Editor & Publisher's Wishful Thinking

Once upon a time, Editor and Publisher, as "America’s Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry," had a certain degree of respectability. These days, conspiratorial speculation and advocacy are every bit as important as fact, and the byline "By E&P Staff" means that anything to follow needs to be parsed very carefully to distill facts from wishful, often overtly partisan projection. A prime example of this concerns this August 6, 2001 AP Photo as seen in this MSNBC article.E&P had this to say:

On its front page Tuesday, The New York Times published a photo of new U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers going over a briefing paper with President George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch "in August 2001," the caption reads. USA Today and the Boston Globe carried the photo labeled simply "2001," but many other newspapers ran the picture in print or on the Web with a more precise date: Aug. 6, 2001. Does that date sound familiar? Indeed, that was the date, a little over a month before 9/11, that President Bush was briefed on the now-famous "PDB" that declared that Osama Bin Laden was "determined" to attack the U.S. homeland, perhaps with hijacked planes. But does that mean that Miers had anything to do with that briefing? As it turns out, yes, according to Tuesday's Los Angeles Times. An article by Richard A. Serrano and Scott Gold observes that early in the Bush presidency "Miers assumed such an insider role that in 2001 it was she who handed Bush the crucial 'presidential daily briefing' hinting at terrorist plots against America just a month before the Sept. 11 attacks." So the Aug. 6 photo may show this historic moment, though quite possibly not. In any case, some newspapers failed to include the exact date with the widely used Miers photo today. A New York Times spokesman told E&P: "The wording of the caption occurred in the course of routine editing and has no broader significance." The photo that ran in so many papers and on their Web sites originally came from the White House but was moved by the Associated Press, clearly marked as an "Aug. 6, 2001" file photo. It shows Miers with a document or documents in her right hand, as her left hand points to something in another paper balanced on the president's right leg. Two others in the background are Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and Steve Biegun of the national security staff. The PDB was headed "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," and notes, among other things, FBI information indicating "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."

Notice first how in the final two paragraphs how E&P tries to morph the documents in the photo (contents unknown) into the Bin Laden PDB, presumably to damage Bush and/or Miers. Otherwise, the information is largely irrelevant. this is advocacy journalism at it's worse. Given the media’s proclivity towards leaking classified documents, would they really use top secret briefing documents for an AP photo op? Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time Editor & Publisher ran a story based on toilet-grade documentation within the past month. Whatever veneer of respectability that E&P once had seems to have disappeared.