Saturday, October 29, 2005

Journalistic standards

The other day, Atrios -- in discussing Cathy Young's piece questioning right-wing bloggers, particularly Michelle Malkin, for their handling of a series of incidents involving the appearance of explosive devices at various campuses around the country (see my take on that) -- asked the 64,000-dollar question:
By the current rules of the road is Michelle Malkin really a "professional journalist?"

I'm not really sure what the current rules of the road are, but the answer really depends on what your definition of "professional journalist" is, particularly within the realm of print media, which is where Malkin primarily operates.

If it's "anyone who works in a public capacity for a media organization" -- which does indeed seem to be the current rules of the road -- then she probably is.

But by the old-fashioned standards of what makes one a "journalist" -- which entails being primarily a truth-seeker -- she is not.

You see, it used to be that, in order to be called a journalist, one had to actually be, or have been, a reporter. And Malkin has never been a reporter, at least not in any professional capacity.

Now, part of this involves traditional professional ladders within the business. For many years, nearly everyone who was ever an editor was, first, a reporter. Then, once on the editor's rung, one had the option of writing editorials. Columnists -- the star positions on editorial pages -- were culled either from the ranks of editors or star reporters.

Thus, traditionally, anyone who held a column-writing position at a newspaper had first been a reporter and perhaps an editor as well, and thus was in every regard a "professional journalist." Indeed, it often was the case that columnists provided original reporting within their columns.

Those days have now largely gone by the wayside. Nowadays it is not unusual to find columnists chosen from the ranks of non-journalists, and often from among professional ideologues, simply for their ability to string words together in an entertaining fashion. Or sometimes they are chosen just because they fit a certain profile the editor wants for his page.

Malkin is just such a creature. In fact, one of the advantages that she offered editors was that she was a "twofer" who fit two of the key criteria that editors use when deciding upon a columnist: she's conservative and a minority. And she writes reasonably well too.

She is, in fact, more properly described as a "professional pundit," not a "professional journalist." She does do not do original reporting; she provides commentary on other people's work, or cheerleading for various aspects of the conservative-movement agenda. In Malkin's case, it is predictably partisan commentary at that, which propels her even more accurately into the realm of "professional propagandist."

As I've explained previously, I have something of a history with Malkin. I edited her column at the Bellevue Journal American in the early 1990s, while she was syndicated through the Los Angeles Daily News. The LADN only ever employed her as a columnist. Likewise, when Malkin moved to the Puget Sound to go to work for my friend Mindy Cameron at the Seattle Times, it was only as a columnist.

Now, it's true that while at the Times, Malkin did make the occasional foray into providing original reporting within her columns. Indeed, she was rather eager to write various exposes -- but unfortunately, she had trouble doing the requisite legwork to make those exposes actually stick.

First, there was the attempt to question a bit of local "corporate welfare" that turned out to be factually wrong. (Note the correction at the top.)

Then Malkin unleashed a tirade against city officials that explicitly called them prostitutes. Even readers recognized it as crudely libelous, not to mention devoid of basic ethical standards.

There were other instances that raised questions about her judgment as displayed in her columns: one, a column on "envirocrats" that was full of false facts and dopey assertions.

In another piece, she touted the film Waco: Rules of Engagement, which was later thoroughly debunked -- not to mention that its chief promoters and admirers were the Patriot/militia crowd.

Similarly, another column [which has since been strangely removed from the Times' archives] touted the later-debunked "statistical analysis" of John Lott regarding gun control.

The capper, perhaps, was a hit piece accusing the state's Democratic attorney general of manipulating prosecutions in drug cases. A key problem, as the victim pointed out, was that Malkin never bothered to contact the AG's office to get its side of the story -- and moreover, Malkin was once again simply wrong on the facts.

Shortly afterward, she announced she was "moving on."

She polished off her career there by writing a post-departure piece that amounted to a vicious attack on Seattle in the wake of the WTO riots. As numerous respondents pointed out, her mean-spiritedness was exceeded only by her lousy grasp of facts.

In sum, Malkin's recent pose as a defender of veracity in journalism is riddled with all kinds of ironies -- not least of which is that much of what Malkin advocates for amounts to an abandonment of journalistic standards.

But the fact that Malkin has never been a professional beat reporter (and only adopted the pose of one while writing at the Seattle Times) has a real effect on what and how she argues. Because if she had ever been one -- if, in fact, she had ever worked on a daily beat in a newsroom and been actually involved in the dirty daily work of getting out a newspaper, instead of languishing in the role of pundit throughout her career -- she would be a lot less quick to jump to false conclusions about the work of her professional peers.

Indeed, the best argument that Malkin is not a professional journalist is the sheer lack of professionalism in her dealings with other journalists.

This includes her misfire of an attack on Julie Chen -- for which she never had the courtesy or courage to apologize.

It also includes her failure to keep her word when she promised to let me interview her by phone (she later decided an e-mail exchange would suffice -- some standards!).

Probably the most egregious case of this was her bashing of the Pulitzer winner in photography -- an attack so overwhelmingly ignorant of the work done by photographers and how they do it that it really served only to provide concrete proof that Malkin has no idea what she's talking about when she writes about the work of other journalists. But again, that's because she's never been a real journalist.

Malkin continues unabated and unabashed, since being conservative means never having to say you're sorry. She's lately taken editors at the "MSM" to task for failing to join her in taking up cudgels against the spooky threat of creeping Islamism in the memorial to Flight 94 victims. More recently, there's been the Oklahoma suicide bombing and her confusion over the failure of the nation's editors to leap to the obviously dubious conclusion that this suicide was potentially part of an evil Islamist plot extending its tendrils to every corner of the nation.

In the past few days alone, Malkin has led an attack on USA Today over a badly retouched photo of Condoleezza Rice on its Web site (though Malkin, notably, fails to explain that it did not run in the print edition of the paper). Malkin remains unwilling to accept the paper's explanation that it was just a case of bad retouch work, and her readers are chiming in with Assrocketesque "professional" evaluations of whether the photo's retouching was intentional or not.

Well, as a veteran of a major Web news operation, I can tell Ms. Malkin and her many acolytes that mistakes like this, unfortunately, are not altogether uncommon in Web newsrooms. Web photography editors can often include people who are not terribly experienced with image manipulation, and they will make mistakes like this with nothing but professional intentions. In many cases, retouching will take place with an enlarged version of the photo, and in an effort to clean up, sharpen, or otherwise brighten a photo, they will make corrections which look fine in an enlarged version and grotesque and strange when shrunk to Web size. I've seen mistakes like this being made, and it's never, ever with the intention of making someone look bad. Sometimes it can be done out of haste as well; I wouldn't be surprised if this happened when someone applied a "quick fix" program to retouch it and didn't bother to examine what he had produced.

In fact, I'm certain that the basic standards of most professional newsrooms are that cleanup efforts like this are a good-faith effort to make the subject look better -- and they fail simply because of haste or inexperience. I've never known a photo editor, regardless of their political views, to intentionally alter for the worse the appearance of a photo subject, and would be very surprised if that had happened in this case, since USA Today's newsroom is not exactly known as a hotbed of liberalism.

But then, that's my view because I've been there and know firsthand how easy these kinds of mistakes can be. It makes me a hell of a lot less eager to jump to conclusions.

The fact that Malkin doesn't is a result not just of her not having been there. It's also a product of her basic, and abiding, contempt for the hard work of professional journalists. That alone makes her unworthy of being considered one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hey good lookin'

You know, over the past couple of years, I've been hearing conservatives natter on endlessly about their obvious superiority over liberals. They're smarter. They have purer motives. They love their country more. They love kids and black people more.

Uh-huh. OK, guys, whatever you say.

But the topper comes from a TownHall writer named Mike S. Adams, who explains that not only are they smarter and and yadda yadda, but their women are better looking:
Just two days after learning that it was alright to talk about this issue, I was giving another speech in North Carolina. After the speech, my wife commented on the good looks of the young Republican women from UNC-Chapel Hill who were listening in the audience.

Of course, this is very good news. Since my wife is able to comment on the surplus of good-looking women in the GOP, that means I can, too. Of course, it also helps that she stopped reading my columns many months ago.

[She obviously has insider knowledge that gives her a leg up on the rest of us.]
The public discussion of this issue will help Republicans answer some important questions. For example: "Should we assume that being gay often causes one to be a Democrat? Isn't it more likely that the lack of exposure to attractive women causes Democrats to be gay?" And "Do Democratic women consider compliments in the workplace to be sexual harassment simply because they rarely hear them?"

But, of course, it isn't necessary at this time to explore the many intellectual questions that flow from the observation that our women are more attractive than theirs. Instead, we must immediately begin to exploit the issue for political gain. And the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute is doing just that by publishing a calendar featuring, among others, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Shemane Nugent.

Ah, yes -- be still my beating heart. These are indeed true visions of superior womanhood, so long as your taste runs towards soulless harpies for whom the word "crank" has multiple meanings. You know, women who will cut your heart out and feed it to the cat. And now that I think of it, most of the Republican women I've known have tended to be better manicured, though that doesn't necessarily mean they're better looking.

[For your own gander at the fine examples of Republican femininity Adams extolls, check out the folks who are selling that calendar.]

But just in case Mike has any questions about why gays and lesbians tend to vote Democratic, here's a tip: It's actually because the Republican Party is full of people with repugnant and grotesque misperceptions about what makes people gay. People like him.

And for that matter, it also has a lot to do with why people like me -- white, hetero, former Republicans -- are now Democrats too.

Because no amount of good looks can disguise a succubus. And the Republican Party is full of them -- both sexes.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Strawberry Days news

Kevin Wood at the Daily Yomiuri -- Japan's largest English-language newspaper -- has written a very nice review of my book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community:
Strawberry Days is really three books in one: A detailed historical chronicle of the whos, whats, wheres, whens and hows of the internment and the events leading up to it; a series of personal anecdotes and emotional reminiscences from internees and those who knew them; and an insightful, well-reasoned analysis of why the internment happened and what its ramifications are.

Kevin includes some answers I gave him in correspondence prior to the review:
To Neiwert, the historical issue is still a timely one for a number of reasons: "First is the overarching lesson of the internment: That Americans, in times of great national stress, were willing to completely discard the rights of our fellow citizens--so long as it wasn't us. We also were willing to assume that race or ethnicity itself was cause to suspect others of treason. I don't think these propensities have gone away; in fact, they've been resurfacing a lot since 9/11...[the internment] gave the military the precedent it sought to enable it to arrest and detain civilians in a non-battlefield situation without any recourse to the courts. That precedent has come back to us in the form of military tribunals and 'enemy combatant status' instituted by the Bush administration since 9/11."

When the U.S. Supreme Court gave the constitutional seal of approval to the internment in its notorious Korematsu vs United States decision (in which U.S. citizen Fred Korematsu unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for the "crime" of refusing to leave his home), Justice Robert Jackson wrote in dissent that the precedent was "a loaded gun" that could be turned on the rest of the populace at any time.

"That warning, " says Neiwert, "has now come home to roost."

You can read the entirety of my responses to Kevin's questions at his blog.

The book, for what it's worth, is selling extraordinarily well, at least by my non-Malkinian standards. The first run (of 3,000) sold out, and the second run is still selling briskly. I'm getting a tremendously warm response to it.

My next appearance will be tomorrow night in Seattle's International District at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, where I'll be giving a presentation on the book. This will be a special event that, I hope, will be attended by many of the folks who participated in making it.

It's also going to be something of a multimedia event: I've prepared a slide show of many of the photos I collected over the years of researching this book, including the above photo of the Suguro girls on their strawberry farm.

The event is being co-sponsored by Densho, Eastside Asian Pacific Americans, Japanese American Citizens League/Lake Washington Chapter, and the Japanese American Citizens League/Seattle Chapter.

Finally, on a longer-term note, my readers in Southern California can mark their calendars: I've been invited to speak at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on Jan. 21. I'm planning to do media appearances in conjunction with it. And I'm currently trying to book other appearances in California that week.

Neo-Nazis and the mainstream

Bill White, the neo-Nazi who was chiefly responsible for inciting the riots last week in Toledo, Ohio, is really a classic fascist: that is, he's a man with no real principles except a real devotion to obtaining power.

He's already been all over the map politically. For awhile he was a devoted Marxist (he wrote for Pravda) and then became a libertarian. His politics then swung far rightward and he began promoting neo-Nazism as a leader in the National Socialist Movement.

Whatever route he took, it produced a worm-riddled soul. How else can you describe someone who said this in response to news that the family of a federal judge had been murdered:
"Everyone associated with the Matt Hale trial has deserved assassination for a long time. I don't feel bad that Judge Lefkow's family was murdered today. In fact, when I heard the story, I laughed."

He nonetheless has something of a history of worming his way into mainstream circles. White has made some money in the Beltway by owning and managing slums, but he also claims to have friends in higher circles.

Earlier this year, White touted his mainstream credentials over at his Web site, under a headline, "SPLC Attacks Our Friends At The Washington Times: Homo Jews Demand Coombs, McCain, Others Resign":
This is amusing. First, Stacy McCain is a pretty good friend of mine, Francis Coombs is a big fan of our website, and I've had lunch with his wife at an American Renaissance conference. Stacy, at least, is not anti-Jewish -- they all come from that weird part of the "far right" that buys into race theories but has a weird admiration for Semites. I once suggested to Mrs Coombs that the Washington Times should more virulently criticize the Zionist Entity, and she told me that several Jewish columnists -- Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz and AM Rosenthal, among others -- had threatened the Moonie organization if they ever took an anti-Zionist stance. Wes Pruden, who is in charge of the Times, however, is an extreme Zionist, and I have cussed him out violently for his extreme pro-Jewish views. People who know him tell me they can't understand his love of the Zionist state.

In any case, the SPLC has been trying to get these guys fired for years now. Stacy, in paticular, wrote a front-page story exposing how the SPLC made up the Y2K militia threat in order to con a multi-million contract out of the Clinton government, and has been on their shit list every since.

Anyways, read on, as the homosexual Jewish lobby rails against some of the few good folk still writing in an American newspaper:]


If they wanted to go after Stacy's FreeRepublic postings, they should have done it in a timely manner (this is all about a year and a half old) -- and just attacked him, since he's a little guy and the bigger guys at the Washington Times are political and not particular brave, and thus always willing to throw the little guy overboard if they think it will save their own asses.]

Given that White is anything but reliable, his remarks nonetheless do raise questions about the associations of people like Robert Stacy McCain and the Coombses. Not to mention, of course, the prominent right-wingers who sit at the Washington Times' tables.

Wonder if there are any Beltway reporters brave enough to ask either McCain or the Coombses if, indeed, they socialize with Bill White.