October 04, 2008

No Shame For Scott Shane

by Jerome du Bois

I've been thinking about Scott Shane, the New York Times reporter who just wrote a whitewash story about the "crossed paths" of Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. Stanley Kurtz, Steve Diamond, and many others have already weighed in on the story itself. By now, any ordinary concerned citizen with access to the internet can determine for himself or herself just what's missing from Shane's piece. All one has to do is enter Obama's name and Ayers's name together into a search engine. But Shane had a lot more than that to work with. For example, he interviewed Steve Diamond for his story:

I was interviewed at length by the New York Times for this story --in fact, this was the third Times reporter to interview me about the Ayers/Obama relationship --and I provided the Times with the letters I discuss here. They are not mentioned in the story at all.

It may not have helped that the reporter, Scott Shane, specializes in the FBI and CIA and did not seem well equipped to understand the structure and dynamics of a non profit entity like the Annenberg Challenge, had no apparent understanding of educational policy issues or debates, had no prior experience as far as I could tell with Chicago politics or culture and expressed his own sense of "boredom" with the Annenberg Challenge records he reviewed.

I think Diamond is being too generous to Scott Shane. Shane's previous reporting includes the years-long, multi-agency anthrax investigation, the legal intricacies surrounding the trials of Guantanamo detainees, the National Security Agency and domestic surveillance, and apologia for the five-sided comedian Joe Wilson. He is no stranger to the arcana of government documents. In a story about journalists and government information published a year ago on LLRX.com, the writer, Peggy Garvin, notes that

Scott said he loves documents because they are fixed in time, unlike people whose memories and stories morph over time.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge documents are certainly fixed in time, and they're definitely not outside his intellectual grasp. But they're beyond the pale of his newspaper's political stance, and Scott Shane will not transgress those boundaries. I don't think boredom had anything to do with what he included in and excluded from his story.

I don't think his editors had much work to do here, either. I doubt there was a lot of wrangling about what to omit. Shane's political bias --toward Barack Obama, in this case-- nicely aligns with that of his supervisors, thereby streamlining the whole operation. They don't have to tell him how to slant a story. How can I claim that Shane is in the tank for Obama? Simple subtraction. In February the NYT editor, Bill Keller, announced that 100 newsroom jobs would be eliminated, mostly by buyouts of staffers. By May, when not enough people took the offer, fifteen newsroom staffers were given the ax. Do you think they're going to keep objective, balanced, stubborn, old-fashioned journalists, who write the facts and let the chips fall where they may? That was way back in the day, before agenda-driven journalism took over the newsroom. No, they're going to keep people that are easy to work with, people already with the program.

So here's Scott Shane, the good little doobie, secure --for now, anyway-- in his job. For him, as for so many of his still-employed colleagues, Barack Obama is a familiar and comforting profile. Just like them, he edits his past to put himself in the best light; he obscures and obfuscates inconvenient facts; he counts on his conviction that the general public is uninformed and its memory short-lived; he will sacrifice any principle to his ambition; and shame is the least of his worries.

Barack Obama and his campaign staffers know that out here in the real world curious and determined professionals are converging on a ticking bomb, a bomb with far wider repercussions than any that Bill Ayers designed. These investigators, such as Stanley Kurtz and Steve Diamond, may be poles apart politically. They undoubtedly have their own agendas, but they also share a conviction that the truth, and the Constitution, and the direction of this country's future, are more important than any agenda. They know that the truth about Obama and Ayers is not simplistic: that Obama is just Ayers in blackface, or Ayers is just Obama in whiteface. No. But the suspicion is that Obama and Ayers share the same kind of soul, the soul of an authoritarian operator who divides the world into those who have the answer and those who don't, and have no patience for the latter.

If the investigators find that bomb before Election Day, and open it up and show its workings, and their suspicions are confirmed, they will also expose all the deceit that went into keeping the truth from the American people. Scott Shane has just performed his part in promoting the deceit, by refusing to follow leads a first-year journalism student would recognize. Journalism used to be an honorable profession, a servant of truth. Some still perform that service, and know that the converse of honor is shame. Scott Shane knows neither of them.

[Update 10/5: Steve Diamond has more on Scott Shane and the NYT story here and here.]

Posted by Jerome at October 4, 2008 08:40 PM | TrackBack