Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Light Over Heat: Credibility Matters

Today we hope you were able to return to work refreshed and recharged - though maybe a bit sunburned - from an extended Memorial Day weekend. We also hope you took a moment to remember the reason for the holiday, and honored America's fallen heroes, as President Obama did Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The world didn't stop though, even if you took an extra day off. Fighting in Syria heated up, even as matters regarding Syria became even more complicated. Sequestration cuts are really starting to bite, even as House Republicans ignore the sequester, and instead insist they're going to push forward on the IRS mess during Congress' break this week - even as it appears that IRS staffers were right to give a second look to many of the applications from politically oriented groups.

In fact, as many of our colleagues in media struggle back to work today, we're almost certain that a sub-section of our lazy cohorts will attempt to fire up the "scandal" machine instead of tackling a fresh new subject, or sharply recapping what readers may have missed over the weekend. We'd be willing to bet that many in the media will be covering the James Rosen/DOJ "scandal" again this week, just as many kept busy last week trying to shove Jesus off the cross so they could put Rosen in his place.

Sadly, many of those we respect in the media have blindly gone along with Rosen's cries of persecution.

Too many people running around with their head on fire also seem to have forgotten - even if the Justice Department's treatment of Rosen has been ugly and unethical, the DOJ’s actions appear to be legal. The same can’t yet be said about what Rosen may have done.

As the case stands now, the Department of Justice announced Saturday that it notified News Corp. more than two years ago about its seizure of Rosen's phone records. Sources at Fox News have since come forward saying they've known about the Justice Department investigation for least three years. Meanwhile, Fox's parent News Corp. is both denying they have any record of the DOJ's subpoena, while at the same time obliquely acknowledging that the Justice Department sent them a subpoena.

In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus clearly laid out a timeline of the known facts in the ongoing Rosen media scandal that anyone concerned with honest media should read. The DOJ could have acted unethically in this case - and we wouldn't be surprised if they did. But, as Pincus points out, "…the First Amendment covers the right to publish information, but it does not grant blanket immunity for how that information is gathered."

Meaning that Rosen, the reporter from Fox, may have easily broken the law in his hubris -which is what the Department of Justice is tasked with prosecuting.

A media organization's credibility is a key factor that changes the organization from simply "media" to "news," in the same way a member of the media becomes a "journalist" in the eyes of his or her peers. Simply being first doesn't add credibility, if the individual or organization isn't right. Further, organizations that have proven records of violating the law to gather information - like News Corp., the parent of Fox - have less credibility because they've been proven both liars and lawbreakers in the past. Finally, as it stands in America right now, having the right to publish or broadcast doesn't mean one can violate the law to obtain their source material.

Which, of course, is Rosen's problem. He can set his head on fire screaming about his First Amendment rights - and we'll stand behind his right to do so, no question, even if those he works for and with are vile and lack credibility.

However, if Rosen broke the law and the DOJ did not, it's not just Rosen's credibility that will be up in smoke - it's the credibility of all those in the media who blindly supported Rosen, and attempted to paint him as a symbol for everyone in the media, before they had all the facts. To us, Rosen's mere association with a discreditied organization like Fox is reason enough to doubt his credibility. That Fox and News Corp. can't seem to get their story straight lends even more doubt to Rosen, in our minds.

The DOJ doesn't always have to be ethical about what they do.

To have credibility, journalists always do.