|CREDIBILITY IN QUESTION|
trust in the news media has been shaken by several recent scandals and
lapses of journalistic judgment. Two experts answer your questions about
specific cases of journalistic misdemeanors and how the news organizations
in general can improve their credibility.
Special Report: Credibility in Question
J. Benjamin asks:
The news media at large, which is the last bastion of our democracy, has failed to adequately address a number of issues - the Bush administration's reasons to go to war against Iraq, the search for weapons of mass destruction, for instance -- by not vigorously pursuing investigative reports.
Are news organizations doing less investigative reporting? Do you think journalists are less aggressive than they should be with the Bush White House? Why?
Jay Rosen responds:
Investigative reporting is always a rare practice; it's expensive and hard.
I don't think the press or the White House treated "reason giving" with the respect it deserved in the run-up to the war in Iraq, or after, when problems with the reasons became known.
The problems journalists have with the Bush White House can only be solved with more imagination.
More aggression is often futile. It takes imagination to understand what to do with press briefings that have been deliberately emptied out. It takes imagination to see how calling the White House press just another special interest clears the way for other special interests to take the place of the White House press.
Michael Getler responds:
I've written many, many columns pointing out where I felt news organizations fell woefully short in challenging the prewar claims of the administration. This is a very long topic and I don't want to go all through it here.
I do think it is the single most important journalistic failure in decades, although this was a very tough question-especially about weapons of mass destruction-to get at and effectively challenge before the war.
No one was saying much on the record, there were no real whistle-blowers in the bureaucracy, Congress was pathetic in its lack of challenge, and most, although clearly not all, specialists thought Saddam had them.
Nevertheless, news organizations should go back and candidly assess how they did and how they went wrong if it isn't going to happen again.
As for investigative reporting, I think there may be more today than ever. And a lot of it is very, very good. The issue for me is whether newspapers are picking the right subjects to investigate, and also if they can do more timely investigations so they unfold before decisions are made.
I don't think reporters are less aggressive as a group but I think there are not enough Woodwards, Bernsteins and Hirshes among them. I also think there is quite a lot of good investigative material on network television and CNN these days, better than the image of TV would suggest.