Wednesday, June 14, 2006

This is not right

There are certain papers that get picked on around here more than others for their annoying habits. But when such a daily gets buzzed up by the Pentagon for the moral equivalent of Driving While Journalistic, it becomes incumbent on all good persons and true to stand up and take its side. Case in point here:

UPDATE: Pentagon Orders U.S. Reporters to Exit Guantanamo
Good thing we won the space race when we did, huh? Because if our response to a bad turn of events is "first thing, let's expel all the journalists," we are slam freaking out of rocket scientists.

Long story short, two reporters on site for planned tribunals were kicked out. A reporter and a shooter from the Observer, down for a profile on the commander, were apparently given a few more days' leeway -- though without access -- and then put on the northbound plane anyway. A profoundly clueless move, compounded by the brilliance of the Man Who Would Be Assistant City Editor, disguised as a Pentagon flack:

"He was doing a hometowner, a hometowner takes one day," J.D. Gordon, the Pentagon's press officer, said. "You would think that a man allowed down for a whole week would be a bit more gracious about it. Have the good grace and class to leave."

This from the graceful and classy character who was earlier quoted thus: "All three have been screaming [about the order to leave] like it is going out of style," he said. (Photographers apparently resort to mime or interpretive dance or something.)

There are reasons, of course. There's, um, security. Oh, and all those news organizations threatening to sue! That's it! "The other media started to have a mini-phone riot," he told E&P. "'Hey, why are they there?' We had a major issue on our hands for other media to 'either get them in there or we have to see you in court.'"

Like who? Well, AP and Fox are mentioned. But AP says it didn't threaten to sue, and Bill O'Reilly has already been by to lick between everybody's toes. What's the issue exactly? At least we're assured it wasn't anything anybody wrote -- though we're also assured that the Observer reporting spurred some "controversy," and it seems from the latest that the Pentagon would rather that some things hadn't been seen.

Much as in the days when Europe wasn't a story unless Billy Graham was crusading there, it's easy to fault the paper for waiting to cover the world until somebody from the inner circulation area is involved. Otherwise, it's hard to see what ails the coverage in question. If you see the writer stepping over the line -- certainly the line as it was explained on the scene -- leave a note, because the research associates here haven't seen it. This isn't scatter-the-cockroaches investigative stuff, but it is pretty decent spot news writing.

It's a pity the editor gave up the high ground so quickly. "The Pentagon appears to have panicked when it discovered it couldn't manipulate a first-class reporter" has some probability of being true, but it's speculation, and self-righteous speculation isn't a good complement to bona fide reporting. But it's a pity mostly because those responsible for this blunder have no excuses at all, and anything that gives them a hint of a fig leaf needs to be discouraged at once.

Sorry, not much copydesk content here. But the stuff that editors do below the waterline is journalism too, and if the least we can do is be cheesed off about this belligerently anti-democratic behavior, let's go ahead and do that.

That was some nice journalism, guys. Now: Throw out the Brangelina stuff and bring us some more of it.


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