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White Noise: News from inside the Media Bubble

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Philip Meyer

As a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had the pleasure of taking a class taught by renowned journalist Phillip Meyer. That was in 2004, during the presidential election. Our class consisted of about six graduate students, and one of the projects involved mailing surveys out to registered voters. We entered into a casual wager with another class that was polling voters over the phone and won – that is, our results more closely resembled the final vote. Meyer announced his retirement from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication effective this summer. Hopefully his impact on journalism in and around North Carolina will continue. Meyer, an academic alchemist who combined the pursuits of social science and journalism into a discipline he called precision journalism, helped the Detroit Free Press win a Pulitzer before he moved into academia. His accomplishments are too numerous to list in this space, but he will be missed in good old Carroll Hall. – AK

Crack reporter

Ruben Castaneda has been working as a reporter for the Washington Post since 1987, and he spent 1989-’91 not only covering the DC metro crime and police beat, but was also an active participant in that he was smoking crack just about every day. “I was not a dilettante,” he writes in his Dec. 30 WaPo piece, “Cracked,” which is part confessional, part cautionary tale and part inside look at the crack epidemic during its prime. The story, easily found online at washingtonpost.com, is a must-read for journalists, addicts and anyone who thinks that the problem of crack cocaine is the exclusive province of the poor. He details his first taste of the drug in 1988, his efforts to obtain it, which included borrowing money from everyone in the newsroom and even paging a DC detective late one night, his anxiety over being recognized by crack dealers while covering drug murders and his eventual recovery – Castaneda has been crack-free since 1992. This is good stuff. – BC

Gulf of Tonkin redux?

A story published by the Associated Press on Monday, reporting that “Iranian boats harassed and provoked three US Navy ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, threatening to explode the American vessels… in what US officials called a serious provocation” carries omens of war at a time when revelations that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program have undercut the Bush administration’s increasingly apparent plans for military aggression. Governments have a track record of lying when it suits political agendas, and journalists have all too often relied on official sources without exercising skepticism to get “the big story.” This particular story relies on statements by Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe and an anonymous Pentagon official. If the information turns out to be not credible, the reported skirmish will bear an eerie similarity to the Gulf of Tonkin incident 42 years ago, in which a supposed attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats against the USS Maddox helped the Johnson administration gather congressional support to escalate the war. Early reporting by maverick journalist IF Stone calling the attack’s existence into question was vindicated in 2005 when the National Security Agency released a report by its own historian, Robert J. Hanyok, concluding that agency officials “mishandled” signal intelligence reports, providing “skewed” intelligence to the president. “The overwhelming body of reports, if used,” Hanyok wrote, “would have told the story that no attack occurred.” – JG

Media whoring

CNBC anchor Erin Burnett lists the eight things she’s looking for in a man in the January issue of Men’s Health magazine with a piece titled, “8 Ways to Impress Me.” Burnett, who last year called President Bush a “monkey” on air, hosts “Street Signs” and “Squawk on the Street.” She is also not easy to impress. Her list includes business-class airplane tickets to New Zealand and Australia for her parents, underwriting her desire to set foot in 100 countries, spa weekends for her and her sisters, a personal chef for her nights at home and a private yoga instructor dispatched to her apartment. Related: Having sex for money is still illegal in 49 states. – BC

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