KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The New McCarthyism, Take 2

A fellow freelancer, J. P. Parland, wrote this about copy editor Tim Mahoney's suspension from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

It is fascinating that this newspaper holds their part-time editors up to higher ethical standards than Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Scalia hold themselves.

That noted, I think I can understand what the newspaper is doing. They're trying to rid hidden biases. I've certainly heard of top editors who don't vote, to keep their neutrality. Some papers don't allow their business reporters to invest in the stock market. And many reporters biases are pretty well hidden until they become columnists. Then again, New York Times columnist John Tierney was pretty open about his political leanings when he was a reporter and he got rewarded for it.

Still, the editor in this case would have believed the same thing if he hadn't gone on the march, the paper would have been none the wiser, and the editor would have been assigned other stories that had a political component. I doubt the paper is removing reporters and editors who have family fighting the Iraq war. And newspapers would be loath to dictate what churches reporters can and can't belong to (would someone be removed from an abortion story if it was known she belonged to a church that opposed abortion?). And politics are infused in much writing, even the stuff in the arts pages and sports.

There isn't licensing of journalists, and I think this is why the issue is hard to get a handle on. The news business is a kind of public utility. Journalists serve the public, but through a private, largely nonregulated enterprise. And because the news business is supposed to be critical and free of bias, regulation is generally a bad idea.

The unseen issue is the recurring chant "liberal media" that is heard all over the nation. Even though there are few facts to back up this notion, and there is daily, even hourly proof that the media isn't liberal, the myth has been accepted as fact. It might help that the giants of the conservative press on a daily, even hourly basis, keep the chant going, even as they are heard and read from coast to coast and border to border. I think it is the "liberal media" charge that the paper is concerned with.

If this thing goes to court, I think it will hinge on whether or not the editor was told or signed a pledge expressing that he wouldn't engage in political demonstrations. My guess is he didn't, and that the paper was singling him out to make a point. Maybe it will come out that the paper's management is pro-war and they're stifling an opposition point of view.

Note: J.P. is co-exutive of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Two of his sites are The World of BMX and Mountain Bike Madness, and he is a contributing editor at Asphalt Magazine.

The New McCarthyism Take 2 Take 3 Take 4 Take 5 Take 6 Take 7

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