least in part caused by the ongoing anti-press view of many, including President Donald Trump. 

Knox spoke to me this week during an interview for my new podcast, Joe's Media Corner, which can be heard HERE.

"Until the Trump era I am not aware of any of my colleagues needing security details," Knox said during our interview on Tuesday. "There are several reporters in the press corps who need a security detail because they've had credible threats against their safety ... I know of three but I'm sure there are more. People tend to keep this hush-hush because they don't want to encourage people." 

Knox did not have the logistics of the security and declined to name specific people, but said "there has always been a fringe element that threatens reporters ... but you now have a president who encourages his followers to jeer at us and insult us and talks about how he will pay the legal fees of people who will beat up protesters and it trickles down."

Knox said the anti-press view dates back to when Trump first called out the press as outlaws soon after his inauguration.

"I still divide my career into pre- and post-February of 2017 because that's when the president called us the enemies of the people," he said, later noting that soon after that he was dropping his child off at a soccer practice and the boy "burst in to tears and said, 'Papa, is President Trump going to put you in prison?' That hits home and it also tells you the reach of the president's rhetoric on this stuff."

Knox, who became White House Correspondents Association president this past summer, also detailed what the organization does beyond the annual dinner, how the group is working to improve access to information, the recent cutback in daily briefings and how Trump is actually accessible in other ways. Listen HERE.

CHECK OUT MY NEW MEDIA PODCAST


I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new podcast: Joe’s Media Corner, which I hope to make at least a weekly production.

It will be found regularly at www.joesmediacorner.com and offer interviews and insight into a vast array of media issues and outlets  - from newspapers to broadcast and cable to the Internet and more. 

With my 30-plus years in journalism -- 18 of them on the media beat -- I hope to provide a different take on today’s news and media landscape, similar to what I post here, that goes outside of and beyond the expected issues and coverage. 

My first podcast, posted today, offers an in-depth interview with White House Correspondents Association President Olivier Knox. He discusses his take on the ongoing battle over press access in the White House, which he reveals has sparked at least three of his colleagues to obtain their own security detail due to threats.

You can find out more and listen to the first episode at www.joesmediacorner.com.

If you are interested in advertising or have any other views or information you can reach me at joe@joesmediacorner.com. More information on my background can be found at www.joestrupp.com.

Also, lookout for my new book on media issues and the real problems and challenges today’s news outlets face. 

It is set for publication in mid-October. More on that to come.

Thanks for reading and listening. 

Best, Joe

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

WHAT YALE'S STUDENT PAPER IS REPORTING ON KAVANAUGH

When reporting on campus-related stories, the best sources are often the campus news outlets themselves. Yes, run by students, but also by those who are on-site and in class everyday. These outlets can often give the best inside view.

After February's Parkland High School shooting that left 17 dead, The Washington Post profiled the campus newspaper and relayed how it reported on the tragedy. Following the deadly Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, I urged that a special Pulitzer Prize be offered to the school's Collegiate Times for its great breaking coverage of the events.

And when Michigan State University came under the cloud of sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, a sports physician convicted of assaulting more than 100 women, the Michigan Daily did yeoman's work revealing the truth to power.

So to get a handle on the latest accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh related to his time on campus at Yale University, a look at the Yale Daily News found an interesting take on the fraternity he joined more than 30 year ago: Delta Kappa Epsilon.

One of his two accusers, former classmate Deborah Ramirez, has claimed that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and made offensive advancements during their time at the university. 

The Yale student paper on Sept. 20, went back and uncovered some disturbing background on the fraternity he joined at the time. This was days before Ramirez's accusations were even made public and not long after the first accusations by Christine Blasey Ford claimed Kavanaugh had assaulted her during his time at Georgetown Preparatory School.

The Yale Daily News story stated, in part:

"...in his first year of college, Kavanaugh joined an organization notorious for disrespecting women: the campus chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
 
DKE Members in 1985 waving a flag of female underwear.Yale Daily News.
A photograph that appeared in the Yale Daily News on Jan. 18, 1985, shows Kavanaugh’s fraternity brothers waving a flag woven from women’s underwear as part of a procession of DKE initiates marching across Yale’s campus. Kavanaugh does not appear in the photograph. But the portrait it paints of casual disrespect for women seems noteworthy in light of the explosive allegation by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her at a high school party almost 40 years ago. 

In the 1985 photo, the DKE pledges — “fondly known as ‘buttholes,’” according to the caption — brandish a flag made of underwear and brasiers as they march outside Woodbridge Hall, Yale’s central administrative building. At the time, Bartlett Giamatti, the University’s president, was a former DKE brother himself. 

Although the flag may seem shocking by today’s standards, the photograph appeared in 1985 under the tongue-in-cheek headline “DKE AT PLAY.” At the time of the escapades, Kavanaugh — who does not appear in the photo — was a sophomore, already inducted into the fraternity.

In a letter to the editor published in the News three days later, a Yale student, Rachel Eisler ’86, charged that DKE’s pledge antics “demean women.” She wrote that she approached one of the pledges carrying the flag to ask whether any briefs or jockstraps were affixed to the pole. “Well, I didn’t make it,” the pledge responded, according to the letter. He then said he doubted that any “guys’ stuff” would be woven into the flag.

“‘But hey,’” he told the female student, according to the letter. “‘Your panties might be here!”

The Yale Daily News has also been covering on-campus protests this week as many students speak out against Kavanaugh's nomination.

The student publication at Georgetown Preparatory School, where Kavanaugh attend high school and where the first accusation of sexual assault arose, has not been published since the summer. 

But a search of the school's website finds a strong letter to students and staff from Rev. James R. Van Dyke, the school's president, issued on Sept. 20. 

The letter describes the backlash the school has received as "a challenging time" and also urges that respect for women be upheld. It adds, in part:

 It is a time for us to continue to evaluate our school culture, as we do each day, and to think deeply and long about what it means to be "men for others," what the vaunted Prep "brotherhood" is really about. It is a time to continue our ongoing work with the guys on developing a proper sense of self and a healthy understanding of masculinity, in contrast to many of the cultural models and caricatures that they see. 

And it is a time to talk with them honestly and even bluntly about what respect for others, especially respect for women and other marginalized people means in very practical terms—in actions and in words. We are keenly aware that they are young men—adolescents—and that these lessons are often hard to learn because they ask young men to move beyond their natural insecurities and self-concern and to push beyond what is presumed in so much of popular culture. But we know it is vital and that it will take time and effort and great adult role models. I am proud that our faculty and staff are embracing this work with all their heart.

It's also been tough to see the caricature that we have been painted with by some: that we are somehow elitist, privileged, uncaring. That we are elite, we cannot deny; every student who comes here is chosen for his personal potential regardless of financial need, and every member of the faculty and staff is chosen precisely because we think they will help to build a good and responsible and caring community for our students. 

There is no one here by default. That we are privileged, we also cannot deny; generations of visionary Prep alumni and friends have helped to build excellent facilities for classes and for athletics and have underwritten our retreat and service and arts programs; our students have families who love and care about them and want the best for them; our faculty and staff are educated far above the norm, many with multiple graduate degrees, and are allowed to work with students beyond a rigid curriculum that constrains many institutions. But we are not entitled, and one of the most important lessons we strive to live and to teach our students is an ethic of service and compassion and solidarity with those in need.

Read the entire letter HERE.

Friday, September 21, 2018

HISTORIC NEW YORK TIMES 'WRAP' PROMOTES FIRST AUDIO MAGAZINE

Print readers of The New York Times have been getting a strange front portion with their papers this week, a four-page "wrap" around  the main section proclaiming a vague promise that the Sunday magazine will offer some new content on Sunday.

With a large ear on the front and back, the "wrap" says only "Listen to the World" coming in four days, or three days, or however the countdown is that particular morning.

Wraps are not unusual, although the Times rarely uses them and Spokeswoman Linda Zebian told me this was the longest use of the same "wrap,' which began on Monday. She declined to say how much it is costing the paper to add the section each day. although it includes a small General Electric ad in the front corner.

The paper finally revealed some details of what the campaign is all about in a statement on Thursday that indicated the magazine this week will have almost no text and a "soundtrack." It also claims the first-ever "audio crossword puzzle." 

You can find the audio portions on Sunday morning on the Times website HERE.

"We've never done anything like this before," Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein said in the statement. "It's definitely an experiment in magazine-making, but that's what we love to do." 

And also an experiment in wrap-around promotion.

But will avid readers of the magazine, which is still one of the top revenue magazines in the country, want to switch back and forth from print to web? We'll see.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

WHAT THE CURRENT SEXUAL ASSAULT STORY MEANS TO THE PRESS

Brett Kavanaugh
The bombshell accusations in The Washington Post by a California professor that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her say as much about media coverage of the issue as they do about the current state of victims' rights and efforts to counter such incidents.

Once again the press has brought a troubling accusation to light, and we have seen it halt the government process in its tracks so that the information can be properly reviewed. This is just the latest way that investigative journalism has raised the issue and may well help to bring justice.

Since The New York Times first broke the story of Harvey Weinstein's many alleged assaults and harassment attempts on women a year ago, the news media has been front and center exposing such incidents ranging from Charlie Rose -- whom the Post earlier exposed and who lost his job -- to Al Franken, who resigned reluctantly from the U.S. Senate after CNN broke the story of his alleged groping of a fellow comic.

Not to mention Ronan Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, whose personal life has been touched by sexual abuse claims from his step-sister, Dylan, who has accused Allen of molesting her. A claim he denies. To add to that issue, Allen's wife, Soon Yi-Previn (the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow) went public in an interview with New York this week to defend Allen.

To make matters even more complicated, the writer of the New York piece, Daphne Merkin, has drawn criticism for revealing in the story that she is a longtime friend of Allen, sparking some to say she has a conflict of interest.

Ronan Farrow, reporting for The New Yorker, and the Times shared the most recent Public Service Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Weinstein story, while Farrow more recently also gained praise last month for uncovering claims by at least six women against former CBS Chairman Les Moonves, which led to his ouster.

This latest Kavanaugh coverage by the Post, which posted the story Sunday night of  Christine Blasey Ford -- who claims Kavanaugh pinned her down, covered her mouth and groped her when the two were in high school -- may be the most impactful of all. It has delayed the confirmation vote for the would-be justice, and may well derail his nomination.

This is oddly familiar territory as it recalls the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, who was accused by former colleague Anita Hill of inappropriate and sexually harassing comments and actions. In that case, the Senate Judiciary Committee reconvened to hear testimony from both Thomas and Hill. In the end, he was confirmed by a 52-48 vote in the Senate.

In that case as well, it was an inquiring reporter who brought the accusations to light. NPR's Nina Totenberg, now one of the public radio outlet's top journalists, aired the first story on the accusations and an interview with Hill that revealed for the first time what was alleged.

Hear her original report below:


In 2016, Totenberg recounted how the coverage affected her, noting she was facing a contempt charge when she refused to testify before the Senate committee and ended up burning her notes.

What followed was a messy battle between Thomas's supporters and Republican backers and Hill and Democrats who wanted the nomination stopped. It also included dramatic testimony that kept millions riveted to their televisions during the renewed hearings.

But perhaps as impactful was the effect it had on women's rights and the ability of victims to counter sexual harassment and other abusive acts against them, which in many ways gave the first signs of empowerment for women making the most recent claims.

Still, the claims by Ford at such a sensitive and angry time in politics will likely mean a heightened battle with critics attacking her and others wondering what to believe when the committee reconvenes on Monday. The Wall Street Journal weighed in today with an editorial that all but dismissed her claims.

"This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote," the Journal editorial page stated. "We’ve heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday’s hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus."

Yes, a three-ring battle. 

But in all of these cases, and perhaps more to come, it is reporters who are bringing the issue to light. They have been the ones following the leads and convincing the victims to come forward so that justice can hopefully be done. In the case of Ford, she wrote letters to at least two members of congress last summer with concerns about Kavanaugh. She wanted to remain anonymous, and did until word of her letters leaked.

She had also reached out to the Post in July with her allegations, but declined to go public until this week, the newspaper reported in its story, stating:

She contacted The Post through a tip line in early July, when it had become clear that Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of possible nominees to replace retiring justice Anthony M. Kennedy but before Trump announced his name publicly. A registered Democrat who has made small contributions to political organizations, she contacted her congresswoman, Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, around the same time. In late July, she sent a letter via Eshoo’s office to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

In the letter, which was read to The Post, Ford described the incident and said she expected her story to be kept confidential. She signed the letter as Christine Blasey, the name she uses professionally. 

Though Ford had contacted The Post, she declined to speak on the record for weeks as she grappled with concerns about what going public would mean for her and her family — and what she said was her duty as a citizen to tell the story.

She engaged Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. On the advice of Katz, who said she believed Ford would be attacked as a liar if she came forward, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.

Quite a bit of journalism. But the kind of reporting that is crucial when these issues are at stake, both for the news outlets involved and the suspects and victims. 

And that is why more than ever news outlets need to be careful as they continue covering this story, others that have come along and still more that will probably continue to come up.

A 2017 report from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University warned that coverage of this issue at this time is crucial: "Figuring out how to talk about rape and sexual assault is one of the biggest challenges a journalist can face. The lack of proof that accompanies the crime is only one difficulty of covering an issue that is intimate, intense, and emotional for victims. The shame and stigma they feel can make it difficult for reporters to build trust with sources, to properly report on the severity of crimes without being gratuitous, and even to choose the very words they use to avoid injecting bias into the story."

The report also quoted Bruce Shapiro, executive director of Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, as saying, “This is one of the most pervasive forms of violence in our society, and yet it is one that has been historically silenced and carries the greatest stigma for victims ... As reporters, we are confronted not only with the suffering of the survivor, but also our own prejudices and preconceptions, fears, past experiences, and ethical conflicts.”

Most news outlets have been pretty responsible in their reporting, with numerous sources and background checks in many cases. With more and more eyes on the issue, and the press, that must not change.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TWO MAJOR NEWS ASSOCIATIONS FINALLY MERGE

From APME and ASNE today:

ASNE, APME approve merger plan to become News Leaders Association

Austin, Texas (Sept. 11, 2018) - At this pivotal moment for journalism and freedom of the press, two of the most significant organizations in journalism have voted to merge and become one voice for the industry.  

The formation of the News Leaders Association, combining the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors, was approved by the two groups' members during their joint News Leadership Conference in Austin.

ASNE and APME will continue to work jointly on major projects during the coming year as legal steps toward the merger are completed. NLA is expected to be in place by the 2019 News Leadership Conference Sept. 9-10 in New Orleans.

In this extraordinary time of upheaval across the news industry, as well as forces outside it, leaders and members of ASNE and APME believe that now is the time for journalism leaders to come together to make great impact.

"These are challenging times for our business and our country," said Nancy Barnes, incoming president of ASNE for 2018-19. "We believe joining our two organizations will only strengthen our ability, as journalism leaders, to stand up for the principles we hold dear."

"Editors' jobs have never been more challenging, and we believe that our groups are stronger together as we work to be a valuable resource for leaders at news organizations of all sizes," said APME President Angie Muhs.

The mission statement of NLA reads: "The News Leaders Association is committed to leading, nurturing and serving journalism and democracy."

"There's never been a more important time to create an organization vigorously committed to defending and explaining the values of an independent press in a democratic society," said outgoing APME President Jim Simon. "NLA is also committed to reimagining our work so that it's relevant to a broader range of leaders from a variety of backgrounds and to the needs of a rapidly changing journalism landscape."

After years of working closely together to further the cause of journalism, both organizations are excited to become one while also honoring the long histories of both ASNE and APME.

"We have gotten to this point with the drive and determination to create an organization that keeps advancing the core causes that allow journalism to have a vital impact on society and democracy," said outgoing ASNE President Alfredo Carbajal. "Those include defending the First Amendment, pushing for greater diversity and inclusiveness in news stories and newsrooms and developing newer generations of news leaders."

NLA encourages all journalists, from across disciplines and platforms, to join in this cause. The organizations are stronger together, and now is the time to step up and become a member of something that matters. To become a member, simply visit asne.org or apme.com.

Both ASNE and APME will continue to exist in 2018-19, working together closely on our top journalistic priorities, details of the merger and the 2019 conference planning. Join either organization now and automatically become a member of NLA when the merger is final.

Both organizations are a part of merged committees that include Conference, Diversity, First Amendment, Leadership and Media Literacy. Become a member of ASNE or APME and immediately make an impact by contributing to committee work.

As opposing voices get louder, leaders in the industry need to step up and join in the fight for democracy.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

DOES THE NY TIMES ANONYMOUS OP-ED NEEDLESSLY GO TOO FAR?

Did The New York Times go too far publishing an anonymous Op-Ed column from an apparent White House official who sought to reveal that many of his advisers are working to "thwart" parts of his agenda?

As the column, posted Wednesday night and published in today's paper, says in part:

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

To be clear, ours is not the popular "resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.
But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

Strong and likely necessary words given the state of the presidency. But is this the best use of the respected Times Op-Ed page, which is seen as true arbiter of judgment, opinion and balance? 

Offering a place for an insider to expose what is happening in the White House is an important part of journalism. But one that could have been done in a story, and is being done regularly in current news coverage, not to mention Bob Woodward's new explosive book: Fear: Trump in the White House, which is set to be published next week and is already sparking strong reaction given Woodward's reputation and skills as a quality reporter.

Woodward cites many unnamed sources who are revealing frightening examples of Trump's ineptness and chaotic approach. The Times could do the same in news stories quoting this same person. But lowering the coveted Op-Ed page to such levels seems beneath the paper's respectability.

The column also offers little information to readers on who the columnist is in terms of hierarchy or influence, stating that he or she is a "senior official in the Trump administration?" What does that mean? A cabinet person? A close adviser? A deputy assistant something or other? 

And that has sparked a guessing game in D.C. not seen since the days of Woodward's Deep Throat, the mystery parking garage source who help him and Carl Bernstein bring down another Republican president who misbehaved in office and faced impeachment calls. Deep Throat remained unknown for more than 40 years until former FBI official W. Mark Felt revealed it himself in 2006.

Will this guessing game take attention away from the actual issues being unearthed by the Op-Ed, Woodward and others? Perhaps not. But it adds another layer of chatter that diverts attention from true issues of the day such as national security, gun violence, climate change, education and other current demands for change.

CNN and Fox are among those already speculating who the author might be, with Fox reporting on odds makers already setting a betting line. (One of the favorites at 5-2 is Attorney General Jeff Sessions.)

With the Op-Ed column, the paper also posted and published the following editor's note:


The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers. We invite you to submit a question about the essay or our vetting process here.

The Times has had a long-running problem with anonymous sourcing, coming under fire when such sources are used for news and information that seems less than necessary. In early 2016, a revised policy was issued that said, in part:

At best, granting anonymity allows us to reveal the atrocities of terror groups, government abuses or other situations where sources may risk their lives, freedom or careers by talking to us. In sensitive areas like national security reporting, it can be unavoidable. But in other cases, readers question whether anonymity allows unnamed people to skew a story in favor of their own agenda. In rare cases, we have published information from anonymous sources without enough questions or skepticism — and it has turned out to be wrong.

The use of anonymous sources presents the greatest risk in our most consequential, exclusive stories. But the appearance of anonymous sources in routine government and political stories, as well as many other enterprise and feature stories, also tests our credibility with readers. They routinely cite anonymous sources as one of their greatest concerns about The Times’s journalism.

Revealing, as the anonymous Op-Ed writer did, that "meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back" seems like old news, albeit important news.

And, again, something that could be in a news story.

Back when the Times had a Public Editor, who could weigh in on such topics, the issue came up repeatedly. From the time the first public editor, Daniel Okrent, was hired in 2003 to the dismissal of the last one, Liz Spayd in 2017, the public editor column focused on anonymous sourcing more than 100 times.

The last such time was in February 2017 and had Spayd asking, "The risk of unnamed sources? Unconvinced readers." She stated in that column, "There is a wide and perilous gulf between the value journalists place on anonymous sources and the value readers do. Some may never accept information with roots they cannot see. But many others might, if more rigor was placed on convincing them. With a new administration in office and so much at stake, now is a good time to approach that task in earnest."

Former Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who spoke out many times on anonymous sourcing during her time in the job, weighed in on Twitter today about the Op-Ed. "It's a good day not to be the Public Editor of the New York Times," wrote Sullivan, now a media columnist for The Washington Post.

Such a move also gives Trump another excuse to attack the paper as he has done for years. I do not agree with his Tweet last night that it amounts to "treason" or that it was "gutless." And I certainly reject his claim that "the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!"

Trump's blabbering public response, posted by the Times HERE and below, also does not hold water as it has his usual false complaints and weak arguments that the newspaper is failing or lying.


 

But what the anonymous column does do is take a valuable tool like anonymous sourcing and abuse it to make a point that can be made off the Op-Ed page. And in a way that focuses attention on the news part of it and not the location.

Still, the erratic behavior of Trump, which continued again as he blasted the newspaper with a tirade of inaccuracies and unfounded calls for legal action, is a major issue. This Op-Ed may later be seen as the catalyst for what could be a serious opposition to Trump that ends with his removal, either by congressional action or the 2020 election.

The fact that one column in a newspaper is causing such a stir and strong response is a great sign that the Times and many other newspapers still have the influence they deserve. The Times is considered by many to be the best newspaper in the country. No argument here. And its Op-Ed page, which was the first ever when it initially appeared in 1970,  has long been a leader in public discourse and debate. This clearly shows that it remains an important and influential part of the news and opinion echo chamber.

Let's hope it stays that way.