Friday, July 08, 2005

No Protesting From The Press Box

The Associated Press reports from Wednesday's protest by that newly outed special interest group, journalists.

More than 100 First Amendment advocates and journalists, most from the Star Tribune, attended the noon rally the same day a federal judge ordered reporter Judith Miller jailed for not revealing her sources to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity.

Not a bad turnout. But when management encourages their attendance and it is only a one minute walk from the office, you'd expect a little more solidarity in support of District Prisoner 548872654 (aka Judith Miller). Sure, advocacy of the 1st Amendment is important and everything, but come on, some of these people had noon lunch reservations across town.

So who among our local media glitterati was in attendance? The Star Tribune's embedded reporter (who I presume didn't participate, remember, there is no jeering from the press box) identified a single individual:

"This could be a very, very dark day in journalism," said Star Tribune managing editor Scott Gillespie, alluding to the contempt-of-court action against Miller and Cooper.

The Associated Press article was more generous about naming names. Also manning the battlements were:

[Randy] Furst, who has been a general assignment reporter at the paper for 32 years, said he regularly talks to sources who wouldn't give him information if he gave up their identities.

"If I divulged that, I wouldn't be able to do reporting in this town. Who was going to trust me?" he said.

A good point. Who could possibly trust any media outlet that went around divulging confidential sources?

Maybe we should ask Dan Cohen about that. His story (excerpts from the Columbia Journalism Review article on the book THE TAMING OF THE PRESS: COHEN V. COWLES MEDIA COMPANY, by Elliot C. Rothenberg)

In 1982, Dan Cohen, an employee of a Minneapolis advertising agency that was working for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, was directed to leak court documents on a Democratic candidate's shoplifting conviction twelve years before. He did so, after being promised solemnly that his identity would be protected. It was not; editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press disclosed his name and The Star Tribune attacked him as a purveyor of dirty tricks. He was fired from his job and The Star Tribune continued to hound him when he found a new position.

Even those who may not sympathize with Rothenberg's mildly conservative politics will enjoy seeing the pomposity, hypocrisy, and occasional downright viciousness of the Twin Cities press exposed.

Now that sounds like a page turner. Any of the 100 protestors at the court house interested in immediately resigning from the Star Tribune due to its flagrant violation of the sacred press privilege? Anyone? Anyone?

Maybe they're participating in another moment of silence. While we wait for the flood of conscientious volunteers, here's commentary another vocal Star Tribune activist:

"If we can't keep our promises to protect people's identities, then that information is going to dry up," said Allie Shah, a Star Tribune reporter who helped organize the rally.

After the Cohen case, I'm not exactly sure how the Star Tribune has managed to survive for the past 23 years. But maybe lack of good information explains the type of journalism reporters like Allie Shah has been forced to provide us news consumers in the Twin Cities. An excerpt from an interview she did with the University of Iowa:

When asked to share a favorite story from her current beat, Shah spoke about reporting a story in the early afternoon at the Minnesota state fair. While looking around, Shah noticed a young couple embracing in the hot dog line. Shah thought they looked perfect for her second assignment, "young love at the fair."

Yikes. Talk about a time when we needed a source to dry up.

More keen reportorial insticts are shown in this statement regarding the moment of silence engaged in earlier on Wednesday:

Many of the Star Tribune reporters said they hadn't seen such broad interest among journalists in a case, noting the silence in newsroom that morning. "It was the quietest I've ever seen this newsroom," Shah said.

Yep, moments of silence are funny that way.

But, amid all this outrage and protesting for their special interest privileges, it's good to see some of these people haven't lost their senses of humor.

Getting journalists involved in the issue won't be easy, said Mark Neuzil, a former reporter who now teaches at the University of St. Thomas.

"We're trained to be observers. The standards of neutrality and fairness are drilled into us," Neuzil said, adding that journalists need to change their thinking if they want a federal shield law to become a reality.

"You have to get over that. It's kind of like teaching an old dog new tricks," he said.

I wouldn't be too worried about that. I think these old dogs know all the tricks already.

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