David Brooks: in defense of Newsweek
Yesterday, NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column defending Newsweek against the bloggers. Brooks writes that, instead of criticizing the media, we need to focus on "the extremists, the real enemy," the ones who bear the true responsibility for the deaths.
As I wrote previously, however, there are two separate issues raised by the Newsweek/Koran story, issues that have been lumped together by many commentators. And Brooks, unfortunately, is ignoring them both, as well as setting up a false "either/or" dichotomy of responsibility.
The first issue has to do with practicality--what was written and what were the consequences of publishing it. Questions about the information's truth or falsehood don't enter into this first consideration. Even if it had been true, an argument could be mounted against the need to print it. In the last analysis, that's a judgment call, as I wrote in my previous post on the subject.
The second issue has to do with what's called "process": how was the information authenticated, and was this in agreement with commonplace journalistic standards that are (or used to be) in place to make certain that anything printed in an article is likely to be correct? The answer in this case is "no." But this is a separate issue, and has nothing to do with either truth or consequences--although, of course, we are only talking about the issue because of the dire consequences of publishing this particular poorly-researched article.
When you put the two issues together, and look at what Newsweek has done here, you have an affront to both common sense judgments and time-honored journalist practices. Brooks' analysis in his column ignores all of this. I am, quite frankly, really surprised at his lack of intellectual rigor. I think it only shows that, in this case, he is letting his identity as a journalist trump his ability to think straight. And it's not just his identity as journalist--it's his identity as a former writer for Newsweek, and a colleague of Isikoff and the rest. My guess is that he has an emotional allegiance to them, and doesn't like seeing them bashed by those mean old bloggers, and this is clouding his judgment.
The liberal media doesn't have to be way out there with Chomsky to be negligent nevertheless. I wonder whether Brooks ever heard of the old concept of "contributory negligence"--meaning one can still be responsible for something without being 100% responsible. There is a partial responsibility. In this case, of course the fundamentalist Moslems who were all riled up about this and went on a rampage bear the greatest responsibility. That goes without saying, and that's why no one felt the need to say it.
But the fact that others--the ones who committed the acts--bear the greater responsibility does not in any way absolve Newsweek of its partial responsibility in the matter. We expect more from Newsweek--we expect them to use good judgment, and to follow proper journalistic safeguards before they publish a story--and yes, to think about the possible consequences of that story vs. the public's need to know. Is that too much to ask?