A Fine Reporter's Fine Confession

Raymond Bonner of The New York Times is one of the best journalists in the country when it comes to covering the Bush Administration's war on terrorism. So when he offers a mea culpa about the reportage on those efforts, people all over the country, especially all you fellow journalists out there, ought to listen.

Writing in the most recent edition of the New York Review of Books, Bonner offered a piece called "The CIA's Secret Torture" (the full piece is not available online) in which he reviewed two new books about the government's efforts at "extraordinary rendition." That's the procedure where our military officials "outsource" interrogation methods to governments which are not as squeamish about torture as we are. The books offer in great detail the litany of lies the Administration has offered by way of explanation and defense for its dark efforts.

I have likewise covered this aspect of the war on terrorism for five years and what struck me most about Bonner's excellent work was the following confession he made: "Far too many reporters, including this one, have published allegations of terrorism, or of 'links to al-Qaeda' based on assertions from officials who would not be named, but who turned out to be wrong." I highlight this passage not to embarrass Bonner-- he's a better reporter than I will ever be-- but to praise his public candor about an issue-- the willingness of reporters all too often to simply regurgitate to the public what is offered to them by sources. I have seen this dynamic at play for years and years in covering the war on terrorism and while it has gotten marginally better over the past few years it still isn't good enough.

Go and find Bonner's review. It is powerful. And if you are still interested go and read the books he reviewed. It's astonishing to learn, or be reminded, of what the feds are doing in our name.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

By Andrew Cohen |  January 4, 2007; 9:00 AM ET
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Hope that Mr. Bonner can be pursuaded to do more to bring this to the attention of public. Thank you for doing your part.

Posted by: f.sage | January 4, 2007 08:43 PM

Perhaps journalists should read Myra MacPherson's bio of Izzy Stone titled "All Governments Lie!" to get a better understanding of what journalism should be.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | January 6, 2007 07:15 AM

Journalists should be in revolt. They have nothing to lose but their Brooks Brothers suits, their corporate fealty, and their access to high-level govt. spin meisters.

Posted by: Dave | January 6, 2007 08:33 AM

The job of journalists is to be skeptical of what they are told by the Government, not to parrot everything they say as truth. This country needs the media to be aggressive with Government claims, now more than ever. If they do not redeem themselves now, after the debacle of the Iraq war lies and all the other lies of this administration that they took as truth out of their lack of professionalism or worse, their complicity, they will be delegated to propagandists by the thinking majority of the population.

Posted by: Monica | January 7, 2007 01:34 PM


So does this mean that you are going to abandon, or at least reduce, future reliance on anonymous sources?

Posted by: Tom T. | January 8, 2007 12:45 PM

I wonder if Mr Cohen would and is as candid about the american-Israel Properganda as he is about the truth behind the headlines on the so called war on terror.
Not being someone who peddles half truths, but works for a living amongst people who believe the news headlines as gospel, wonder a lot, if Jorno's really believe half what they write or are writing just to please their wage packets, this year I have only read three pieces in six months that have made any sort of impression on me in most of the on-line newspapers in the whole world that are in english.
This whole piece is really what any rational person thinks and if the source is anomomous then most times it is not necessarily true, just rumour or is made up from these rumours. Time to name scources.

Posted by: r.l.bradley uk | January 16, 2007 05:32 PM

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