Seattle has spent the last couple of weeks redefining journalistic objectivity — downwards. First, the Seattle Times newsroom erupts in cheers when Karl Rove announced his resignation, and now the Post-Intelligencer refuses an FBI request to publish photos of men wanted for questioning after suspicious behavior on Seattle-area ferries. Rather than reconsider the decision, the P-I instead decides to use the story as a contest for haiku writers.
First, the P-I explains why it doesn’t feel a community responsibility to help the FBI:
The P-I last year reported that according to a Justice Department inspector general’s assessment, Puget Sound’s ferries were the nation’s No. 1 target for maritime terrorism.
This may well be a case of alert citizens spotting a very real threat.
But running a photograph of two men who may as easily be tourists from Texas as terrorists from the Mideast with a story that makes them out to be persons of interest in a terrorism investigation seems problematic, to say the least.
The P-I ran a story about the FBI’s alert, but did not run the photographs, because we didn’t have enough information to warrant it. I hope that today we are able to get more information on this story, if it exists, from the FBI that would give us a clearer idea of the background behind their request.
This explanation fails to cover the relevant facts as reported by its own paper. The photos did not come from secret file; they were taken by an employee on the ferry. The employee noticed odd behavior from the two, who asked unusual questions about the layout and workings of the ferries. Since ferries have been identified as a potential terrorist target, as the explanation states, he took the pictures and forwarded them to the FBI, who need to find out who and where these men are.
Did the P-I feel like helping out? No — they felt like making a rather silly point about “privacy”. The extent of their assistance is to post a number on their site for readers to call the FBI if they have any more information about the men the P-I refuse to show. Oh, and let’s not forget, a haiku contest:
As the story develops today, what concerns you most: The possible threat to security? The way the alert was released? Something completely different? Put it in a three-line, 5-7-5 syllable bit of pop haiku for today’s contest.
My favorite so far, by Dani B:
Don’t be proactive
More readers if ferry sinks
Post pictures after
Michelle Malkin, who worked for years as a journalist in Seattle, has a few more entries she likes. Bill Hobbs, posting at Newsbusters, has more:
If Managing Editor McCumber needed art to illustrate a story on the region’s ferry system, he could and likely would dispatch a Seattle P-I photographer to one of the ferries, and publish a shot of random ferry passengers on the deck of the boat. The paper might not even bother to identify the people in the photo.
Newspapers publish crowd shots taken in public all the time without identifying the people in the photo or asking if they mind having their photo published – or knowing if they are or are not involved in some sort of criminal activity.
McCumber’s excuse for not running the photos is … beyond weak. It is a figleaf for political correctness run amok, political correctness that may compromise the security of the people of the Seattle area that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ostensibly exists to serve.
Michelle also posted the picture herself yesterday. In the interest of assisting the FBI in finding these men to either close the lead or broadening the investigation — and also in informing the Seattle citizenry — I’ll follow suit here:
The blogosphere — doing the job American media won’t do since 2001.
UPDATE: The P-I cancels the haiku contest, and acknowledges its bad taste in launching it. At least they admit that error, and rather graciously, too.