Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reporters Avoiding Perceptions of Conflict

Last week, I spoke with Eric Deggans, the media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, about the departure of Tampa Tribune reporter Michael Fechter to go to work for Steve Emerson, the "anti-terrorism crusader" he has been covering for many years.

As Deggans notes in his op-ed piece in today's paper, When reporters switch sides, Fechter was the "first Tampa Bay area reporter to allege former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian had criminal links to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad." The move raises questions among Islamic groups whether Fechter's work had an anti-Islamic bias.

The larger question Deggans and I talked about was the propriety of a reporter going to work directly from his job as a reporter to work for a figure he covered so prominently. The Tampa Tribune found the move troubling enough to ask Emerson to not delay his departure once he announced he was taking the job. (In Reporter's departure 'controversial', Tampa Tribune reporter Meg Laughlin quotes Janet Coats, the paper's executive editor: "Steven Emerson is controversial. Michael Fechter is controversial. That Michael is going to work for Steven is controversial. To put separation between them and the paper, we asked Michael to leave today, rather than wait.")

I told Eric that the "real problem is the perception whether or not all along you were jockeying for the position. ...It's not just that you have to be careful not to do something. It's the perception that you're fighting."

We continued to discuss whether news outlets should encourage departing reporters to avoid working with or for people they cover for at least a year, although we talked about how flawed that system seems to be working with former U.S. Congressman who find loopholes around such restrictions on lobbying.

But I also noted that reporters may already be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to public perception. Many in the general public assume the worst about journalists already. I told Eric about a Gallup poll on public perception of the most honest professions that came out just as I was beginning a new career as a college professor at Emerson College in 1999. I continued at the time to write a monthly version of my Right Thing ethics column for the Sunday New York Times Money & Business section. As my wife was double-parked outside my Emerson office building so I could unload some boxes, NPR reported that among the top 10 respected professions in the Gallup poll was college professors. Before I could feel too glib, it went on to report that among the bottom 10 was online journalists. Talk about a disconnect.

I was the same person regardless of whether I was in the classroom or on the pages or website of a newspaper, but apparently the public's perception of me changed depending on what they thought I did for a living. I wrote a column about it (The Right Thing: TELLING THE TRUTH, OR AT LEAST MOST OF IT) and wondered out loud to my wife how I'd introduce myself at cocktail parties if someone asked me what I did for a living. After pointing out that we didn't go to all that many cocktail parties, she wisely pointed out that the best course was full disclosure, but it didn't change the fact that the public's perception of journalists is not all that high, whether that perception is warranted or not.

Cases like Fechter's as Eric points out in his op-ed piece today raise some challenging questions for journalists. Sadly, they also give credence to what a large portion of the public believes about the profession and force the rest of us to examine how we would respond were we in Fechter's shoes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Emerson, a Jew who gets it
A perspective of a moderate Muslim

At the risk of sounding anti-Semitic, I want to say this: either American Jews are completely clueless about the internal struggle inside Islam or they are so cowardly, that they are even afraid to voice their opinion. Or maybe it's a combination of both.

Every time there is a development that involves radical Islam, be it a Mayor of New York attending an Islamist parade, DOJ's officials attending an Islamist conference, or a protester being sued for having the balls to expose an Islamist-sponsored event at an amusement park, the American Jewish community is as quiet as a church mouse. It's like it is not even there.

The effect of this silence is devastating. Not for the Jewish community, not yet. That time is still to come. The silence affects the American Muslim community. Every time moderate Muslims are ignored and Islamists are legitimized (by either direct support from government representatives or silent support of the ADL), radicals gain ground. In the current PC climate, moderate Muslims have pretty much no choice but to keep their mouths shut.

Luckily for us, not everyone in the Jewish community is like that. There are some Jews that are speaking out. One of them is Steven Emerson, who has been warning the West about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism since before PanAm 103. Most of his current work is focused on exposing the radicals masquerading as the moderates – those radicals who are embraced by the DOJ and the Pentagon, by the mayor of New York Bloomberg (Rudy would never get into bed with terrorist supporters) and the Treasury Department, by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, by the Congress and the White House.

There is a war of ideas within Islam, and moderate Muslims are losing. Most of Muslim clergy and Muslim establishment are paid for by the Wahhabis. Moderate Muslims are being run out of Mosques and community centers, and in many cases are physically threatened. Moderate Muslims have no place in the media or public debate, because the place reserved for Muslims is filled by Islamic radicals, who attempt to make criticizing anything Islamic a taboo. According to the Islamists, a Muslim can do no wrong.
1. When a non-Muslim criticizes Islam or Muslims, he/she is an Islamophobe.
2. When a Muslim criticizes Islam or Muslim, he/she is not a real Muslim, therefore see #1.

This is a tactic used by "moderate" Muslims, the darlings of the government and the media. But how can you call someone who praises bin Laden, or has ties to Hamas, or calls for the elimination of Israel, or wants to replace the Constitution with the Koran a moderate? They are anything but moderates, however nobody except for a few people like Steven Emerson seems to notice that. But even when the Emersons of America appeal to the public, they are often being dismissed as alarmists and racists. Well, they are anything, but. You don't have to be a clairvoyant to predict the future when it comes to expansion of radical Islam and extinction of moderate Muslims. All you need to do is get your heads out of the sand.

Why our government is so forgiving and forgetful when it comes to individuals or organizations with known terrorist ties and anti-American views is beyond me. Why the Jewish leaders are so timid when it comes to the subject of radical Islam is incomprehensible.

I thank God every day for people like Steven Emerson, because they are the last glimmer of hope for moderate Muslims.


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