Caught with their standards down
I missed The New Republic's retraction earlier this month of the Baghdad Diarist stories. From a quick perusal, most of the 546 comments on the page come from conservatives who think the retraction proves the liberal media has a liberal bias. Neither enlightening nor surprising.
The problem is the retraction itself, which isn't so much a retraction as much as a last defense before hitting a dead end.
Jack Shafer at Slate.com says the lesson is that mistakes like this will happen in an effort to mine good journalism from promising young writers. Undoubtedly. But TNR made its first mistake by granting a single person anonymity and then giving him such a long a shelf life. In the end, the Diarist is disgraced, the magazine tarnished and the truth lost in an old left vs. right argument about bias, conspiracy and war.
Shafer ends with an honor roll of once novice journalists who were given a chance and climbed to the top of the profession. It's a relatively small group and has nothing to do with the Baghdad Diarist, as far as I can see. Indeed, what it told me is how few people are allowed into the hallowed club (TNR editor Franklin Foer being one) and reminded me of the other conservative claim about elitism in the ranks of journalists.
Maybe the lessons should be about casting a wider net for talent, avoiding anonymity when asking for the reader's trust and bringing new blood to dilute the incestuousness in our prime publications.