Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pulling the trigger on the Smoking Gun

“I don’t have to read the New York Times to be affected by what the New York Times is saying,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting executive director Janine Jackson said.

Jackson’s claim is evident while walking the streets of the city. Millions of people crammed into subways, shuffled on sidewalks, fought for elevators, and strategically elbowed just enough other people doing the same thing they were to “get there first”—wherever “there” may be. We live in a world of politics, of race, and of religion—the topics in the news are hardly of any surprise to many anyone with their nose in anyone else’s business. And yet, media organizations get to the core of the conflicts and write about it!

Both FAIR and The Smoking Gun are research-based operations whose chief objective is to provide the public with the truth. It’s to take previous publications, whether those be state documents and other records or a published New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times and use them to prove another point about media—either by using them to provide further information for the public or exposing flaws in thought or printed word that the general population may not be aware of.

After two days in the city it’s more apparent than ever that I should live in the middle of nowhere. It’s a dog eat dog world here in New York City, and quite frank ly, I feel like a mouse.
It was never clearer to me than in the hour we sat with William Bastone, editor of the Smoking Gun. In those moments Bastone and his staff (surprisingly two others) did what they could to procure an audio file from Charles Barkley’s recent arrest in Gilbert Ariz., where Barkley had allegedly made colorful remarks.

“No, no we don’t want that. It’s just not good enough,” Bastone said after what seemed like a morning full of making connections to obtain the file.

The Smoking Gun decided, in this case, that the file wasn’t newsworthy enough to put on the site that receives 5 million hits each month. But nevertheless, it was his decision. Fascinating, but dangerous. Between the three journalists, coverage is decided—Bastone made it clear that corporate’s opinion (Time Warner in the case of the Smoking Gun) did not matter. Barkley’s colorful choice of words would have reflected poorly on Time Warner (Barkley has a show on TNT, which is owned by Time Warner) but again, the journalists didn’t think twice about posting a valuable, interesting, timely, attention-drawing piece of news.

-Danika Heatherly

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