Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WaPo's Iraq Coverage Controversy & Rachman's The Imperfectionists

I've previously posted about war journalism inside Iraq. How was the war reporting from back home?

Here's yesterday's Guardian article "Washington Post accused of censorship:"
The Washington Post has been accused by a journalist of spiking a piece he was commissioned to write about the US media's failures in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. 
Greg Mitchell, a veteran journalist and author, claims his assigned piece for the Post was killed and replaced by an article that defended the media's coverage. Headlined "On Iraq, journalists didn't fail. They just didn't succeed", it was written by Paul Farhi. If Mitchell is right, then the Post is guilty of censorship because his own submission attacked the media coverage. That should not have been too surprising to the Post's editors given that Mitchell's latest book, So Wrong for So Long, is a detailed critique of the failures of US press, including the Washington Post, over Iraq.

For a novel about 21st century journalism and the controversies within newspaper offices, try The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman:
Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it — and themselves — afloat. Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. 

Here's an excerpt I really liked; I think Rachman makes it sound very authentic:
He feeds in a fresh sheet and starts anew, writing the piece as it ought to have been: full quotations, dates, troop numbers, disputes within the cabinet, transatlantic hostilities. He knows his craft -- all is couched in terms of possibilities, proposals, balloons floated. All the fabricated sources are "on condition of anonymity," or "officials close to," or "experts familiar with." No one is cited by name. Fourteen hundred words. He calculates how much that will earn him. Enough to pay the rent -- a reprieve. Enough to buy Jerome a decent shirt. To take Eileen out for drinks. 
He reads the article, using a red pen to slice away what might be contested. This shortens the text, so he concocts a couple of repetitive quotes from "an administration official in Washington."

If you'd prefer a non-fiction classic that reads like a novel (and which brings us full circle, back to The Washington Post), try All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward:
Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing with headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward kept the tale of conspiracy and the trail of dirty tricks coming -- delivering the stunning revelations and pieces in the Watergate puzzle that brought about Nixon's scandalous downfall. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post and toppled the President. This is the book that changed America.

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