Nota Bene: ‘Ethics’ as Fear Tactic

A so-called “Ethics in Journalism” bill introduced in the Georgia state legislature proposes the creation of a board that would establish a “canon” of journalism ethics and sanction any journalists who broke them.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review:

The bill would also grant interview subjects the right to request any photographs, audio, and video recordings taken by a journalist, ­­free of charge and at any time in the reporting process. Reporters that fail to respond in a timely manner would face civil penalties.

What kind of penalties?

While the bill would compel journalists to turn over records to interview subjects freely and for free, Georgia’s legislature is exempt from the state’s Open Records Act. Those state agencies that must comply with record requests can charge fees to access public documents, and response times for such requests can run longer than the three days afforded to journalists under Welch’s bill. Once those three days elapse, the bill stipulates, journalists would be penalized $100 per day.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted:

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, a lawyer who has expressed frustration with what he saw as bias from a TV reporter who asked him questions about legislation recently…

Nota Bene: What They Have Done Right

As a riposte to all the post-Mueller hand-wringing about “the media” (some justified, most not a bit), Steve Coll provides in the current New Yorker a handy reminder of what it is that journalists do all day and how it impacts real life:

  • “While covering the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of removing immigrant kids from their parents, Ginger Thompson, of ProPublica, obtained and released a recording of young children crying in a holding facility. Her work provoked a public outcry, and the Administration reversed its policy.”
  • “Reporting by the Indianapolis Star helped bring to justice the child molester Larry Nassar, of USA Gymnastics.”
  • “A series of stories in the Baton Rouge Advocate found that a Jim Crow-era law, which allowed defendants accused of felonies such as murder to be convicted by a split-jury verdict, fostered racism and mass incarceration. Louisiana’s Republican-led state legislature approved a referendum to reconsider the law, and, in November, voters chose to require unanimous verdicts in trials involving felonies.”

Screening Room: ‘Dark Money’

(PBS Distribution)

The newest movie from Kimberly Reed is a scorcher of a documentary about the corrosive effects of big outside money on elections in underpopulated states.

Dark Money is opening in limited release this week and should appear soon on a PBS affiliate near you. My review is at Film Journal International:

The Montana that Reed (Prodigal Sons) shows is one of nearly unnatural beauty. Angular cliffs carpeted with bright green pine trees and great sweeping plains unfurl under her frequently airborne camera as though for some pristinely photographed travel documentary. But there’s wrack and ruin amidst the glorious nature. Abandoned mine shafts, rusting derricks, and the oil-slicked expanse of a Superfund lake so poisonous that geese who accidently landed in it died by the hundreds all speak to the legacy of a state with a long history of corruption and resource exploitation…

Quote of the Day: Meryl Streep Digs Journalists

Speaking at the the annual awards for the Committee to Protect Journalists last night, Meryl Streep—who plays Katharine Graham in Spielberg’s new Pentagon Papers movie—said this:

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. You are the Fourth Estate. You are our first line of defense against tyranny and state-sanctioned news … Thank you, you intrepid, underpaid, over-extended, trolled, and un-extolled, young and old, battered and bold, bought and sold, hyper-alert crack-caffeine fiends. You’re gorgeous, ambitious, contrarian, fiery, dogged and determined bullshit detectives.

What’s to say? It’s a good time to be a detective.

Writer’s Desk: It Beats Working, or Does It?

The late David Carr (Night of the Gun) was the kind of writer who reminded writers why they loved their jobs. He suffered for the job, but also thought it was a blast, and tore poseurs to pieces.

Here’s Carr being interviewed by a magazine at Boston University, where he taught a class:

The dirty secret: journalism has always been horrible to get in; you always have to eat so much crap to find a place to stand. I waited tables for seven years, did writing on the side. If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it—that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Listen to What They Say

benhect1
Ben Hecht (Culver Pictures)

Ben Hecht, one of history’s great newspapermen and playwrights (The Front Page) before he became that drollest and most cynical of Hollywood scripters (Scarface), never read like somebody who cared a whit about what somebody thought of his writing.

To wit, Hecht’s advice to writers:

Criticism can never instruct or benefit you. Its chief effect is that of a telegram with dubious news. Praise leaves no glow behind, for it is a writer’s habit to remember nothing good of himself. I have usually forgotten those who have admired my work, and seldom anyone who disliked it. Obviously, this is because praise is never enough and censure always too much.

So, in short, ignore it all and get back to work. Unless the praise/critique comes from your editor, in which case sometimes you may have to listen.

Quote of the Day: Celebrity ‘Journalism’

From the always perspicacious P.J. O’Rourke, who wrote recently on the through-the-looking-glass experience that is reading an entire issue of People, or even US Weekly:

The formula for celebrity journalism is to mix schadenfreude with celebration at about the ratio of gin to vermouth in a dry martini.