Monday, February 13, 2006


Media soul searching

I think Howard Kurtz is one of the most readable and rational writers for the Washington Post – which may not be saying much but I do genuinely like his Media Notes column. In today's online column, he takes note of “[a]n information war [that] is breaking out on multiple fronts, with journalists caught in the crossfire” but some of his examples are as unremarkable as they are predictable”:
“A larger example: James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist, told the New York Times last month that agency officials tried to "censor" him by insisting on reviewing his lectures, papers and interviews, after he called for a reduction in greenhouse gases tied to global warming.”
This is such a “so what” story – so NASA doesn’t want its employees to be spouting off on just any subject. Jocelyn Elders faced a similar complaint with President Clinton. One person sets the executive agenda and it isn’t James Hansen. The tag-line that makes his contrarian views newsworthy – NASA scientist – is the same tag line that allows NASA to rein him in if his message is at odds with agency policy….And for the NYTimes to be so breathless about this – didn’t they “censor” Dave Anderson a few years ago for not toeing the party line during their relentless editorial assault on Augusta National and the Masters golf tournament?
“But there are many areas drenched in gray: Should a dissident bureaucrat or independent-minded scientist be able to speak freely to reporters, or should political appointees be able to choke off such communication in the name of message discipline? Rank-and-file journalists strongly favor the former, but guess what: Some news organizations don't allow their reporters to give interviews without permission, if at all.”
His choice of words - “dissident” and “independent-minded” versus “political appointees” and “choke” - kind of leads to an inference that he is with the “rank-and-file”. But, after giving specific examples of restrictions of news sources to journalists, I would have like to read about specific news organizations that don’t allow access to their reporters.

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