Headliners Continue Making Headlines

Posted by on March 27, 2014 in culture | 2 comments

Despite snowy weather that moved two sessions, our Smithsonian class continues, where we listen to (and ask questions of) various journalists who specialize in reporting on Washington, DC.  This week’s speaker was Thom Shanker, the New York Times’ man in the Pentagon (at least, until the end of this month, when he’ll be promoted to a managing editorial role.)

Shanker was the first (and only, within the series) solely-print journalist we’ve heard.  He was very engaging, with suitably self-deprecating remarks about his skill (or lack thereof) with technology, including audio-visual presentations etc.  He was extraordinarily respectful of people in the military, making a special point to acknowledge active and retired members in the audience.  A lot of his presentation focused on embedded journalists — a practice that he thinks has been vital to democracy (so that civilians see and understand what’s really going on) and one which he thinks is almost over (due to warfare moving to non-mass-forces ways of fighting.)

There were a couple of points, though, that jangled in his presentation, a couple of factual errors that he made.  He was speaking off the cuff, without printed remarks, so I suppose the man gets a bit of a pass.  Nevertheless, when he referred to Edward Snowden’s release of materials as being outside the mainstream media (Snowden tried to get the Washington Post to release them first, but the Post wouldn’t agree to his terms), he was off-base.  And when Shanker referred to Vladimir Putin as a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, he was flat-out wrong, by almost a decade.  (Putin was born in Leningrad/St. Petersburg in 1952, and the Siege would certainly have cast a shadow over his childhood, but he wasn’t a survivor.)

Those may have been verbal mis-steps, the sort of casual accidents that happen when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground very quickly.  But they had the effect of making me hyper-critical of everything else Shanker said.  I’m not very knowledgeable about a lot of his subject matter, so I was particularly wary.

Interesting, any way, to speculate on the power of mistakes in the context of journalism.  Of course, in print, the man has factcheckers and editors covering him.  But the presentation ended up being meaningful, in a meta sort of way…

I get most of my in-depth news from print journalism (mostly, the Washington Post, although we also subscribe to the weekend New York Times.)  I get my spot-news during the day from various Twitter feeds, which usually send me scurrying to the electronic versions of mainstream media.

Where do you get most of your news from?  Print journalism? Online versions of mainstream media?  Comedy Channel from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert? Other places?


  1. Having worked for a legal and regulatory information publisher for almost 30 years, I am surprised there is still such a thing as a strictly-print journalist. And the Putin mistake strikes me as really bad because he must have read that or heard someone say it, and he was willing to repeat it without ever checking it.

    But you do take advantage of where you live!

    • The thing that surprised me about the Putin comment was that I immediately said, “That can’t be right — Putin would have to be almost 80 years old!” Common sense should be the first check!

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