While I’m not usually happy with the Daily Beast, I’m very glad they allowed Josh Rogin to defend himself at their website.
It really doesn’t matter what the issue is, the First Amendment becomes a dead letter if journalists are not able and willing to get information to the public that the sources of that information do not want the public to know. As George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
Ten years ago, when I was a rookie reporter for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, I looked up to Joseph Nye as a sacred figure, the preeminent American expert on Japan. So it hurt a little when Nye wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday to accuse me of “sneaking in” to a meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week in Washington, where John Kerry made explosive remarkswarning that Israeli could become “an apartheid state.”
But I don’t blame Joseph Nye for accusing me of unethical journalism practices. He is not a journalist and he does not know the “rules” of journalism, both written and not so. I do. I’m a reporter. I know the rules and I follow them meticulously. In ten years of reporting for five different top news organizations, I’ve never broken an agreement with an official or a source and I never will. My living is dependent on that reputation and I worked hard to earn it.
If a reporter agrees that a conversation or event is off-the-record, then of course he cannot print what was said during that interchange. But the unwritten rule—the one that directly applies here—is that if a reporter enters an off-the-record event uninvited and has not agreed to the off-the-record terms, he is free to report what happens inside that event. It’s the responsibility of the event organizers to keep reporters from entering events without invitations. As long as the reporter does not misrepresent himself and does not attempt to conceal a recording device, the event is fair game. That’s the rule.
Rogin admits to sneaking into a meeting uninvited and recording a speech by John Kerry. He boasts in it as great reporting.
And he should.
The real problem is that we see far too little of that behavior in reporting on the actions of the Executive Branch. If it was not for Edward Snowden, the media would still be passing on press releases from the NSA and reporting them as “news.” (In fact, the still do that far too often.)
This is why politicians are anxious to trot out a “media shield law” that actually cancels out the First Amendment. They want to spy on us, but they also want us to know nothing about them.