Jack Shafer

Thank the lord the Times isn’t the newspaper of record

Jack Shafer
Dec 6, 2012 23:50 UTC

The New York Times took a few lumps yesterday from its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who seconded the protests of “many readers” who wrote to her complaining that the Times was not paying sufficient attention to the pretrial testimony of Private Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Md. Manning was arrested in May 2010 and is accused of the wholesale leaking of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. The New Republic has also taken the newspaper to task for its non-coverage of the hearings, during which Manning described inhuman treatment by his captors.

The Times has not subjected Manning to a news blackout, Sullivan acknowledges, writing that the paper ran an Associated Press story about the proceedings last week and repeating Times Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt’s pretty good excuses that 1) the paper does not ordinarily cover every proceeding in every newsworthy case and 2) the paper previously covered (in 2011!) the charges of Manning’s mistreatment.

Sullivan is not persuaded. She quotes at length from a comment by Times reader David Morf, who states that the Times “is the paper of record” and the place where the Pentagon Papers were published. “It’s unconscionable and sad if the Times sits quietly by saying nothing — even worse, simply running AP wire copy to let the story bury itself,” he writes. Sullivan nods in approval, concluding that the Manning hearings’ news value dictates that the “Times should be there.”

What the Times should and what the Times should not cover is a parlor game that even Times non-readers can play with every day’s edition. The likelihood is that no two players will ever find themselves in complete agreement about what to cover and in what precise depth. That is not a reason not to play the “should-shouldn’t” game but an indicator that the Manning complaint that Sullivan and her correspondents share is a tad arbitrary.

Even if the Times is the be-all and end-all of journalism (something I doubt), it does not mean that if the Times is not reporting a story the story is not getting reported. Frustrated Times readers seeking play-by-play coverage of the Manning hearings can take their interest elsewhere. Besides the Associated Press, Agence France PresseReuters, the Huffington Post, the GuardianCNN, the Washington Post, the Tribune Washington bureau, the BBCNBCABCPBS and other outlets have been on the story.


Jack Shafer
Feb 27, 2012 22:34 UTC

I love WikiLeaks — by which I mean that any organization that helps ferret out the secrets of states or the nefarious secrets of corporations deserves a cozy place in my heart. But as anyone who has experienced my love can tell you, it’s not always lovely. So I don’t feel bad at all about taking the business end of my press-crit rake to the latest WikiLeaks project, “The Global Intelligence Files.”

The Files contain in excess of 5 million emails from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. WikiLeaks appears to have obtained the email from the hackers at Anonymous, who nicked the haul late last year. There may be great stuff in the 5 million emails, but the files released thus far, which International Business Times puts at 194 emails, underwhelm.

We learn, for instance, that Coca-Cola asked Stratfor for some intelligence on the animal-rights group PETA in 2009 in relation to the coming Winter Olympics in Vancouver: How many PETA supporters in Canada? How inclined toward activism are they? What relation does PETA Canada have to PETA U.S.A? Stuff like that. Stratfor’s vice-president for intelligence, Fred Burton, purportedly shares that he knows about a classified investigation of PETA operatives that the FBI has produced and that he’ll see what he can “uncover.” Another Stratfor employee assigns an intern to the project. In WikiLeaks lingo, this amounts to Coca-Cola “Contracting Stratfor to Spy on PETA.” If asking an intern to look up some information constitutes spying, you could say that I’ve been in the espionage business for 30 years and my operatives have probed hundreds of government bodies, public institutions and corporations. This particular WikiLeaks dump should probably be taken to the dump and dumped.

The press critics from Foggy Bottom

Jack Shafer
Sep 22, 2011 22:17 UTC

Everybody thinks of themselves as a press critic these days, even the U.S. State Department.

A slew of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks portrays the State Department as the A.J. Liebling of Foggy Bottom. Drawing on content analysis by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. embassy officials in Qatar in 2005 aggressively leaned on and lobbied the top editors of Al Jazeera, the news channel and website owned by the Qatar monarchy, giving them unsolicited editorial suggestions. It’s quaint to imagine Pentagon employees watching hour after hour of Al Jazeera and clicking the vastness of its website with the diligence that Media Matters for America applies to ferreting out media bias by the Fox News Channel. I wonder if they get pee breaks and snacks.

The release of diplomatic cables from 2005 may have contributed to the ouster this week of Al Jazeera’s news director, Wadah Khanfar, according to a Sept. 20 report in the New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick. The cables portray Khanfar as a pliant vessel in his meetings with hectoring representatives from the U.S. embassy. For instance, an October 2005 cable described a meeting in which a U.S. embassy official gave Khanfar a hard copy of unclassified snippets from a DIA critique of three recent months of Al Jazeera coverage of the Iraq war.