Self-Inflicted Wounds: E&P Editor Attempts to Defend MSM

First published as a weekly in 1884 as The Journalist, Editor & Publisher (E&P) is a monthly journal covering the North American newspaper industry.

Since 2002, Greg Mitchell has been the Editor of E&P, and he writes both an online and print column. While I've never read the print version, I have occasionally read Mitchell's online Pressing Issues column, and have actually written about what he has had to say twice in the past.

Click. Print. Bang. was a reaction to the mind of Mitchell, as in his column he advocated that the media should attempt to actively undermine (subscriber-only) the current U.S. President:

No matter which party they generally favor or political stripes they wear, newspapers and other media outlets need to confront the fact that America faces a crisis almost without equal in recent decades.

Our president, in a time of war, terrorism and nuclear intrigue, will likely remain in office for another 33 months, with crushingly low approval ratings that are still inching lower. Facing a similar problem, voters had a chance to quickly toss Jimmy Carter out of office, and did so. With a similar lengthy period left on his White House lease, Richard Nixon quit, facing impeachment. Neither outcome is at hand this time.

Lacking an impeachable offense and disappointed that Bush was reelected to a second term, Mitchell made the following alarmist cry to the journalistic community:

The alarm should be bi-partisan. Many Republicans fear their president's image as a bumbler will hurt their party for years. The rest may fret about the almost certain paralysis within the administration, or a reversal of certain favorite policies. A Gallup poll this week revealed that 44% of Republicans want some or all troops brought home from Iraq. Do they really believe that their president will do that any time soon, if ever?

Democrats, meanwhile, cross their fingers that Bush doesn’t do something really stupid -- i.e. nuke Iran -- while they try to win control of at least one house in Congress by doing nothing yet somehow earning (they hope) the anti-Bush vote.

Meanwhile, a severely weakened president retains, and has shown he is willing to use, all of his commander-in-chief authority, and then some.

Mitchell's tone is both decidedly shrill and purposefully ominous, as he advocates his solution (while saying he doesn't) for what he seems to regard as the Bush problem.

I don’t have a solution myself now, although all pleas for serious probes, journalistic or official, of the many alleged White House misdeeds should be heeded. But my point here is simply to start the discussion, and urge that the media, first, recognize that the crisis—or, if you want to say, impending crisis -- exists, and begin to explore the ways to confront it.

Not content with the news being reported by the media about the administration, Mitchell was publicly pushing for a confrontational antagonistic policy to be used to try to undermine the White House; a smear campaign to "start the discussion." He pushes, in no uncertain terms, to use the media to dig up scandals, building doubts and fears (his warning that people should, "cross their fingers that Bush doesn’t do something really stupid -- i.e. nuke Iran" is a clear indication of his mindset).

What he hopes to accomplish by building distrust and fear of the White House in an influential media is open to interpretation, but based upon his earlier comments that Bush seemed neither likely to be impeached nor voted out, Mitchell seems to hope that with enough fear-mongering, someone sufficiently alarmed by the kind of coverage he hopes to gin up might find another way to remove Bush from office.

Not just hostile to the President, however, Mitchell has gone out of his way to condemn Israel's response to Hezbollah's rain of rockets on Israeli civilian targets, while dismissing Hezbollah's attempts at mass murder:

The word “rockets” makes Hezbollah's terror weapon of choice seem very space age, but they are in fact crude, unguided and with limited range – nothing like the U.S. prime grade weapons on the Israeli side. The vast majority of them land in the water or an empty field or explode in the air.

Mitchell again made his opinion on who was more at fault in the recent Hezbollah-triggered war in this column, and as you might expect, Mitchell placed the blame for Lebanese deaths squarely upon Israel and the White House, refusing to even mention Hezbollah's role in the column except to say that Israel created it.

Given his obvious biases, it should have been no surprise when Mitchell released this first part of a two-part column yesterday, attacking those bloggers who questioned the manipulation and staging of photos from some photojournalists in the recent war, primarily fought in Lebanon. His defense should have been expected, as every example of staged or manipulated stories and photographs attacked Israel, and the exposure of this journalistic fraud undermined the anti-Israeli view Mitchell has clearly decided to advocate.

Allahpundit at Hot Air rightfully took Mitchell's column to task, pointing out that clear examples of journalistic fraud did in fact occur, and catches Mitchell misrepresenting the comments made by Bryan Denton, a U.S. photojournalist witness to the sight of some staging performed by Lebanese wire service photographers.

Allah also notes that while Mitchell blasts bloggers and the suspicions and allegations they've made of staged photos, he pointedly refuses to discuss the fact that a German television station captured live video showing just such staging as it occurred in Qana. One can only imagine how much effort Mitchell took to avoid this well-documented proof that one of the most influential stories of the Hezbollah-Israeli war, the so-called Red Cross ambulance attack, was, in fact, almost certainly a complete fraud.

All of this sets up today's editorial from Mitchell, In Defense of War Photographers: Part II, in which Mitchell continues:

In a column here on Tuesday, I mounted a defense of the overwhelming number of press photographers in the Middle East who bravely, under horrid conditions, in recent weeks have sent back graphic and revealing pictures from the war zones, only to be smeared, as a group, by rightwing bloggers aiming, as always, to discredit the media as a whole.

Which is not to say that this is much ado about nothing. Obviously, Adnan Hajj, the Reuters photographer who doctored at least two images, deserved to be dismissed. A handful of other pictures snapped by others warrant investigation. In a few cases, caption information was wrong or misleading, and required correction. In addition, the controversy has sparked an overdue discussion -- some of it here at E&P -- on the credibility of all photography in the Photoshop age and the wide use of local stringers abroad in a time of cutbacks in supervision.

But, in general, the serious charges and wacky conspiracy theories against the photographers, and their news organizations, are largely unfounded, and politically driven, while at times raising valid questions, such as what represents "staging."

Were press photographers smeared, as Mitchell states, as a group?

I have heard no one doubting that news photographers have put their lives on the line to capture stories, and even when what they capture on film isn’t always popular or what we want to hear in the past, we’ve debated it without clearly taking sides based upon ideology.

I can state for my part that I questioned the overall story the media was presenting from Qana based upon seeming inconsistencies between the stories and the photographic evidence. These questions raised by myself and others helped get an investigation launched—thought Mitchell doubtlessly disproves of it, as it is not the kind of investigation that serves the interests Mitchell's observed bias.

This success in rooting out some apparent fraud led to bloggers to look more closely at the other media information coming out of Lebanon for more, where other suspicious photos and stories emerged.

Did rightwing bloggers attempt to smear the entire media, as Mitchell alleges, or were they targeting specific questionable stories, specific questionable photographs, and photographers exhibiting a suspicious pattern of behavior?

The answer, quite obvious to those that actually read the blog posts and the commentary they generated, is that bloggers investigating specific instances uncovered general problems with how the media gathered news and verified the accuracy of the information, a fact that Mitchell begrudgingly admits. I'd like to know which "wacky conspiracy theories" Mitchell was referring to, as the Qana staging episode and the Red Cross ambulance stories most thought implausible when first proposed by bloggers, turned out to be absolutely correct.

In a significant number of the more widely disseminated blog posts asking questions and making accusations about suspicious media accounts, the suspicions of bloggers turned out to be quite well-founded. Contrary to Mitchell's suggestions, quite a few—more than a handful—of the more widely regarded questions raised by bloggers were exposed apparent staging or fraud--a remarkable achievement by people thousands of miles away from the story, doing the fact-checking and analysis that the media should have been doing, but much to their embarrassment, often did not.

Mitchell, apparently then unable to go much further on his own, decides to simply turn to the Lightstalkers photography forum, and quote heavily from media photographers denying that manipulation and staging took place. And while the much-respected Tim Fadek can say all he wants that the scene in Qana wasn't staged, and other photographers choose to take his observations as fact, when I see with my own eyes on YouTube that it was indeed directed by none other than Mr. Green Helmet himself, I have every right to doubt the veracity of Mr. Fadek and other photographers that denied Qana was staged, along with the media organizations that try to act that such compelling evidence of malfeasance does not exist.

I suspect that Mitchell's next groundbreaking column will expose that according to interviews with inmates at San Quentin, 99% are actually innocent.

This E&P editorial chooses to dodge the real issues of the media's vetting of the accuracy of the stories and photographs that they chose to print coming out of Lebanon and other venues, just as they dodged how so many pictures and events ever had reason to be questioned in the first place.

Greg Mitchell, Editor of Editor & Publisher shows himself to be a prime example of exactly what bloggers fear most in the media; a newscrafter, not a newsman, with a quite specific and heavily partisan agenda. He seems terrified that if the public actually looked too closely at how the sometimes tainted product of the news business is manufactured, they might discover it has fewer quality checks than a disposable diaper, and sadly, sometimes ends up smelling much the same.

David Perlmutter wrote of the problems with photojournalism last week:

I'm not sure, however, if the craft I love is being murdered, committing suicide, or both.

A simple glance at such industry leaders as Greg Mitchell suggests that not only are the wounds are indeed self-inflicted, but that some newscrafters can't keep their fingers from jerking the trigger.

Update: Allah reacts as well.

Cross-posted at the Confederate Yankee.