Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post (Noember 27, 2003) on some of the reaction to President Bush’s surprise visit to Baghdad:

Philip Taubman, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, said that “in this day and age, there should have been a way to take more reporters. People are perfectly capable of maintaining a confidence for security reasons. It’s a bad precedent.” Once White House officials “decided to do a stealth trip, they bought into a whole series of things that are questionable.”

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, criticized the White House correspondents who made the trip without spilling the secret. “That’s just not kosher,” he said. “Reporters are in the business of telling the truth. They can’t decide it’s okay to lie sometimes because it serves a larger truth or good cause.”

 James Taranto comments:

Is it any wonder Americans don’t trust the press? Here we have an editor of the New York Times insisting that reporters can keep a secret, then in the very next breath, a self-styled rabbi of reportorial “excellence” denounces them for doing just that.

Rosenstiel’s comments are especially idiotic. The reporters didn’t lie; they just waited 2 1/2 hours until Bush had left Baghdad before reporting that he had been there. Journalists often get information that is “embargoed”–i.e., not to be released until a time of the source’s choosing–and by and large they comply with such embargoes. Moreover, withholding facts “because it serves a larger truth” is precisely what reporters do when they use anonymous sources.

Rosenstiel adds that Bush’s trip “was much bigger news on a slow news dayif it was unexpected. What reporters have done by going along with this is to help Bush politically.” Well, it’s true that the element of surprise helped make this one of the most dramatic political gestures in recent history…. But what Rosenstiel seems to be saying is that reporters had an obligation to diminish the news value of the story in order to hurt Bush politically.



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