Friday, April 21, 2006

I'VE DECIDED THAT ANN COULTER deserves more respect than Michelle Malkin. At least Coulter does not pretend to be a journalist. Malkin does -- even though, as Georgia10 points out, she scorns the protocols of her profession:

Malkin, who considers herself a "journalist", has blatantly violated the Code of Ethics for journalists by setting her attack dogs on these students.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. [...]

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy.[...]

Bloggers don't need to be journalists to follow this code or basic standards of human decency. But Malkin is no journalist, nor does she have any decency. It is high time she be stripped of this designation in the media and labeled appropriately: as a pundit who makes her living off of propaganda and hate. Indeed, Malkin calling the SAW students "thugs" may be the clearest case of projection I've seen in the blogosphere. For it is Malkin who acts like a thug when she invites her readers to harass and intimidate students exercising their 1st Amendment rights.

Alas, with her moral core, I doubt Malkin is even aware she's crossed the line.

David Neiwert, who worked with Malkin about 10 years ago, has quite a bit to say about her.

...[I]t used to be that, in order to be called a journalist, one had to actually be, or have been, a reporter. And Malkin has never been a reporter, at least not in any professional capacity.

Now, part of this involves traditional professional ladders within the business. For many years, nearly everyone who was ever an editor was, first, a reporter. Then, once on the editor's rung, one had the option of writing editorials. Columnists -- the star positions on editorial pages -- were culled either from the ranks of editors or star reporters.

Thus, traditionally, anyone who held a column-writing position at a newspaper had first been a reporter and perhaps an editor as well, and thus was in every regard a "professional journalist." Indeed, it often was the case that columnists provided original reporting within their columns.

Those days have now largely gone by the wayside. Nowadays it is not unusual to find columnists chosen from the ranks of non-journalists, and often from among professional ideologues, simply for their ability to string words together in an entertaining fashion. Or sometimes they are chosen just because they fit a certain profile the editor wants for his page.

Malkin is just such a creature. In fact, one of the advantages that she offered editors was that she was a "twofer" who fit two of the key criteria that editors use when deciding upon a columnist: she's conservative and a minority. And she writes reasonably well too.

She is, in fact, more properly described as a "professional pundit," not a "professional journalist." She does do not do original reporting; she provides commentary on other people's work, or cheerleading for various aspects of the conservative-movement agenda. In Malkin's case, it is predictably partisan commentary at that, which propels her even more accurately into the realm of "professional propagandist."

As I've explained previously, I have something of a history with Malkin. I edited her column at the Bellevue Journal American in the early 1990s, while she was syndicated through the Los Angeles Daily News. The LADN only ever employed her as a columnist. Likewise, when Malkin moved to the Puget Sound to go to work for my friend Mindy Cameron at the Seattle Times, it was only as a columnist.

Now, it's true that while at the Times, Malkin did make the occasional foray into providing original reporting within her columns. Indeed, she was rather eager to write various exposes -- but unfortunately, she had trouble doing the requisite legwork to make those exposes actually stick.

After Malkin used her blog to publish the names and contact information for the student organizers of a protest against military recruiters at UC, Santa Cruz, Neiwert wrote that what Malkin really wants is power:

Michelle Malkin loves all the perks that come with being a media figure -- the TV appearances with people like Bill O'Reilly fawning all over her, the kid-glove treatment from journalists, the fame and recognition. It's all quite lovely, especially when it translates into dollars.

Most of all, it seems, she likes the power: the ability to disseminate her point of view and have it be not only widely read but widely adopted as "factual" by a substantial number of people. (In Malkin's case, it's almost purely the power of propaganda, since that is primarily what she purveys.)

In the end, that means her point of view is acted upon, both officially and unofficially. That, as anyone in the "mainstream media" knows, is real power.

Malkin wants that power. She just doesn't want any of the responsibility that comes with it.

And it can easily be abused. You can use your megaphone to lie shamelessly. You can use it to smear the good name of public officials. You can use it to rewrite history. And you can use it to intimidate the "little people" who don't possess the same kind of power.

Because these potential abuses exist, a sense of ethics is obligatory for anyone who possesses this power. It's why the Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that abjures such behavior.

Violating the Code won't get you fired per se, but it certainly brings into question your professionalism and honor. It also brands you, forever, as deeply irresponsible.

Particularly when it comes to using that power to attack ordinary citizens and subject them not just to ridicule but actual threats and potential violence.
This is especially the case when it comes to handing out people's personal contact information: phone numbers, e-mail addresses, even home addresses.

Because without that restraint, mass media can become an instrument of humankind's worst impulses -- including mass violence and genocide.

Remember, most recently, what happened in Rwanda: the owners of talk radio stations, working in the interest of the moneyed class, used their megaphones to target individuals who were then slaughtered by mobs armed with machetes:

"In Rwanda," Gowing writes, "hate radio ... systematically laid the groundwork for mass slaughter from the moment it was licensed in July 1993." It also helped facilitate the genocide, as RTLM broadcast names, addresses and license plate numbers of Tutsi targets. "Killers often carried a machete in one hand and a transistor radio in the other," according to Power.

RTLM and the propaganda it broadcast did not happen by accident. Rather, the founding of the station in 1992 by Hutu hard-liners closely associated with the government and its subsequent activities were "directly promoted by government authorities" as "the political and military elite established RTLM as part of this broader strategy to thwart the impact of internal reform." Further evidence of this strategy is found in the fact that prior to the genocide the government distributed free radios around the country in order to allow Rwandans to tune into RTLM, and that RTLM was "allowed to broadcast on the same frequencies as the national radio when Radio Rwanda [the national state-owned station] was not transmitting." Though officially private, RTLM "was essentially the tool of Hutu extremists from the government, military and business communities."

There is a good reason that using the power of mass media to expose individual citizens' private lives to abuse and threats is considered unethical: It represents unchecked and abusive power. No one interested in holding the public trust should either want or seek it.

Yet this, of course, is exactly what Malkin did this week in publishing, on her blog, the home phone numbers of three students who led anti-military protests on the campus of UC-Santa Cruz.

Predictably, the students were deluged with hate mail and phone calls, including a number of death threats.

Malkin not only refused to take the numbers down -- in response, she reverted to her timeworn victimization schtick, posting some of the nasty e-mails she received in return and pretending there was nothing wrong or unethical in her behavior.

We're all too familiar with this routine. After all, it's what the entirety of her book Unhinged was predicated upon. Malkin, as I said then, is like the lunatic who walks around the public square and pokes people in the eye with a sharp stick, and then is shocked, shocked, that anyone would respond with anger and outrage.

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