lost in pope-arama, the new york times chooses public relations over journalism

Ever since the FBI admitted it wrongly arrested him in connection with the Madrid train bombings, Brandon Mayfield has contended the government used the Patriot Act to search his home and gather personal information to portray him as a Muslim militant.
The Justice Department denied Mayfield's claims -- until Tuesday.

that's news and it's from 'Gonzales Admits Patriot Act Used in Mayfield Case by rukmini callimachi of the associated press. c.i. of the common ills e-mailed that to me yesterday.
(and i tried to post yesterday but as we all know blogger was being a total pain in the ass - and still is. this is my second attempt tonight on this post.)

but you didn't hear about that, did you?

what you got was what you got all week (and most of last week) which was 'drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain/ la de da di de/la de da di da/ and the pope goes on/ yes, the pope goes on.' possibly, since the pope was buried this morning, the news media might be able to do something now other than public relations?

that's what you've gotten day after day.

i used to work in public relations. back then we prayed for a day like this week (just a day!). some family man was leaving his wife and kids for his pregnant mistress and a day like any of the past 9 or 10 came along, we'd be screaming, 'we're putting it out now! no 1 will even notice it!'

that's what we did because that was our business, damage control and selling you products.

but that's not what the news media is supposed to be doing.

some of you may be saying 'rebecca, this was news!'

where? from where i stand, it was public relations pure and simple.

you saw 1 travelogue after another.

c.i. did a great post today about how this wasn't news. it's up at the common ills and up at the new mirror site. you can find the actual entry here and here.

i'm going to assume most of you know where i'm headed but for those who don't, let me give background that before i got married (i'm divorced now) i made my money via public relations.
(i don't have to work now -- generous property settlement.)

but i know p.r. i was trained it, i made a living at it.

and this wasn't news. this was done because it was cheap to do and because it risked offending very few people.

let's deal with the economic factor. some 1's saying 'but becky, they had to go over to rome!'
yes and once they got there they had to point and shoot. that was it.

there was no chasing down a lead.

they put bystanders on camera.

and the 'spokespeople,' 'becky, what about the officials from the church!'

they didn't have to find those people. the catholic church knows the importance of good p.r.
that's why they endorse horror movies that are from 'family movies' as long as the film presents the solution that the only 1 who can save you is a priest. as long as the message is 'take that methodists!' or whatever demonition, they don't condemn a film. they make people available to talk about the film. they may even provide the film with technical advisors.

the catholic church knows the importance of p.r. (they tried to get ahead of the priest scandals but failed to grasp there wasn't a 'feel good' spin to that.)

'hello, my name is lana monroe and i'm with the canton weekly out of canton, ohio. we have a readership of 75.'

even something that small will be provided with a spokesperson.

the catholic church understands p.r. and they understand a p.r. bonaza which is what this has been for them. a story 1/4 as domination as this serves to get wayward catholics back into the pews and dollars back into the plate. they'll provide you with some 1, any 1, to speak with. this is free advertising for them.

i'm not slamming them for that. if they were my client, i would tell them to do exactly what they're doing. but you don't usually see the press fall over themselves so easily to become a partner in your p.r. campaign.

you've seen that with pope-arama. (credit for that goes to danny schechter's news dissector where i saw the phrase and 'the pope goes on' goes to common ills community member dallas.)

there is no digging for sources or attempting to find a hard news angle. it's all pretty visuals with the occassional 'official voice' tossed in between some quirky people (we love to play up the quirks in foreigners in our domestic media). the story writes itself, it films itself, it announces itself. this isn't reporting. it's p.r.

and while the pope-arama went on, you missed out on some serious stories.

'but becky,' you say, 'the new york times was caught up in the pope-arama like every 1 else.'

that doesn't wash.

they ran 2 stories on torture czar alberto gonzales. on tuesday he was questioned by the senate. on wednesday eric lichtblau turned in his article on that. but he didn't tell you about brandon mayfield. he took dictation but seemed to put his pen down when he came across some thing that was actually news, that actually mattered.

as if it wasn't bad enough that lichtblau ignored it on wednesday, he returned to the same topic on thursday to explain to us that 'hey alberto's pretty groovy.' that piece of printed drool made wednesday's story look better but even it could turn wednesday's story into news.

how does the new york times miss this story? how does eric lichtblau? he was assigned to cover gonzales's appearence before the senate.

from c.i.'s entry at the common ills wednesday:

Dozens of e-mails came in wanting Eric Lichtblau's "Antiterrorism Law Defended as Hearings Start" highlighted. So we're giving this New York Times story it's own entry.
Mr. Gonzales's forceful defense of the expanded antiterrorism powers granted under the USA Patriot Act came at the start of what is expected to be months of hearings in both the Senate and the House. Sixteen provisions in the law are to expire by year's end, and a decision over whether to extend them, and whether the government's expanded powers have eroded civil liberties, is shaping up as one of the biggest legislative battles in the current Congress.
You'll note that "Brand New Me" Alberto Gonzales parrots J-Ass (John Ashcroft) in claiming that the library provision is of "no interest" to the Justice Dept. And you'll note that because Lichtblau works that into his article. Haven't we been down this road before?
Question, is Lichtblau aware of a Washington Post article entitled " Patriot Act Provision Invoked, Memo Says FBI Request Came Weeks After Ashcroft Denied Using Controversial Part of Law?"
From that June 18, 2004 article by Amy Goldstein:
The FBI asked the Justice Department last fall to seek permission from a secret federal court to use the most controversial provision of the USA Patriot Act, four weeks after Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said that part of the law had never been used, according to government documents disclosed this week.
A one-paragraph memo -- saying the FBI wanted to use the part of the law that allows investigators in terrorism and espionage cases easier access to people's business and library records -- was in a stack of documents the government has released under court order, as debate persists over whether use of the anti-terrorism law violates civil liberties.
Read Goldstein's article. You'll find out that J-Ass selectively declassified a memo to make it look as though the library provision had never been used. Then when the court ordered the release of documents, we find out that the declassified memo J-Ass's remarks were neither illumating nor forthcoming.
Curiously, Dan Eggen's article in today's Washington Post also overlooks Goldstein's previous reporting. From "Congress Urged to Renew Patriot Act: Minor Changes Would Address Concerns, Gonzales and Mueller Tell Senate Panel:
"Authorities have obtained information under the controversial business records provision 35 times, including driver's license records, credit card records, Internet subscriber records and hotel and apartment records, officials said. Gonzales said the provision has not been used to obtain records from medical providers, gun shops, bookstores or libraries, although he said the administration would oppose any attempt to exempt such categories.
"The department has no interest in rummaging through the library records or the medical records of Americans," Gonzales testified. "We do have an interest, however, in records that may help us capture terrorists. And there may be an occasion where having the tools . . . to access this kind of information may be very helpful."
No interest? What of Goldstein's reporting? Apparently that's down the memory hole. (Thanks to community member professional journalist for the e-mail heads up alerting me to Goldstein's article which I'd never read before p.j. steered me to it.)
The Times
is a competitor of the Washington Post's. Why Eggen, writing for the Post, is unaware of Goldstein's reporting is another issue.

the 'all the news that's fit to print' new york times could have had a story, a real story. they didn't bother. unless they want to change the slogan to 'all the p.r. that's fit to spin,' they need to take a hard look at their actions this week. there is news and there is p.r. and they might be able to argue with me of how news worthy a news story was, but i was trained in public relations and i know p.r. when i see it. that's basically what we got, p.r., in this week's new york times.

and they still haven't told readers that the government has lied repeatedly. that the government did use a sneak & peak aspect of the patriot act to search brandon mayfield's home.
and that they lied when they repeatedly stated that they hadn't done that.

they did do it. and gonzales admitted it or bragged about it tuesday on the senate floor. why didn't the new york times cover that?