<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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NYT Stringer Blows Whistle on Unethical LatAm Coverage

"Correspondents" Spend Their Time in "Dubious Company of Useless U.S.-Embassy Hacks"


By Thomas Long
Text of Email he sent to Newsweek

June 5, 2003

Publisher’s Note: Narco News has obtained a copy of the following email, sent this morning by El Salvador news correspondent Thomas Long to Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin.

Long’s email – we have been witness to what he describes all over Latin America – tells the real story about how the New York Times and other large media institutions simulate their “news” coverage from the region with “parachutists” – the “official” correspondents (desk reporters) who drop into Latin America’s cities and towns briefly to be able to claim they “reported” the story from there, when all they do is mangle the good work of “stringers” – journalists who actually live in these countries – by rearranging the facts to place a US Embassy-spoon-fed-spin on the stories they take false credit for reporting.

We’ve been reporting about their unethical behavior for years: Sam Dillon, Juan Forero, Larry Rohter, Clifford Krauss… just to name the most embarrassing parachute poster-boys from the New York Times in our América. And we’ve also reported on unethical practice by prominent desk correspondents for other large, out-of-touch, media.

The aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal has only just begun, despite the best efforts of some brown-nosing journos (who, after all, either still work for the Times, once worked for the Times, or dream of working for the Times, god knows why) to wish the whole mess would go away and maintain the myth that the Times is more than a greedy profit-seeking enterprise that long ago made a Devil’s Bargain with Foggy Bottom: the State Department is the Times’ most prolific undisclosed “stringer,” providing so much of the propaganda that Timesmen package dutifully into “news.”

The deal is simple: The Times (like other “newspapers”) serves Washington and Wall Street’s agendas in Latin America, and, in return, Washington and Wall Street (and sometimes foreign allied governments, like in Mexico City: right Sam Dillon and Craig Pyes?) do the leg work of getting the “documents” and “scoops” to the Times, only and always when the “story” discredits their political opposition in the region.

Mnookin’s online Newsweek column yesterday, however, was shocking to me. I thought Seth was better than that. In the early days of the Times-Blair scandal, Mnookin seemed to be driving the story, at least the Jayson Blair end of it. But he dropped the ball when the story moved to a bigger target: The Times itself. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and Jack Shafer of MSN’s Slate have been driving the story since then.

The 43rd Street Suck-Up Observatory shares with you this gem from Mnookin’s column yesterday. He wrote:

“Let’s get a couple of things straight. The New York Times is, on more days than not, the best newspaper in the country. The breadth and scope of its reporting is inspiring; the accumulated experience and intelligence of its correspondents is awesome; its Sunday magazine is often spectacular. The only reason the paper’s internal scandals have so dominated the national conversation about the media in recent weeks is that it remains among the most impressive and defining news properties in the country. It’s not fun to see the Times squirm under the national klieg lights…

“…there’s so much blood on the floors of the Times’s 43d Street newsroom that everyone with a bone to pick, regardless of how insignificant, thinks the time has come to voice their complaint. It’s the revenge of the mediocrities. Bragg got in trouble for overusing a stringer; now every stringer that’s ever filed copy to the Times is wondering why he or she didn’t get a byline. Blair fabricated and plagiarized; now everyone who ever felt wronged by a Times story is ascribing their displeasure to dishonesty and malice.”

Ahem. For the record: Dishonesty and malice are pillars of the Times’ Latin America coverage. And your publisher who states that here has never been wronged in a New York Times story: Au contraire! I’ve been the subject of not one, but two, fawning puff pieces published in that newspaper in the course of my young life. So I should join the suck-up parade too, right? Wrong. There are more important matters at stake – the future of Authentic Journalism and democracy in an era of Simulated News – than journalistic logrolling, if we followed those unspoken and corrupt rules, would allow us to explore.

So, Mnookin drops the ball, gets swept into the vortex of the Times’ implosion, which like the crater that recently swallowed Buffy Summers’ mythical TV-town of Sunnydale eventually quaffs down the mall, the marketplace, and its rent-a-cops, too.

The story that Thomas Long tells in this email, from El Salvador, is accurate. It reflects the reality that everyone in Latin America – newsmakers and news reporters – knows is true, but nobody speaks of it. And you’re probably not going to read this important memo on Romenesko… but more on that part of this ongoing story, from the 43rd Street Suck-Up Observatory, on a future day…

To the owners of corrupted Commercial Media and its apologists: Ask not for whom the vortex sucks… the vortex sucks for thee.

Here’s today’s email from Thomas Long to Newsweek, below.

– Al Giordano

From: thomas long
To: rawcopy@newsweek.com
Sent: Thursday, June 05, 2003 12:13 AM
Subject: reply to seth mnookin

Thank you, for insulting me.

Mediocrity? Pretty bold talk coming from a desk-bound columnist.

But, speaking as a veteran reporter for many media outlets around the world, who has also been stringing for the New York Times from Central America since 1989, I can absolutely assure you that I have done more of the work that has appeared under other people’s by-lines than they have.

Many of the datelined pieces in the Times from my area over several years contained reporting that was done by me – alone – at the place of the dateline. The same holds true for many of my unsung, truly hard-working professional colleagues. The “correspondents” most often correspond from a hotel room, where they spend a couple of days only, and much of that time in the dubious company of useless U.S.-embassy hacks, at fine dinners and such.

This fiction that the Times editors are spinning – and you are buying – about them never using stringers on features is charming, as most fantasies are.

What Rick Bragg did is the absolute norm, not any exception, in any way. He is merely the fall guy for a massive, desperate, and truly pathetic cover-up. They should all just find the “cojones” to admit it, as he has.

Issue over.

Even the New Yorker does it too, as I can also personally, sadly, attest to.

I could provide reams of specific details on this theme, but then, what for?

Most of the true professionals in my position would never have dreamed of opining on this matter (as I never did), simply because we always understood the rules, and accepted them, even if we have felt exploited by the lack of any credit. It was only the base, cynical lies – and uninformed insults like yours – that have provoked any of us to even think about adding to all of this noise.

If the Bragg affaire had never happened, you would have never heard even a tinker’s fart from any of the real, and unknown, New York Times reporters out here. If his in-house critics and the management hadn’t brazenly lied about their own practices and policies, none of us would have cared a whit.

(I also worked for many years as a stringer for Newsweek, where the only real reporting done at all is done by stringers, at least in my area. Nobody in your plush offices does any real reporting, from what I have seen. But the editors did give us shirt-tail tags – sometimes – even though the fabled “senior writers” tended to simply throw that all that work away and then invent the rest, just spicing it up a bit with a quote or a description from us. And fair enough: those were the rules; that’s how the game is played. We all know that.)

But, do know that the Times would have precious little foreign news of any substance, flavor, or certainly continuity-of-perception, without us. As a fan of the paper, you seem to know very little about how it really gets put together.

Maybe it is better not to see the sausage being made. But the next time your own navel-gazing job leads you to unjustly malign the true reporters who live and work and often suffer in dangerous Third World countries – not just spending a few days in fancy hotel rooms before zipping back home to turn in mammoth expense records – you might think about trying it yourself.

Because it takes a real reporter to know one. A reporter, on the ground.

Merriam-Webster defines a foreign correspondent as “one employed to send news or comment from a foreign country.” You and the Times editors may prefer to call us “stringers” or whatever else you like, but we fit the definition, moreso than they do. (Out here in the world, we do not refer to them as “correspondents”; we use the far more-apt term: “parachutists.” Punto.)

We correspond. We produce the real news and analysis, the real reporting and keen understanding of complex political and social cultures; we study different languages, and wade through twisted, medieval historical contexts; we spend months and years cultivating the vital sources that a staffer may interview, after flying in for a day – and only because our sources trust us, not them; and we must develop the necessary street-smarts on mean streets that you and many staff writers would not even dare to walk alone, if at all.

The great newspaper would not function otherwise – at least not the foreign desk, which is after all the recognized gem of the enterprise.

Do not fool yourself about this basic truth, sir. And please do not insult those whom you cannot know nor even begin to comprehend.

We don’t complain about our station. We simply do not suffer lies gladly, because we are – after all – professional journalists.

Sincerely,

Thomas Long
San Salvador
El Salvador

Update, 12:30 p.m. São Paulo, Brazil, Timezone: New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd resigned this morning, according to a press release put out by the New York Times Corporation. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, the North American journalism-and-politics blog of legendary reach and readership, wonders aloud whether this Narco News report “had anything to do with it” but concludes “probably not.”

The bad news: Replacing Raines on an interim basis will be Joe Lelyveld, the former Times editor who first cultivated Jayson Blair, and also protected Sam Dillon, Juan Forero, James Risen, Judith Miller, and other serial ethical scofflaws.

Meanwhile, the Poynterized Romenesko is in his increasingly transparent Times-favoring spin mode, linking to an award that Lelyveld got upon his first retirement from the (Times-funded) Committee to Protect Journalists and an AP story on the resignations (AP is the wire service of choice used by the same New York Times). Not to worry, though: Watch the blogs... they’re driving this story now, as the vortex swallows the last of the empire.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America