Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 16, 2003 / 14 Iyar, 5763

James Lileks

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Newspapers are only human, after all | Baghdad Bob recently surfaced in Iraq and gave a press conference on behalf of an old comrade. "Jayson Blair did not forge any sources!" he insisted. "The reports that he falsified events are totally false -- he did not have 50 corrections, but 500 citations for accuracy! Those who say that he falsified key details of many stories will find their bones bleaching in Times Square!"

Whatever, Pinocchio. The rest of us regard Mr. Blair as the latest in a long line of journalistic confabulators -- a throwback to the fine and noble tradition of making stuff up and printing it on page one.

American papers once treated the truth like modelling clay as well, but into this inchoate swirl of partisanship and muckrackery stepped the Sober Giants. The New York Times. The Herald-Tribune. Journalism was now a respectable calling, not a refuge for grifters and scribblers. Modern journalists, we were led to believe, now knelt at the twin altars of Objectivity and Accuracy, and splashed themselves with some holy ink (blessed by Bob Woodward!) on their way to their desks.

For the most part papers are honest endeavors, but they're not handed down from some disinterested Olympian redoubt. The New York Times is still infamous for its pro-Stalin reporting in the '30s. Its recent crusade against the horrors of male-only golf tournaments shows it can still make a fool of itself in public if the mood strikes.

Papers are run by people, and people have biases and blindspots. Credulous reporters will fall always for stories that seem too good to be true. The same week the Blair story hit, for example, the wires carried at least two minor mendacities. Microsoft invents the Internet-enabled outhouse? Hoax. Congo plane accident sucks hundreds out the back? A lie -- or at least that's what Pravda said this week.

But sometimes it's not what papers get wrong or make up that bothers a reader -- it's what they ignore.

Let's do a little speculation. Say there's this Christian guy who's a fervent Second Amendment advocate. He writes letters to the newspaper demanding war against Muslims; he wants more nuclear weapons, and opposes treaties that ban landmines. Let's say the fellow puts on a bulletproof vest, stuffs some handguns in his pockets, heads off to his old college and shoots three people. Do you think any of those details about his interests and convictions would make the story?

Sure. He'd be the Timothy-McVeigh-of-the-Month. He'd be the subject of a dozen op-eds and editorial cartoons; commentators the world over would note how George W. Bush's mad militaristic unilateralism had produced this poisonous fruit. By the end of the week you'd think the guy had ridden in the jet that took Bush to the USS Lincoln.

Well, there was a campus shooting last week. The shooter was Biswanath Halder, who was an anti-war, anti-gun Muslim who wrote letters to the editor protesting Iraqi sanctions and the campaign against Saddam. His Web site is devoted to anti-war, anti-US screeds.

Relevance factor, according to the hallowed gatekeepers: zip. Since none of this information appeared in the stories, you might assume that the reporters were incurious about his political leanings -- or, having discovered the particulars, were disinclined to share them. Neither option is heartening.

But The Times did zero in on the crucial detail of the story: the architectural signficance of the building where this man did his shooting.

"The building has echoes of Mr. Gehry's most famous design, the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. ... Since its opening late last year, some locals have criticized its wavelike roof, which has dropped the Cleveland snow on passers-by.

"(A student) called the building 'an amazing place to work."'

CNN's story struck a similiar note: "Completed last year, the $62 million building is unusual architecturally, with curved brick walls folding into a radical stainless-steel roof. Renowned architect Frank Gehry designed it."

It took a day for intrepid webloggers at and to ferret out Halder's background from his Web life. Nothing stopped CNN or the Times from googling around. Do you think the Gehry angle's more important than the anti-gun stuff? You do? Please report to your closest newspaper. You're hired!

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks