A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

Pentagon criticizes NBC war coverage

The story that became a world exclusive for NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski in early November turned into a question of ethics posed by the Pentagon at journalists.

Miklaszewski was the only television reporter able to show early television footage of a devastating attack on the al-Rashid, a Baghdad hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying. After U.S. officials tried unsuccessfully to block Miklaszewski and his cameraman from filming the scene, they framed the issue by focusing on the NBC journalists’ human decency.

“Instead of rendering or summoning aid, they focused on gathering video footage of people in agonizingly painful situations … in order to boost the ratings,” said Gary Thatcher, communications chief for the U.S. occupation authority, as reported in The Washington Post.

Miklaszewski defended his position to the newspaper: “Frankly, we had a job to do – cover the attack on the al-Rashid Hotel as best we could. Our impression was that this was an attempt to censor the news. This event shot holes in the administration’s insistence that everything was going well in Baghdad.”

Reporter apologizes for plagiarism

New York Times correspondent Bernard Weintraub apologized for lifting a paragraph from another source in his Nov. 11 bylined story about Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano titled “Talk of Wiretaps Rattles Hollywood.”

“What can I tell you?” Weintraub said to Slate.com columnist Jack Shafer in a brief telephone interview. “I screwed up. … I’m sorry.”

The passage in question deals with an account about Pellicano’s role in the disappearance and recovery of Mike Todd’s remains from a Chicago cemetery. Todd was Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband.

While Weintraub confesses to having plagiarized the passage, identifying the precise party’s work he lifted isn’t easy. Times Editor Paul Fishleder believes the text was pulled from a Web page about Pellicano at Lukeford.net. The Times ran an Editor’s Note about the plagiarized paragraph soon after the piece ran. Weintraub, meanwhile, offers no excuses for the incident, saying it happened “through carelessness on my part. It was stupidity,” Shafer wrote.

Pulitzer not revoked after investigation

The 72-year-old Pulitzer Prize awarded to a New York Times reporter accused of deliberately ignoring a state-imposed famine in the Ukraine to gain greater access to Russian ruler Josef Stalin will not be revoked despite recommendations to the contrary, the Pulitzer Board decided in November.

Times reporter Walter Duranty’s work on a series about Russia had been recommended for review by a Pulitzer subcommittee. “The board determined that there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception, the relevant standard in this case,” Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler said in a statement issued Nov. 21, as reported by The Associated Press.

The review was requested due to complaints that Duranty’s work intentionally made no mention of the 1932-1933 forced famine on the Ukraine that killed about 7 million people. Ukrainians around the world had complained to the Pulitzer committee.

The statement Gissler issued, however, pointed out that the award was given for 13 articles written and published before the famine.

Duranty, who covered the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1941, was eventually exposed in the 1990 book “Stalin’s Apologist” for reporting the Communist line rather than actual facts, the AP wrote.

CNN asks: Mac or PC?

CNN, which advertises itself as a world leader in serious news, found itself caught in an ethical flap in November.

A Brown University student wrote in the school’s college newspaper online forum Nov. 10 that CNN planted a question about computer preferences at a debate of Democratic presidential candidates earlier that month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

At the debate, which was cosponsored by the Rock the Vote organization, Brown student Alexandra Trustman said that CNN producers called her the morning of the debate and gave her the question: “‘Do you prefer PC or Mac format for computers?’”

CNN officials later apologized for fixing the question.

Stations defend ‘pay for play’ policies

Media organizations, politicians and others criticized television stations accused of selling on-air features.

The general manager of WLBT in Jackson, Miss., Dan Modisett, defended his station’s practice of selling the features. Critics of the spots, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., “have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about,” Modisett told the Clarion Ledger newspaper, saying the station was perfectly “ethical” in its practices.

Once every two weeks, WLBT runs paid-for informational segments during the “Midday Mississippi” program, which follows the noon newscast. Modisett told the Clarion Ledger that the talk show, which is hosted by news team members, offers features and informational programming that a regular newscast cannot.

McCain cited both the Jackson station and WFLA in Tampa, Fla., and wondered whether an FCC probe may be necessary to review their practices. The Washington Post first reported on the “pay for play” policy of the two stations last fall.

“Daytime,” WFLA’s morning lifestyle and entertainment program, sometimes asks guests to pay $2,500 to appear in a spot on the show, according to the Tampa Tribune, which works in the same building the WFLA program is shot in.

Media groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, criticized the “pay for play” and reminded news outlets to maintain a clear separation between news and advertising/business.

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