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Late Night: Safety in Numbers

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I want to expand on something I started ranting about over at my place, because Jesus tits, Howell Raines: 

“I regret any error that ever got into the paper, but from where I sat, there was a total congruence — everything was coalescing around one message,” he said, noting that The Times was far from alone in its reporting. “I was suspicious, and perhaps I should have been more aggressive in pursuing that suspicion.”

In an editor’s note written nearly a year after Mr. Raines’s departure, The Times faulted itself for being “taken in” on Iraq and pledged more skeptical and rigorous reporting.

Everything was coalescing around one message. Everybody was singing the same tune. This is a man who edited what likes to fancy itself as America’s premiere news organization, and what he’s saying here is that he didn’t feel like going out on a limb.

Really. A man with almost unlimited access to the corridors of power just couldn’t summon up the stones to say not even THIS WAR IS BULLSHIT but “Perhaps if it’s not too much trouble we might ask in the pages of our newspaper, which has withstood all kinds of assaults by the powerful over the last squillion years if this war might not be the best idea of all time.” A man who by all measurable things has achieved the greatest success anyone can have in American journalism doesn’t want to step out of line, because … what?

Might draw attention to yourself? Might face criticism? Might get called names? Might not be invited to the right parties?

Might have been thrown in Gitmo without trial. Might have been drone-bombed at your cousin’s wedding. Might have been fired from your job for expressing a political opinion. Might have been pepper-sprayed by police. Might have been evicted. Might have had your legs blown off by an IED. Might have had any one of a thousand things the powerless had happen to them in the past decade, because you didn’t want to stand up to the powerful.

“Everybody else was a sycophantic coward, too,” doesn’t make you NOT one. You’re not responsible for everybody else coalescing around one message. You’re responsible for the words coming out of your mouth, for the institution you represent. That’s your job. That’s your charge. That’s all there is for you, and you lay it down because you didn’t want to be the only one in the room? Well guess what? You are that now anyway, and lots of people are dead besides. Thank goodness you coalesced.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.