A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Letters to the editor

By Quill

Logic behind award raises questions

To the Editor:

I commend SPJ President David Carlson for his courage in writing a column about the controversial awards made at the national convention in October. I also commend him for his honesty in admitting his own uncertainty about Judith Miller’s motives for spending 85 days in jail and wondering whether “she is a heroine or a villain to journalism.” On the other hand, I question his logic in stating she deserves the award because her time in jail “focused a great deal of attention on the need for a federal shield law to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources.” Taking that logic to an admitted extreme, you could give a mass murderer an award for raising the issue of capital punishment.

Why take the chance of giving this prestigious award to a person who could be a villain to journalism? Why not give it to someone who clearly deserves it? Perhaps, a new system to nominate people for awards that Carlson is proposing will help avoid these sorts of controversies in the future.

Marty Fishgold

Past President, International Labor Communications Association

New York City

Military should not be blamed for deaths

To the Editor:

I read the Odds & Ends article in the November 2005 Quill regarding the Reuters journalist killed by U.S. military. It is a tragedy and sad for this person’s family. However, it suggests a media bias that is apparent in this war.

If every incident required a full-scale investigation during WWII, Hitler would be living in Washington, D.C., today. My father, Thomas D. Gilbert, a staff sergeant who was a radio operator, was shot down by friendly fire during WWII. He spent nearly two years in Stalag 17. He was badly burned, and a number of men died. Never once did he or any of the family members I met call for an investigation. Their anger was against Hitler, not America. They maturely recognized that war, by its nature, can cause mistakes to be made.

When any journalist or agency is in a war zone, they expose themselves to such dangers. Clearly, no soldier would have intended to kill them if they identified themselves properly, but even if a mistake were made, journalists should know the risks and keep out of harm’s way. Their need to provide the news should not outweigh protecting themselves from harm’s way. To suggest an investigation is fodder for the enemy.

Maybe a better question for Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger should be what training did his company provide to its journalists who were exposed to these dangers. Did he unnecessarily expose them to danger? Possibly, he is more concerned with his company’s liability by pointing the fingers at soldiers doing their job?

Daniel Gilbert

Rockford, Ill.

Journalists were fair in covering Katrina

To the Editor:

Katie O’Keefe suggests that journalists’ personal experiences covering Hurricane Katrina squeezed context out of our reporting, yet she offers no plausible context of her own (“Ethical Firestorm,” December Quill). Rather than speak with any of us who witnessed those horrible first days, she relies on Houston Chronicle reporter Roma Khanna, whose first account doesn’t appear in the paper until Saturday, Sept. 3. By then, evacuees were getting out of the Superdome and the National Guard had arrived at the convention center. No wonder that, in Khanna’s view, “It wasn’t quite how it was made out to be.”

Another “expert,” Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, never went near New Orleans. Yet he calls us “rumormongers.” Then again, Lichter, a Fox regular, has made a career alleging media bias.

What really happened those first days should inspire all journalists.

Despite the dangers — which were very real — we drew on our discipline to accurately report the unfolding crisis. The lack of preparedness. The herding of evacuees to the convention center long after authorities knew it was a living hell. How New Orleans police, inexplicably, lacked bullhorns. And how FEMA seemed AWOL.

And yes, when the mayor and police chief gave their first estimates of the death toll, we reported that, too. So did Roma Khanna, twice (September 6 and 8). Some of us also pointed out how inaccurate early estimates can be, as they were on September 11, 2001, when authorities initially feared as many as 10,000 dead. But to O’Keefe, “only” 10 bodies found in the Superdome doesn’t qualify as “a pile of corpses.”

Perhaps the horrors of that first week had to be seen to be believed. But just because you didn’t see them doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Thankfully, journalists were there to document them. And all the revisionism in the world can’t change that.

Scott Cohn

Senior Correspondent, CNBC