Saturday, April 26, 2008

The New York Times is (some days) a National Treasure

Barry Bearek's story of his imprisonment for trying to cover the elections in Zimbabwe is both harrowing and informative. The final two paragraphs:

I had left the cells with a case of scabies, an infestation of microscopic mites that swelled my hands and wrists to nearly twice their size. But I am better now, back in Johannesburg, with Celia, with our sons, Max, 17, and Sam, 12.

In the meantime, Zimbabwe is beset with paroxysms of violence. Thuggery, torture and murder are familiar implements in Robert Mugabe’s tool kit. Political opponents are being brutalized, as are everyday people whose voting defied him. The presidential election results are still unannounced.

A blogger whom I esteem often entitles his posts "New York Times Death Spiral," and then gives examples of the paper's shortcomings. But all journalism is compromised by tight deadlines; journalists also need to play a repeated game with sources, which means they cannot be heroic and write whatever they are thinking every day.

To me, the Times balances the need for timeliness and access against its moral obligation to be courageous as well as any newspaper. It gets the balance wrong from time-to-time. But I remain grateful for its existence.

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