The Ethos Of The New "Journamalism"

American journalists, unlike many of their foreign counterparts, have a strong commitment to objectivity and nonpartisanship. - Newsweek

Glenn Greenwald discusses Peter Maas' New Yorker piece on "Armed Forces Media" (the Establishment Media) and how the Media is subservient to the interests of the American government. Glenn's piece is good and in a postscript, he pointed to the Newsweek article I quote at the top of this post. A laughable statement of course, but more than that, what's missing is even a feigned commitment to reporting the truth. The fact is the Wikileaks situation has been an exposing moment for "journamalism." I'll explain why I think so on the flip.

I like to think there is a certain Voltaire-like quality to my "defenses," such as they are, of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. A letter from the faculty of the Columbia University School of Journalism sort of sums up my point of view on the Wikileaks situation:

[. . .W]e are concerned by recent reports that the Department of Justice is considering criminal charges against Julian Assange or others associated with Wikileaks.

Journalists have a responsibility to exercise careful news judgment when classified documents are involved, including assessing whether a document is legitimately confidential and whether there may be harm from its publication.

But while we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks’ methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Any prosecution of Wikileaks’ staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.

I frankly do not see how any true journalist could not agree with this. But "journamalists" - our Media today, are clearly different. Reporting the truth and maintaining the freedom to report the truth is not a paramount value anymore.

Consider the statement of Nick Davies, a much admired journalist for the Guardian, regarding Julian Assange:

There is one final point lurking in the background. Assange has been suggesting -- for example, in his interview with David Frost on Al Jazeera -- that all this is something to do with the fact that he and I fell out. It is true that at the beginning of August, I cut off contact with him in order to protest at several things he had done -- the first time I have cut off a source in 34 years as a reporter. This was nothing to do with the sex allegations in Sweden.

His supporters tried to brief newspapers that it was an act of vengeance on my part to go out and find this police file. That fell at the first fence, because the file came to me: I never spent a single second looking for it. As an alternative decoy, Assange suggested in his interview with David Frost, that some malign force, possibly an intelligence agency, chose me as an outlet for the file, knowing that I could be relied on to write a negative story. That also falls at the first fence. The reality is that I didn't write the story which the Guardian published. The copy which I filed was completely re-written in the Guardian office, a commonplace event in a newsroom.

Finally, I should mention what Jagger does not -- that I was the journalist who took it on himself back in June to track down Julian Assange and to persuade him not to post his latest collection of secrets on the WikiLeaks website but to hand them over to the Guardian and other news organizations. The publication of the Afghan and Iraqi war logs and then the diplomatic cables all flowed from that initiative. I did that because I think journalists should tell the truth about important things without being frightened, for example, by the government of the most powerful state on the planet.

(Emphasis supplied.) I highlighted the two portions of Davies' piece because they so struck me as incongruent. Davies' championing of reporting the truth is admirable. But the cutting off as a source a figure he deems loathsome is beyond comprehension to me. It betrays the first mission of reporting the truth.

There is a new celebratory quality to journalism that manifests itself in different ways. In the Beltway, it's being in with the government In crowd. That means sacrificing objectivity and the truth.

Davies seems to have allowed, indeed he appears to be celebrating, his belief that Assange is a loathsome figure (not about the sex he makes clear) interfere with his duties as a journalist.

Can Nick Davies be considered an objective reporter on Wikileaks or Assange in the face of that admission? Similarly Wired magazine appears to have made similar moral judgments about Assange. In an e-mail he sent to Glenn Greenwald, the entirety of which he published himself, Wired's Ryan Singel wrote of Assange and Wikileaks:

Suffice it to say I’m disappointed by your article, which I find to be warped by your allegiance to Wikileaks, which gets nothing but glowing accolades from you, despite ample evidence that Assange and Wikileaks aren’t acting in good faith.

Now whether Assange or Wikileaks are acting in good faith is an important part of the Wikileaks story, but it strains credulity to believe that a reporter who has concluded that Assange and Wikileaks "aren't acting in good faith" can present itself as, in the words of Newsweek, "objective and nonpartisan."

So what is the ethos of the New "Journamalism?" I don't think they know yet.

Speaking for me only

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  • Display: Sort:
    If there is, in fact, an ethos associated with (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Anne on Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 11:27:13 AM EST
    this New Journamalism, I think it will be whatever those involved in it say it is at any given moment and on any given day, depending on what the issue is, and to a great degree, I think, how much of an interest and involvement the government has in that issue.

    Since there seems to be a growing co-dependent partnership between the government and the media, to the point where there's almost no attempt to hide the fact that what is being printed or broadcast is the message the government wants to get out, I think that sports, movies/TV/celebrity news and the weather might be the only areas where things aren't being filtered through or pre-approved by or sourced to named or anonymous government officials.

    What's worrisome is that, while people like us generally question and cast a critical eye and ear on what is being reported these days, millions and millions of people still think that if they saw it on their preferred news show, or read it in their preferred newspaper, it must be true.  If you heard it from Brian Williams or Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or whoever the Fox anchor is, if you read it in the NYT or the WaPo or the Washington Times: it's the God's honest truth - even if or when the stories don't agree.

    Maybe there is no ethos; maybe that's the problem.  Or part of the problem.

    All I know is, when "journalists" rally `round the government's attempts to shut down the dissemination of anything the government doesn't want us to know, when they willingly cooperate with and spread the message that those who ask the questions or publish inside information are more dangerous than the government that is engaging in things people should have the right to know about, there is no "journalism," and ethos is dead.  

    What we are left with is media acting as an arm of the government; that should bother people a lot more than it seems to.

    Good piece by GG, except (none / 0) (#1)
    by brodie on Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 10:47:06 AM EST
    for some unwarranted worship of the misunderstood David Halberstam, whose 1962-4 reporting from VN was, imo, partly in service to truth (he wanted to get out the story that our US military advisory mission was not going well, contrary to assertions by the JFK admin who wanted to keep VN a low-level backburner issue among the American public) and partly in service to non-objective personal ideology (DH thought that, on balance, we should have been stepping up our military commitment to avoid a greater evil of communist takeover, even with the risk of a military quagmire).

    Glenn rightly bashes Timesman John Burns for the reporter wrapping himself too tightly with the military in the Iraq War and reporting in pro-war biased and misleading fashion, but in 62-4 Halberstam also had a biased pro-war agenda and was far from objective.  No wonder that in 2006 at the Kennedy Library's conference on VN and the Presidency, DH in his keynote address called out John Burns (in the audience) for his outstanding reporting from Iraq.

    Media is scared by Food Lion and Chiquita (none / 0) (#3)
    by magster on Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 02:02:42 PM EST
    examples, where the truth lost to property interests and confidentiality.  In the business of media, paying millions of dollars as a penalty for telling the truth started the ball rolling in the wrong direction.  That Assange is using stolen memos puts people who disseminate the material he releases puts media too close to the line for people scared of the precedent.

    Chiquita example

    Food Lion example  (scroll down to Primetime Live section)

    Quite right Anne (none / 0) (#4)
    by kmblue on Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 06:52:40 PM EST
    There is no (or very little, I can't read everything) journalism.  It's too hard and takes too long to find the truth in the digital age--better you should just report "he said she said" and let the viewer judge.  

    As for the media and our government, it's all about access and invitations to the best parties.
    Truth is said to be the first casualty of war.
    Now it's also being shot dead by elite, celebrity journalists.