The Czar is not certain whether there is a “Rule Number One” in journalism. Actually, there may not even be an ennumerated list of journalism rules at all, although the Czar would suspect that there could be a hip bullet listing of key take-aways juxtaposed by a celebrity photo.
Even so, we could perhaps all agree that near the top of either type of list would be this gem: Do not become the story. After all, the last thing a mainstream news media outlet should do is become the focus of any story. Why? Well, news stories written about how news stories are written generally indicate either deception, incompetence, or corruption on the part of the entire media world.
Take for example the cute, snarky outrage blogged by NYT editor Robert Mackey on May 1 of this year. In his blog, he excoriates the hyperbole and frenzy of swine flu (or “hee-nee” flu) coverage, referring to media groups who “see the world in tabloid terms,” with anchors “hyperventilating” and news cycles overloading the coverage.
The Czar would say that the media becomes the story when you see that sort of fingerpointing. But Mackie raises his hands pleading for fairness, citing a NYT story discussing how they, the Times themselves, have cooly and independently analyzed how “confusing” and “infurating” the media coverage has been worldwide. Yeah, we may become the story, but at least our hands our clean.
Almost instantly, the Czar clicked on the Times Topics link to land on a page like this. Quoted as of May 5—days after blog editor Mackie’s eye-rolling—the Czar finds:
Even a flu with a low percentage of lethality can cause a large number of deaths if vast swaths of populations are infected—seasonal flus kill an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide each year. This outbreak has caused concern because officials have never seen this particular strain of the flu passing among humans before….[S]cientists are arguing that the H1N1 flu lacks some of the genetic earmarks of a highly lethal strain. However, as it circulates in humans, especially in the Southern Hemisphere winter, the virus could pick up dangerous human flu genes.
Oh, I get it. As long as you offset words like “lethality,” “large number of deaths,” “vast swaths of populations are infected,” and “dangerous” with neutral words like “lacks,” “low” “has” and “this,” then we can observe what a non-hyperventilating, non-overloading non-tabloid the NYT is. Most responsible.
Look, if an editor—who represents the voice of the paper—elects to violate the bullet point rule about not becoming the story, he should try hard to remember another rule that should be in there about avoiding paper-thin hypocrisy. First rule of flu-fighting: be sure to wash your hands first.