Pod people: Little dogs at New York Times

Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to journalism as it is to the dramatic art; for the object of journalism is to make events go as far as possible. Thus it is that all journalists are, in the very nature of their calling, alarmists; and this is their way of giving interest to what they write. Herein they are like little dogs; if anything stirs, they immediately set up a shrill bark.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Some Forms of Literature (1851)

A long time ago (for me) and in a far away place (actually Harare) I had my first experience of the foreign correspondent's life. Amongst the many lessons I learned on that trip, the most important -- aside from learning how to ingratiate oneself with a policemen armed with a machine pistol -- was the central place of the "mahogany ridge" in reporting.

While events played themselves out in different parts of the city, the real action, the real news in Zimbabwe was to be found at the bar of Meikles Hotel for many of the reporters present. These memories of that exotic species -- the Fleet Street hack -- came to the surface for me in recent weeks as I read a number of stories in the New York Times about events in Holland and Moscow.

I took the Times to task for its reporting of the alleged castration by the Dutch Catholic Church of young men (how that one got by the editors I do not know) and on Pussy Riot and Russian Orthodox Church. I argued these stories did not live up to the standards of good journalism and asserted they displayed a lack of balance, context, sensibility and history.

I was rather hard on the Times. Did these stories rise to the level of journalism decried by Arthur Schopenhauer? Is their flavor akin to Evelyn Waugh's anecdote about the fictitious American  reporter Wenlock Jakes in the novel Scoop?

Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn't know any different, got out, went straight to an hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine-guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window — you know.

On this week’s Issues, Ect. host Todd Wilken and I talked about the Times' coverage of these two stories -- and demonstrated my lack of polish as a radio commentator. This is my first foray into internet radio podcasting for GetReligion. We'll see if they ask me back.

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