Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Legends are Made from Less

Here's a quick quiz: Rate the following people in terms of their overall importance to your perception of the media, 1 being most important and 5 being the least:

A) Jayson Blair
B) Eason Jordan
C) Laurie Garrett
D) J.D. Guckert
E) Judith Miller

You don't have to reach far back into the memory banks to recall Eason Jordan being forced to resign from CNN as a result of some unfortunate comments he made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland early last month. What you probably didn't know is that the forum is generally considered to be "off the record", and is structured so that leaders and opinion makers can more freely express their commentary on the world situation to their peers. As a result, reporters are generally given limited access to the WEF.

One of the journalists in attendance in the past was Laurie Garrett, an "old school" writer who has won the journalism trifecta: Pulitzer, Peabody, and Polk awards - the only triple crown winner in the modern history of journalism. So we're not talking about a hack writer or gay porn star / hooker / White House reporter. Because of her stratospheric status in the world of journalism, she was given an exceptionally unusual level of access to the WEF - unfettered.

In fact, during the first week of February, 2003 she wrote a rather lengthy private email to some friends and colleagues describing her time in Davos. It's wild. And scary. And will cause you to pause. Now, remember, this isn't some hack blogger like me that we're talking about -- this is a trained, highly respected, pit-bull journalist. Here's a link to her email. Go read it, then come back. We'll discuss. The rest of this posting won't make a lot of sense unless you go read it.

So then, you're back? Good. Because there's more.

We can discuss the particulars of Ms. Garrett's "Davos email" in the comments to this thread. (And lest anyone think that maybe she didn't write the email, she reluctantly acknowledges that it is, in fact, hers.) The bottom line is that the letter caused a major shitstorm in areas of the internet that I don't normally troll; still, I'm surprised I saw no mention of it (that I can remember, anyway) in Left Blogistan.

Fast forward to late February this year. Ms. Garrett had been on an extended leave of absence from Newsday to write a book, and was scheduled to return on March 8th. But apparently, the aforementioned shitstorm, coupled with her increasing distress at the state of journalism, caused her to write a "Dear John" letter, addressed to her co-workers.

Effective March 8th, Laurie Garrett resigned from Newsday.

In her very lengthy and passionate letter, she eloquently lays out her indictment of the fourth estate, and frames the current state of (what passes for) journalism as the irrevocable loss of one of the checks and balances in any democracy. The graf that follows is the professional equivalent of wielding a flamethrower in a newsprint mill:

...The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth...

So, was Laurie Garrett forced out of her longtime position because of an earlier email that came back to bite her this year in Wingnuttistan? Certainly, it must have caused her a great deal of difficulty inside of her profession -- but no more so than the supposedly off-the-record comments of Eason Jordan.

Though Ms. Garrett's resignation was much less heralded than the witch hunt against Mr. Jordan, it seems to be fallout from an earlier WEF conference that's recently resurfaced. Her personal email reflections on the 2003 Davos conference were obviously never meant for publication on the web (or anywhere else for that matter), but then, Jordan's remarks were never meant for attribution either.

Couple these two recent press neuterings with the saga leading to Dan Rather's "forced retirement" (among other recent journalistic events), and we're left with an unmistakable impression: the death of a free and independent press is happening right before our eyes, and no one will even tell us where the wake is being held.

Fortunately - every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end....

Welcome to the blogosphere.

(P.S. - would you now like to re-rank the people in your quiz answers?)