NY Times Story: Wasn't ABC's John "Bush Makes Me Sick" Green Over-Punished?
On the media beat Monday, New York Times reporter Lorne Manly (is that his real name?) wrote a story headlined "Before You Hit Send, Pause, Reflect," on the sad case of ABC weekend "Good Morning America" executive producer John Green, who was suspended for a month after the New York Post reported that he said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had "Jew shame." He was not suspended immediately when the Drudge Report displayed an e-mail from the 2004 presidential debates where he declared "Bush makes me sick" for his attacks on Kerry.
Manly lamented that the Green mini-scandal has put a "chilling effect" on wild and woolly newsrooms. He began by noting that although newsrooms may be more sanitary and smoke-free than the kind portrayed in the old Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell movie "His Girl Friday," "their freewheeling nature has not been completely extinguished, with the banter and off-color humor about the day's events and personalities ricocheting among today's cubicle dwellers, at times through news organizations' e-mail systems." Manly's story completely exaggerates how the media supposedly bend over backwards to appear fair and balanced:
The punishment has sparked a discussion within media circles about the proper limits of newsroom repartee and the meaning of objectivity in a polarized and electronically connected environment. Although Mr. Green's private riffs were bipartisan in nature and do not appear to have leeched into news coverage, they come at a time when the mainstream media — whipsawed by a smattering of high-profile misdeeds and an aggressive gotcha police among bloggers and advocacy groups — are striving mightily to appear impartial above all.
Authenticated e-mail messages, as in Mr. Green's case, muddy that image of journalistic probity in ways that similarly casual spoken conversations do not. As a result, some news executives and media observers reluctantly agree with ABC's action, arguing that journalists must avoid any appearances of being emotionally or ideologically involved with the subjects of their reporting.
Others wonder what exactly Mr. Green did wrong, other than embarrass some executives. The punishment, they worry, is disproportionate to the offense. News organizations, more than any other segment in society, they argue, should be wary about inhibiting the speech of their employees. The resulting second guessing, the screening of one's jokes, jibes and commentary, could have a chilling effect, they say.
Manly quoted lawyer David Korzenik to that effect, who has represented Spy magazine, among other media outfits: "Journalists should be able to speak openly in the vernacular, casually and jokingly, and without evil consequences,"
(How might he have comes to the attention of the Times? A quick Googling shows that Korzenik recently joined New York Times reporter Adam Liptak and New York Times assistant general counsel George Freeman in discussing Judith Miller and the legal issues around anonymous sourcing before Brooklyn Law School's American Constitution Society, the liberal version of the Federalist Society.)
Perhaps the most annoying part of the story is that Manly (and then William Kristol of The Weekly Standard) assume that John Green's Bush-loathing e-mail had no effect on ABC's political coverage. Manly declared Green's "private riffs...do not appear to have leeched into news coverage." He quotes Kristol claiming, "'For me, I think people should be held accountable for what they put on the air or in print,' he said. And there is no proof this expression of private views affected news coverage, he said."
Did they go back and watch tapes of weekend "Good Morning America" broadcasts in 2004? I highly doubt it. So why claim Green's private views had no public effect if they make no attempt to prove it? It's obvious that the on-air content means much more, since it's much more widely watched than a private e-mail, perhaps even when the e-mail is exposed. But Manly and the Times seem to be putting their thumb on the scale toward scolding ABC for being too harsh. It makes you wonder what kind of wild "private riffs" of liberal Bush-hatred are circulating around the Times e-mail system.