GEORGE SALAMON / Writing about Marie Antoinette, Judith Thurman commented in a 2006 article in the New Yorker that the woman famous for a remark she never uttered (“Let them eat cake”) is “periodically reviled or celebrated.” The same could be said about the media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton since she stepped into the national limelight as Bill Clinton’s wife during his 1992 bid for the presidency. Now that she is campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, many publications and websites devote much of their coverage to one or the other of these familiar approaches. Recent opinion pieces in the online publications of the liberal New Republic and the conservative Washington Free Beacon provide a sort of “comfort food,” the first for Clinton admirers and the second for Clinton detractors. But neither provides much food for thought based on solid information, history and context.
by JOHN JARVIS / In almost three decades as a print journalist, I never called out a fellow headline writer for something he or she crafted to introduce a story. Until now. What I never did was write a headline so egregiously bad that readers threatened to yank their subscriptions over what I wrote. Someone at Texas Monthly Magazine did, however.
By WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / A month after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, CNN broadcast what looked like a blockbuster “exclusive.” It was a videotape of two white construction workers who said Brown had his hands up when killed. One worker even gestures with his hands up. CNN’s analysts called it a “game changer” and its legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the witnesses had described “a cold-blooded murder.” But instead of a game changer or evidence of a crime, the contractors turned out to be two of a score of unreliable witnesses and the clearest example of how the media helped create the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth.
By WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / In announcing that no federal criminal charges would be filed against Officer Darren Wilson, Attorney General Eric Holder said he recognized “the findings in our report may leave some to wonder how the department’s findings can differ so sharply from some of the initial, widely reported accounts of what transpired.” He added that it “remains not only valid — but essential — to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily.” The attorney general offered one explanation for the willingness of the protesters to accept the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative that the Justice Department report refutes. His explanation was that the blatantly unconstitutional policing and municipal court practices were so racist that they created a powder keg that exploded on the August afternoon that Wilson killed Michael Brown. But those in the media – traditional, new and social – might also take a look in the mirror.
There is a perverse appeal among journalists for exceptionally bad news, for the latest big scare story. Ferguson elevated to the status of media storm when the national media’s spotlight both validated the story’s importance and influenced the events. Local media can feel overwhelmed and a bit shocked by the sudden and intensive presence of out-of-town reporters and camera crews and producers, who sometimes run rather roughshod over local sensibilities.
By GEORGE SALAMON / The decision of The New York Times not to depict the cover of Charlie Hebdo after ten of the French magazine’s journalists had been murdered by Islamic terrorists has drawn much deserved criticism in the United States and abroad, in comments from the editorial page editor of the Denver Post to a reporter’s charge of “cowardice” in the German newsweekly DER SPIEGEL. Within the ranks of Times editors the decision not to depict the cover, which showed a tearful Prophet Muhammad holding up a “Je Suis Charlie” sign, was defended by Executive Editor Dean Baquet: “My first most important job is to serve the readers of The New York Times, and a big chunk of the readers of The New York Times are people who would be offended by showing satire of the Prophet Muhammad…That reader is a guy who lives in Brooklyn and is Islamic and has a family and is devout and just happens to find that insulting.” Some might be surprised that among Brooklyn’s Muslim population (3.73% or 95,000 out of 2.5 million) there can be found a “big chunk” of the Times’ readership.
Watching two different stations may give viewers two different takes on the same story, depending on which facts they know and report.
Such was the case at noon on January 20. Channel 4 (KMOV) led with a live report from Robin Smith in South St. Louis where a fatal accident had occurred hours earlier. She noted that only MoDot was on the scene repairing a damaged pole. She mention homicide investigators had been called in saying investigators were “not sure why it happened.” Channel 5 aired only a taped version of the accident as their second story. They began with the line “Homicide detectives are on the scene…” Not being live, and watching Channel 4 live on scene, this was simply incorrect.
Right after the January 7 murderous attacks on the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and a kosher supermarket in Paris, TV and internet commentators regaled or outraged us with immediate analyses of what these attacks might mean. Predictably enough, conservative pundits saw in them another attack on Western values by radical Islam while liberal and left ones emphasized the “blowback” element of Islamic rage against the West’s often violent interference in the politics and culture of Muslim countries. Comments, lacking information about the attackers’ inspiration and motivation, were therefore mostly recycled hot air. But one internet journalist outdid many others in intellectual laziness and shallowness the Journalism Iconoclast decries. And that was the onetime Washington Post and MSNBC wunderkind Ezra Klein, now Editor in Chief of the VOX media website.