FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Newsweek Scandal

by DICK J. REAVIS

In the Newsweek-Koran-in-the-toilet scandal of the past week, press commentators and pundits have overlooked what they must regard as an inconsequential detail: the ethics of showing a draft of one’s story to a source.

Far from being without consequence, it’s not only a question not only of journalistic ethics-but also of the independence of the press.

Newsweek’s reporter, Michael Isikoff, admitted that he showed a draft of his Koran-in-the-toilet lines to at least one source in the Pentagon. His admission brought no outcry from the press.

Maybe that’s because professional associations of journalists provide no clear standard for evaluating the practice, nor do textbooks for training reporters. The text most widely adopted in college journalism programs, Writing and Reporting News, deals with the issue, not in its chapter on ethics, but in a chapter called “Accuracy and Libel.”

“Should you show your story to sources or read it to them before you print it? Many of your sources will ask you to do that,” it advises.

“And many editors will say you shouldn’t,” it continues. “They claim the risks are too great that sources will recant what they have told you or ask you to delete any information that puts them in a bad light.”

The text then cites a former director of the prestigious organization, Investigative Reporters and Editors, as having confessed-or boasted–that “my practice of pre-publication readbacks and manuscript submissions has led to more accurate, fair and thorough newspaper pieces, magazine articles and books.”

In other words, and quite in keeping with American newspaper procedures, journalism textbooks provide a “balanced” report on the issue-drawing no conclusions, setting forth no advice, advocating nothing.

Yet standards can be and sometimes are invoked. The New York Times did not offer authorities a “readback” of its coverage of the Pentagon papers before publishing, nor did Woodward and Bernstein run their stories past the Nixon press office, though both series might have faced less challenge had the Times and Post reporters or editors done so.

Thirty years have passed since then.

I would suggest that in today’s environment, if reporters or editors at leading publications in Venezuela, for example, were to reveal that they send drafts of stories to officials of the Hugh Chavez government-they do not do this–the usual supervisors of the ethics of the American press would raise a furor. They’d rant that press independence had been assassinated in Venezuela.

Here, perhaps, its death was a case of unrecorded suicide.

DICK J. REAVIS is an assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at: dickjreavis@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dick J. Reavis is a Texas journalist and the author of The Ashes of Waco.

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz   
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
Alice Donovan
Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail