Monday, November 21, 2005

Making Sense of Media, Big and Small

It's been a wild year in the world of Washington media. We've seen a former male prostitute lobbing softballs from the midst of the White House gaggle. We've seen our federal government manufacturing news reports and hiring columnists to put out their version of events. We've seen Judy Miller and Bob Woodward acting idependently of the interests of their respective newspapers. Today, the Times has another odd twist:
Here's something you do not see every day: a newspaper reporter interrogating his own boss - on live television yet.
Howard Kurtz, the media writer for The Washington Post, posed tough questions yesterday for nearly eight minutes to Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, on a program where Mr. Kurtz is host, CNN's "Reliable Sources." The subject was the revelation last week that Bob Woodward, The Post's investigative reporter, had not disclosed the fact that a senior official in the Bush administration leaked the name of a C.I.A. operative to him more than two years ago.
Is this simply another example of the wacky world of Washington media hijinks? I think it's more. There are two forms of accoutability at play here: The first is the old fashioned accountability of a reporter to his or her editor, described here in an online chat that Downie conducted last Friday:
In this one instance, Bob [made] two mistakes -- not telling me sooner about his conversation with this source and expressing opinions on television about the Fitzgerald investigation. He has acknowledged both mistakes and apologized. In the future, I expect him to work within our newsroom's standards, as he always has except for these two mistakes.
The second is the broader accountability of reporters, editors and bloggers to their readers, listeners, viewers and colleagues. The proliferation of media has expanded and accelerated a kind of peer review process in which published stories, columns and posts are subject to immediate comment, correction, disputation and further dissemination. (For instance, when I posted the first three parts of my series, "The ANWR Fallacy," here and as a diary at dKos, I received instant and useful feedback on the validity, meaning and use of some fairly arcane statistics on Canadian oil shale reserves.)
This open journalism is a good thing for those who are responsible with the facts and all who seek to understand the credibility of anything published, whether in the mighty Washington Post or in a humble blog like mine.

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