September 25, 2003
Building a Better Mousetrap

In this world of media criticism, scoops are few and far between. Unless you're Slate's ineffably muckraking media crit Jack Shafer!

Shafer, who lost the magazine's editorial stewardship to Jacob Weisberg when Michael Kinsley stepped down last year, has now posted two uber-niche media navelgazing pieces in consecutive weeks...starting with last week's ill-conceived, contrarian-for-contrarian's sake dismissal of "public" or "civil journalism" (which in and of itself isn't the obscenely I.F. Stone-centric idea that Shafer makes it out to be) and culminating with today's front-page featured article, The Rat of Baghdad - Who tattled on New York Times reporter John F. Burns to the Iraqi ministry of information?

Within, we get a sanctimonious dissection of one anonymous reporter's "outing" of the Times' John Burns and his criticism of Saddam Hussein to the tyrant himself. The issue? "(B)y performing his comparative literature review with the Iraqi ministry using Burns' copy, did the unnamed American correspondent end up taunting the ministry for allowing Burns to write so damagingly? Did the unnamed American correspondent's comparison draw an extra set of crosshairs on Burns' forehead and put him in even greater peril? Did the unnamed correspondent encourage the Iraqis to further play one foreign correspondent off the other?"

Wow, first Daniel Pearl, and then Jayson Blair, and then...Burnsgate! Let's hear it for (over-)reactionary New York-based self-absorption! Scoop on, Shafer!

We eagerly await the onslaught of frontpage media-crit controversies on the U.S. coalition's shooting death of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana or the Army's cannon-fodder treatment of journalists in Baghdad's Palestine hotel or the American-led interim Iraqi government's banning of Arabic satellite television networks such as Al-Jazeera.

Wait. Maybe those stories already got their token half-day of coverage?

Posted in a Grave fashion.

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