The New York Times recently issued a “Libya is falling apart” editorial. As Glenn Greenwald noted, The Times failed to mention it was an enthusiastic supporter of U.S. air strikes that helped topple Moammar Ghadafi and destabilize Libya to the point where ISIS now has a foothold there. In fact, after Ghadafi fled, The Times went so far as to publish a front-page news analysis headlined “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.”
Swamp Rabbit read Greenwald’s story and chuckled. “Glad them Times analysts are on the case. Without ’em, we might know what’s really goin’ on in the world.”
He scratched his mangy hide and added, “‘Scuse me fer askin’, but how come they don’t own up when they’s wrong?”
Good question. You would think The Times would not only own up to colossal errors of judgment but also fire the people responsible for such judgments, or at least demote them to the SundayStyles beat. But you would be wrong. Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, the editorial board and so on are still going strong.
It seems the only real sin you can commit on the news side at The Times — at least when it comes to U.S. foreign policy — is to refuse to blindly accept the government’s version of events. Inaccuracies are acceptable, especially when a story is breaking. Corrections are made later, sometimes, after the bombs are dropped and thousands are dead and the government’s rationale for its large-scale act of destruction has been exposed as fraudulent. This is true not only at The Times, but at all mainstream news outlets.
We talked solutions. The rabbit proposed a self-policing system for the media run by some semi-reputable rag, maybe the Columbia Journalism Review. Stories written by Times staffers would automatically link to their other stories on the same subjects. The staffers would gain and lose points according to how accurate their stories turned out to be. Their ratings would be listed next to their bylines. For example, a reporter or pundit who was wrong on WMD in Iraq and U.S. tactics in Libya would merit a Minus 2. He or she could gain back points by admitting, in print, to previous errors. Anyone who fell to Minus 5 would be fired.
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Who’s going to stick his neck out writing a report that might get him fired?”
The rabbit spit on the frozen swamp and said, “That’s the point, you dummy. How else you gonna keep liars and fools out of the news business?”