It’s precious that in a post about his credulity, Frum would credit himself with skepticism. That’s precisely what he didn’t exercise here. He trafficked allegations of high journalistic corruption, apparently without ever consulting the people he was accusing. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, said, “Oh God no,” when asked whether Frum had ever pre-checked his tweeting. “Based on what I understand, he did not,” she says….At this point, it’s almost a cliche of journalism — Don’t repeat everything you read on some blog. A senior editor at The Atlantic went ahead and did so. And in his apology, he offered a history lesson to explain his “skepticism.” A better word would have been “bias.” If nothing else, Frum showed how utterly inclined he is to believe and recirculate a claim of Palestinian photo fakery. Journalists guard against their biases by checking their reporting before publishing it.
We all dislike something about the press, so we take for granted rather than glorifying the fact that these are people taking real risks for usually minimal pay. And glorification would be beside the point. From my time in even faintly similar circumstances (during the anti-government riots in South Korea, with a rebel group in Mindanao, in Burma during the 1988 upheavals) I know that people do this for adrenaline and camaraderie and a host of normal, non-glorious reasons.But respect is called for. For all their blind spots and flaws, reporters on the scene are trying to see, so they can tell, and the photographic and video reporters take greater risks than all the rest, since they must be closer to the action. For people on the other side of the world to casually assert that they’re just making things up — this could and would drive them crazy. I’m sure that fakery has occurred. But the claim that it has is as serious as they come in journalism. It goes at our ultimate source of self-respect. As when saying that a doctor is deliberately mis-diagnosing patients, that a pilot is drunk in the cockpit, that a lifeguard is purposely letting people drown, you might be right, but you had better be very, very sure before making the claim.As he would point out quickly himself, David Frum is not of this part of the journalistic world
Blogging and tweeting encourages the airing of contingent and tentative arguments as events play out in real time. As a result, far less stigma attaches to admitting that one got it wrong in a blog post than in peer-reviewed research. Indeed, there appears to be almost no professional penalty for being wrong in the realm of political punditry. Regardless of how often pundits make mistakes in their predictions, they are invited back again to pontificate more.