the New York Times unwittingly tells the truth about American journalism

Gas Mask Portrait Attack Young American journalism
Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay
Soundtrack in my head: Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry”

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words?  Well, I just caught the New York Times saying much more about American journalism than I ever thought it would say.

“Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted,” was written by journalist David Carr. The article was about Glenn Greenwald, the journalist for The Guardian who broke the story about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, and about what Carr refers to as the dichotomy between journalist and activist.

Carr acknowledged that with newsroom staff cutbacks causing the disappearance of reporter beats at places like state legislatures, advocacy journalism fills a void.  Carr also gave Greenwald plenty of “gray space” (“journalist jargon” for space taken up by print) when he dutifully quoted Greenwald below.

“It is not a matter of being an activist or a journalist…It is a matter of being honest or dishonest. All activists are not journalists, but all real journalists are activists. Journalism has a value, a purpose — to serve as a check on power…I have seen all sorts of so-called objective journalists who have all kinds of assumptions in every sentence they write…Rather than serve as an adversary of government, they want to bolster the credibility of those in power. That is a classic case of a certain kind of activism.”

Despite the quote, the article also features a picture of Greenwald with the following caption below:  “Glenn Greenwald, whose work for The Guardian has raised the question of who is a journalist.”  And Carr concludes with the following quote of his own:

“But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.  That is not to say that Mr. Greenwald’s work is suspect, only that the tendentiousness of ideology creates its own narrative. He has been everywhere on television taking on his critics, which seems more like a campaign than a discussion of the story he covered.  Activists can and often do reveal the truth, but the primary objective remains winning the argument. That includes the argument about whether a reporter has to be politically and ideologically neutral to practice journalism.”

I believe that Mr. Carr is very sincere in his viewpoint.  Furthermore, he may or may not have had input into the caption below the picture of Mr. Greenwald.  However, look at my screen capture of Mr. Carr’s New York Times article and you just might see more truth revealed than Mr. Carr, the caption writer, or even the newspaper itself intended.

F-35 ad next to a NYT article about "journalistic objectivity"

Has the New York Times committed what might be called a “F-35 Fighter Freudian Slip?”

I should note that Bloomberg News–just a 14 minute trip via foot and the R subway from the Times–has a less than positive view of the F-35 in its article “Flawed F-35 Fighter Too Big to Kill as Lockheed Hooks 45 States.”

Let’s go back to that image of President Eisenhower seeing an ad like Lockheed Martin’s in the newspaper and throwing the publication into the fireplace out of frustration, as reported by historians in a link from my last post.

What do the F-35 fighter and the NSA have in common?  Lockheed Martin, of course.  Lockheed will be the first to boast about it in this press release on its website from April 2013.  Crocodyl.org’s research goes even deeper.  Lockheed Martin had an NSA surveillance scandal of its own when Margaret Newsham, an engineer working for Lockheed in the UK, blew the whistle on the company in 1997 by revealing to Congress the existence of the Echelon System, a surveillance system that a 1998 European Parliament report concluded gave the U.S. the capability to intercept any call or encrypted communication within Europe.  Per Crocodyl, Lockheed’s relationship with the NSA goes all the way back to, well, the time of President Eisenhower’s administration when the company developed the U-2 spy plane.

Okay, but does this really mean that the New York Times is in cahoots with Lockheed Martin?  Well, taking David Carr’s quote and substituting a couple of key words (which I’ve italicized), I’d say this:

If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.  That is not to say that Mr. Carr’s journalism is suspect, only that the tendentiousness of money creates its own narrative. News outlets can and often do reveal the truth, but the primary objective remains making money.

Writer Robert Jensen from The Rag Blog chronicled a rather revealing exchange he had with a newspaper editor about objective journalism.

“After listening to my summary of this critique of the U.S. commercial news media system, this editor (let’s call him Joe) told me proudly: ‘No one from corporate headquarters has ever called me to tell me what to run in my paper.’

“I asked Joe if it were possible that he simply had internalized the value system of the folks who run the corporation…and therefore they never needed to give him direct instructions.  He rejected that, reasserting his independence from any force outside his newsroom.

“I countered: ‘Let’s say, for the purposes of discussion, that you and I were equally capable journalists in terms of professional skills, that we were both reasonable candidates for the job of editor-in-chief that you hold. If we had both applied for the job, do you think your corporate bosses would have ever considered me for the position, given my politics? Would I, for even a second, have been seen by them to be a viable candidate for the job?’…Joe pondered my question and conceded that I was right, that his bosses would never hire someone with my politics, no matter how qualified, to run one of their newspapers. The conversation trailed off, and we parted without resolving our differences.”

Leave it to another New Yorker–namely The New Yorker (whose Times Square address would put it about halfway between Bloomberg and the New York Times), to describe this censorship process in greater detail.  Jane Mayer’s article, “A Word From Our Sponsor: Public television’s attempt to placate David Koch” goes into great detail about WNET’s efforts at self-censorship in its anticipation of objection from a board member and major donor.

I’ve hired people before and therefore know a lot about what goes through the mind of an employer.  We employers look for a good fit for the organization. We want somebody who is going to do a good job with minimal interference from us.  We don’t want to hire somebody who is going to give us headaches.

So is the New York Times knowingly or unknowingly using Carr’s article to placate an advertiser like Lockheed Martin?  I don’t know, but that is a mighty big ad…

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