News­pa­pers try to get it right

Many oth­ers don’t seem to care

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BERTON Paul Berton is ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­ You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­

Here’s a se­cret: News­pa­per ed­i­tors some­times agree to re­quests from pub­lic of­fi­cials to with­hold or de­lay pub­li­ca­tion of ar­ti­cles we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

It’s dan­ger­ous. We can be ac­cused of col­lu­sion and con­ceal­ment, or sup­press­ing or hid­ing in­for­ma­tion from the pub­lic.

Some ed­i­tors would never do such a thing, and oth­ers would never ad­mit to it, but most of us be­lieve in do­ing the right thing for our com­mu­ni­ties, not just our read­ers. Usu­ally, that is pub­lish­ing ev­ery­thing we know. Once in a while, it is not pub­lish­ing.

For ex­am­ple, over the course of my ca­reer I have been asked by po­lice, politi­cians and bureau­crats to back off a story tem­po­rar­ily. Of­ten I have po­litely re­fused; some­times I have ac­qui­esced, at least once to my cha­grin, be­cause it ap­peared to be in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Some­times we do it, es­pe­cially in mat­ters in­volv­ing the jus­tice sys­tem, with­out be­ing asked, but we weigh care­fully the ben­e­fits and costs of pub­li­ca­tion.

The per­cep­tion of col­lu­sion with pub­lic of­fi­cials is dan­ger­ous for news­pa­pers, but so is the per­cep­tion of cre­at­ing hard­ship for the com­mu­nity at large. Both weigh heav­ily on ed­i­tors.

We f avour trans­parency, but there are ex­cep­tions.

It brings to mind a re­cent (and typ­i­cally cryp­tic) tweet by the pres­i­dent of the United States: “the Fail­ing New York Times foiled U.S. at­tempt to kill the sin­gle most wanted ter­ror­ist, Al-Bagh­dadi. Their sick agenda over Na­tional Se­cu­rity.”

It seems Don­ald Trump got his in­for­ma­tion from a seg­ment on one of his favourite news pro­grams, “Fox & Friends,” en­ti­tled “NYT foils U.S. at­tempt to take out alBagh­dadi,” which aired Satur­day just be­fore Trump’s tweet.

It’s a com­pli­cated story. Fox ran an ar­ti­cle ac­cus­ing the Times of pub­lish­ing a story in 2015 that harmed U.S. at­tempts to cap­ture a ter­ror­ist.

But the Times said (and here’s why it’s rel­e­vant to this col­umn) the pa­per de­scribed the piece to the Pen­tagon be­fore pub­li­ca­tion and “they had no ob­jec­tions.”

So the Times had done its due dil- igence, both for read­ers and na­tional se­cu­rity.

Last week­end, the pa­per asked Fox for an apol­ogy: “Nei­ther the staff at Fox & Friends, nor the writ­ers of a re­lated story on ap­peared to make any at­tempt to con­firm rel­e­vant facts, nor did they reach out to The New York Times for com­ment.”

Fox didn’t pro­vide an apol­ogy, but did up­date its story on­line.

The real irony is that the pres­i­dent, who has unique ac­cess to the best clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion in Amer­ica, sim­ply had to make a phone call to learn more, but in­stead re­lied on Fox News.

It is no won­der con­spir­acy the­o­rists worry it is just an­other step in Trump’s on­go­ing mis­sion to dele­git­imize the me­dia en route to es­tab­lish­ing an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime.

Democ­racy dies with­out a free press. Many politi­cians hate jour­nal­ists, but most rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of jour­nal­ism. Good ones re­spect that jour­nal­ists do work that ben­e­fits ev­ery­one, even if it hurts a few.

We all try to work to­gether. Some­times the re­la­tion­ship can be way too cosy, and some­times it is sim­ply not co-op­er­a­tive enough.

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