July 30, 2007

Hart House gun club thoughts

Well, looks like the gun club I went to in university now and again is finally getting shut down. I'm frankly surprised it lasted this long. It's never lacked for members, and has a near-flawless safety record, but it's just not politically acceptable in Canada, anymore.

For the record, I always found the membership professional, responsible, and well-mannered. I had always thought your freedom of expression ended just short of where your fist touches a nose: apparently at Canadian universities it now ends at the point where you send "a painful reminder" of something. Pity.

(One expects the day will soon come when we as a society start reclaiming some of the various bits of real estate on campuses and elsewhere dedicated to remembrance of war, etc., as well. Those, too, are "painful reminders" to some people.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:53 AM

More on "Shock Troops"

I don't say this very often, but Megan McArdle's got it pretty much right on the "Shock Troops" controversy, as well. It's one thing to say that a writer/soldier should be given more of a benefit of a doubt than some were willing to give him, which was John Cole's point, referred to in the post below. It's a whole other thing to claim, as John Quiggin does on Crooked Timber, that even if the story is false, it doesn't matter because the lie-teller is on the side of a Larger Truth. (Shorter Quiggin: "Fake but accurate.")

If the story, or any significant aspect of it, proves to fail a fair re-scrutinizing, then the New Republic should retract and apologize. Period.

To its credit, TNR appears to be engaged in this. Still, I personally don't think enough opprobrium has yet been extended to TNR on this one. Their writer, Pte. Beauchamp has, by general admission, been collecting a fee from TNR for writing anonymous dispatches from a war zone, without the knowledge of his military employer. Look, in the civilian world, it's generally accepted that bloggers (or people generally) who say bad things about their primary employers and colleagues in public are sanctioned, let alone those who are paid to do so. It would be hard for any workplace to operate without that general rule*. In the military, because lives can be on the line, the sanctions are more severe.

It obviously put Pte. Beauchamp in a horrible conflict position, too. Let's say he did witness a situation where U.S. troops were acting in contravention of regulations. Because of his second paycheque, he now has two options open to him: he can save that information, so that he can surreptitiously cash in on it later, or he can report it to his employer. He can't do both: if he reports it first, he has no story to sell. I don't see how we could long sustain a situation where soldiers serving our countries are accepting under-the-table payments from other organizations, regardless of those organizations' political views.

This whole thing was a fairly sneaky way for TNR to get around the military's press rules from the start. If it had been handled in an upfront and transparent manner, with their editor saying to the reader public, "look, one of our staffers' husbands is in Iraq right now. This is his name and his unit. We're going to print his letters home to us from time to time," none of this would have happened in the way it did. (And their writer wouldn't be facing a military investigation right now.)That's the real nexus of this episode and the previous "Rathergate" episode, that a lot of people are missing. The democratization of public discourse has reached the point where anonymous tips in brown envelopes and pseudonymous war correspondents have insufficient veracity on their face to be relied upon any longer by big media, at least when their extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. (Hopefully some day the same will apply to "highly placed administration sources.") Investigatory excesses aside (and there have been many in this instance, I grant that), in general terms, the public is holding the media to a higher standard of behaviour than in previous decades. This is A Good Thing. And media outlets that fail to recognize the new requirements of transparency in their operations will suffer for it. This is also A Good Thing.

(Some media, like TNR in this episode, would appear to have internalized a different lesson: that because many of their new critics are sophomoric buffoons, that allows them to resurrect journalistic methods best left to college weeklies covering student pub nights. One trusts they will ever be wrong in this.)

UPDATE: Mudville Gazette also gets it right, at least in this post. The actual story or its writer are no longer (never really have been) significant or interesting issues to me.

*Indeed, it is exactly this rule that TNR presumably invoked when it dismissed a part-time staffer who leaked their pseudonymous writer's identity and spousal connection to the blogs last week. Why their editorship thought standard workplace breach-of-trust assumptions they rely upon wouldn't apply to a military unit in a warzone is, to say the least, confusing.

Posted by BruceR at 11:03 AM