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Posts Tagged ‘NYT’

phillipeTwo interesting cases in honourable press mendacity.

1. The Daily Beast’s tempestuously appealing nympho-con Meghan McCain (yes, that one) argues that the Sanford sex scandal shouldn’t be enough to ruin a promising politician’s career

2. The revelation that the NYT and the Wikipedia executive purposefully suppressed news of reporter David Rohde’s kidnapping by the Taliban for seven months. Both cast interesting light on all my previous talk of news fragmentation, and the end of message control, especially in relation to Prince Harry’s secret military service in Afghanistan.

[Let me say now that what’s missing from the previous times I’ve written about Harry’s service is the acknowledgment that press silence could have saved the scion’s life, and almost certainly didsave the lives of soldiers around him.]

Meghan McCain first: a man who could have been president has been destroyed. Newsweek’s Ick Watch [and thousands of others] have copies of the emails sent to a mistress in Argentina by Sanford. I cite Ick Watch (and I’m not linking to it) because reading them does make your stomach turn a little: not in the grimy vein of Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle; because they are extremely intimate, thoughtful and slightly defeated love letters. Search if you must but frankly it’s none of our business precisely what he wrote, even if you believe that what he does in his spare time is our business.

Alternatively, read them and take a minute to consider what kind of a modern president would have written such cliche-defying personal confessions.

cake sniper diesel sweeties

Image from dieselsweeties.

Grasshoppers and bees

Meghan McCain, then. [Beast gave her the headline “Forgive Mark Sanford”, which doesn’t make much sense given her argument.] She argues in a balanced way something which I’ve always put in cruder terms:

“I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am younger, or that just have a more open-minded view of politicians and sex, but it’s of very little concern to me who elected officials sleep with.” via Daily Beast

The counterargument hinged, and always will, upon some connexion between personal morals and the capacity to rule a state. The way I’ve stated a similar opinion to Ms. McCain’s in the past, in case you’re interested, is “I honestly don’t care if they have a [willing] harem out back of the White House, so long as they’re a competent statesman”.

But then in the past I’ve spouted other such gems as “politicians almost always have more in common with other politicians of any party or philosophy than they do with you and me”. Hunter S. Thomspon would tell us that these are people for whom power is already better than sex, and that this is what has driven them to the top. Frankly, what goes on in the secret swimming pool concerns me much less than pretty much any other aspect of any politician’s personal life.

The other argument, of course, is that infidelity compromises a politician, whether through a) the machinations of robo-soviet Deceptasluts [see yesterday’s post on Transformers 2] or b) through simple tabloid vulnerability.

The former may seem obsolete but may actually be more difficult to deal with: never mind the buzzsheets, maybe what Americans should worry about regarding the Sanford affair is not that the Senator had a sordid affair with a foreign national, but that he had an apparently very committed, devoted affair with a foreign national.

As for the latter argument against political droit de seigneur, Ms. McCain along with many others points out that the logic of the argument is is circular as well as hypocritical. If nobody cared then nobody would care, and so on. The press stimulates outrage, then announces a duty to inform outrage, then stimulates outrage, etcetera.

“WHY,” politicians the world over must scream into their pillows, “why can Berlusconi get away with it and we can’t? Even Sarko gets to have a little bitta-bitta on his funky somethin’, and his constituents greet it with frank congratulations at his short-guy chutzpah. Journalists don’t wonder aloud whether Carla Bruni might be a Bulgarian spy, and even if she was they’d still come flocking to her, pantalons akimbo!”

Of course, it’s not particularly tempting to suggest suppressing this kind of news, even in order to give the public a bit of self-respect and probably grant politicians a little more time in their day. After all, the attempt to suppress these stories is what gives these storiesthem prurient fury in the first place. Newspapers certainly aren’t going to let go of their more-or-less even chance to ruin any politician they really want to, in some sort of crusade for more meta morals.

American politicians will have to wait till the American public stops taking things so seriously, which will be a while. Of course, in Britain we take fewer things less seriously than our politicians, which comes with a different set of problems. Sordid revelations of a sex scandal are more likely to have a disarmingly humanising effect on the public’s perception of a politician, especialy if they turn out to make a habit of sex while wearing a Chelsea FC shirt.

yeah

Incendiary or bigot

David Rohde next: chatter on Tweetmeme ran the gamut from wholehearted endorsement to tentative endorsement of the NYT and especially Wikipedia’s decision to suppress news of the reporter’s capture in order to downplay his value as part of a negotiation strategy.This involved Wikipedia in a long campaign of sustained deletes against a anonymous contributor in Florida, who was determined t make the news public and who may or may not now wear a tinfoil hat.

First, unrestrained applause must go to Rhodes and his translator Tahir Ludin for their bravery and sacrifice. Reading about this amazing business has made me reconsider my phrasing, if not necessarily my argument, on the numerous times I’ve talked about Prince Harry in Afghanistan. Whatever you think about Harry having a “right to serve” in a combat area, the British Army decided to send him. And having been told that, you, a major press editor, understand that you would put him and others in danger if you publish the story.

It can be argued that publishing all kinds of news puts people in danger, especially these days in Iran. It can be argued that Harry’s presence itself put the men around him in danger. But those decisions are already made and you, the news publisher, only have the option of publishing the Harry story or sliding it down a crack in the sofa cushions.

I certainly won’t dispute the rightness of the NYT’s decision. No doubt it was easier to convince other news outlets because a fellow journalist was in trouble, and because the Gray Lady would be able to make any other outlet which broke the story look boorish.

The Wikipedia argument is a bit more interesting: who are Wikipedia execs to say whether a Wikipedia article may cost a man his life? TechCruch are fully behind the decision, distancing themself from prim-hysterical “information wants to be free” arguments, while Mashable raise the issue of suppression being anti-wiki and then more or less dismiss it, given that lives were at stake.

I suppose what I want to say is that I have oversimplified. In the past I talked about the Harry thing in terms of media, not people’s lives. Of course, plenty of other people were going to talk about bravery and suchlike. But I also took the Harry thing as the straw which was going to break the back of institutional media. Today we’ve seen yet another straw, one which will contribute to the slow fragmentation of the camel’s back, if you’ll forgive the unfortunately straitened metaphor.

What I should have said is that sooner or later it would be impossible to keep stories like these under wraps, for however good a reason. In the meantime I want to see the inevitable movie adaptation include the character of the Florida-based anonymous Wikipedia editor, posting and posting against a Wikioppressor, convinced that he is right and that being right is all you need.

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,

What more is there to say? The country round

None dared admit, if such thought were his,

Incendiary or bigot could be found

To burn that stump on the Acropolis

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