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Archive for May 2013

Walter Pincus, the law, journalists … and the chilling effect of Obama’s war on whistleblowers

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When Walter Pincus — Polk, Emmy, and Pulitzer winner — speaks about the intersection of national security, the First Amendment, and journalism, I listen. So should journalists who reacted as I did to the Department of Justice’s labeling of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “co-conspirator.”

Pincus, a national security reporter for The Washington Post, led a WashPo commentary with this:

When will journalists take responsibility for what they do without circling the wagons and shouting that the First Amendment is under attack?

Pincus, who received a Georgetown law degree when he was 68, dissected the Rosen case as a lawyer rather than a journalist in his piece bearing the hed Circling the media wagons. He wrote:

The case should be described as a State Department contract worker who signed a non-disclosure agreement, yet is alleged to have leaked Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) in violation of criminal law. He also is alleged to have lied to the FBI.

Search for a story analyzing damage to intelligence collection caused by the leak and what will emerge are stories about the threat to the First Amendment and journalists.

Pincus recounts the connections between Rosen and Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a senior intelligence adviser in the State Department’s Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation, almost hour by hour. Pincus differentiates between whistleblower and criminal act:

The person or persons who told the Associated Press about the CIA operation that infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Kim — or someone else — who informed Rosen about North Korea, were not whistleblowers exposing government misdeeds. They harmed national security and broke the law. [emphasis added]

For Pincus, the law clearly supports the DOJ’s decision to label Rosen as a potential criminal. He is, apparently, appalled that the bulk of the journalism community had a knee-jerk reaction to this as yet another threat to the First Amendment. The reaction of the journalism community, he suggested, may mirror the response of the White House Correspondents’ Association:

The White House Correspondents’ Association board issued a statement May 21 saying, “Reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs.” But it admitted, “We do not know all of the facts in these cases.” The board added: “Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of the press and nothing is more sacred to our profession.”

I worry that many other journalists think that last phrase should be “nothing is more sacred than our profession.” [emphasis in original]

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 29, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How to stop journalists: Say they might be criminals

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If you’re the guv’mint, and you want a journalist’s notes, emails, phone records, and such, and you don’t want to get a subpoena ’cause the journalist would be notified, no problemo.

Just cite Espionage Act. (All the while ignoring the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 that affords protections for journalists’ work products during criminal investigations.) Just tell a judge that the journalist is possibly a criminal. Tell the judge you think the journalist is a crook.

That’s how the U.S. Department of Justice nabbed the emails of James Rosen, a Washington correspondent for Fox News, following his reporting on North Korea based in part, it appears, on leaks. Writes Rob Tricchinelli of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The affidavits said that Rosen potentially committed a crime. By labeling him a “co-conspirator,” the Justice Department was able to fit into an exception to the PPA and proceed without getting a subpoena for the materials, which would have likely required giving notice to Rosen. … Media groups have spoken out against the DOJ’s investigation into Rosen, saying that the investigation improperly implies criminal activity taking place within ordinary news gathering.

Tricchinelli reports that the guv’mint never intended to charge Rosen.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 23, 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

How much time does a source have to respond to reporter’s request for comment? Virtually none?

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The deadline is now.

Thirty years ago, I faced a deadline once a day. For any reporter today, the deadline is … well, now. The technological leap into the Internet era that changed the notion of deadlines has consequences, as I wrote three years ago:

Speed kills. Accuracy dies when hordes of people, each with an electronic device capable of transmitting a story, strive to be first to tell the world what they found out — without necessarily checking its veracity.

Context dies. Because speed is the premium of the Internet era, the patience for explaining what does this mean is vanishing.

Tweets kill. Successive waves of 140-character messages are unlikely to carefully convey context, meaning and depth and breadth of description. It’s ironic that a generation branded with a short-attention span waits breathlessly for a succession of tweets — about what? And why?

But there’s another, far more subtle consequence on the notion of fairness. In my dinosaur era of once-a-day deadlines, I’d call a source on Monday afternoon. If an answering machine greeted me, I’d leave my name, my affiliation, my reason for calling — and my deadline. I might even place a second call Monday evening and a third Tuesday morning. If she had not returned my call, I would write:

Jane Doe had not responded to three phone messages seeking comment by deadline.

Today, however, the time within which a source has to respond to a message is, well, now. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 20, 2013 at 9:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

So you wanna be a citizen journalist? Good luck with that.

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Citizen journalist. Citizen journalist?

How does that adjective modify journalist? What is a citizen journalist? How does a citizen journalist differ from a plain, ink-stained (or digitally adept), adjective-unfettered journalist?

CJs (let’s call them that; it sounds cool) are in demand. MSNBC wants them. It asks, “Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting everyone. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist ” on its website. But, MSNBC cautions: “MSNBC will not pay you for your Submission. MSNBC may remove your Submission at any time. ”

A collaboration between CNN and IBN, the Indian Broadcasting Network, really wants CJs. It especially likes the whistle-blowing kind: “Do you know any cases of bad corporate governance, illegal business practices or corruption in a government scheme? Become a CJ and share your story with the world.”
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Is CNN’s Howard Kurtz still credible? We’ll see.

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How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.

Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for “Politico,” and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.

His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 5, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pew study: Newspapers’ hard times continue

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Shocked! Shocked we should be! But the latest report on the State of the Media by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism comes as no surprise. The bottom line: Fewer resources equals compromised journalism. From a PEJ press release summarizing the 2013 report‘s overview:

The report pinpoints multiple signs of shrinking reporting power. For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978. On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half and sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content. On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31%. And among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5% in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs. [For a quick look at the Pew findings, view its infographic overview]

The drop in newsroom employment has fallen precipitiously, particularly since 2007. That’s not news to S&R’s regular readers, as that’s been a principal topic of discussion here over the years. S&R has covered the reasons behind the firings (yep, “layoffs” is too soft a word for canning a pro) and posited on the consequences of a depleted journalism workforce. (See here, here, here, and here.)
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

May 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized