Jack Shafer takes readers' questions about anonymous sources in the news.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
July 17 2008 5:23 PM

Secret Identities

Jack Shafer takes readers' questions about anonymous sources, The New Yorker cover, and media criticism.

(Continued from Page 1)

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Rockville, Md.: What are your thoughts about the New Yorker cover with Sen. Obama and his wife? Does it qualify as satire? Wouldn't it be better if it came out perhaps after the general election?

Jack Shafer: I defended The New Yorker cover in this piece in Slate on Monday. I prefer a press that serves strong images that make you think to a pussy-footing press that worries that it might offended somebody. I don't think The New Yorker should worry about the timing of its covers. Any time is a good time for an illustration that sends up the crazy conspiracy theories about the Obamas.

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Waldorf, Md.: Either the editor of The New Yorker seriously overestimates the intelligence of the American people, or he's trying to sway the election. How can he not see that this satire will be (indeed already is being) used on Web sites, blogs and in e-mails far and wide to support the untruths that have been spread about Obama for many months now?

I'm really torn because I rarely support any kind of censorship, but I believe this election is too important and there aren't enough voices to shout down the growing belief that Obama is a Muslim who will open the doors to terrorists. Where's the horrible caricature of McCain? When I see that on the cover of the New Yorker, I'll believe that this is only about satire.

Jack Shafer: If The New Yorker did anything, it got more people talking about the Muslim rumors. For a couple of days there, you couldn't turn on your TV or radio without hearing somebody go on about the topic. And across the board, what did they all say? That The New Yorker was sending up the rumors. Even the people who criticized the magazine for running the illustration understood that it was a send-up. Maybe the up-shot of the illustration is that by making the rumors Topic 1 for a week, it will have debunked them. Then again, some people still think FDR allowed Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor.

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Chicago: Hey Jack—I have the Press Box on RSS so I never miss a column. The things I like most about you are your disdain of the genocidal tyrant Rupert Murdoch, your approving quotations of Alexander Cockburn and defense of cannabinoids. My question is simple: Why don't you have Howard Kurtz's job? Maybe MSNBC needs a media critic. Keep up the good work.

Jack Shafer: I couldn't possible do Kurtz's job unless I had a staff of 20 working for me. The guy is a machine and has been running on all 12 cylinders on the press beat for almost 20 years. As for cannabinoids, don't mistake my criticism of drug reporting for a pot habit. I happen to have never smoked or eaten the stuff. Honest!

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Orange County, Calif.: When will you write a column condemning the hatred spewing from the uber-left about the passing of a really decent human being: Tony Snow?

Jack Shafer: I don't think I've seen a hatred-spewing article from the left or elsewhere. People have criticized him, and that's all to the good. The obligation to speak the truth shouldn't pause when somebody has died.

I knew Snow, first meeting him when he worked at the editorial page editor of the Washington Times. He always treated me with respect, and I liked him. Given his taste for open debate, I don't think he would have wanted people to button their lips just because he had died. Better that people say what's on their minds than speak pious lies (I think I.F. Stone said that long ago).

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Washington: Why does the media report so little about the connection between the oil company agendas and the occupation of Iraq?

Jack Shafer: I'm not sure what the question here is. I've seen lots of good work recently about the favoritism given to U.S. oil companies as Iraq reopens exploration and extraction of its fields.

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Chicago: For the past six months the markets have played the bank death-spiral watch. When will the media death-spiral watch get going with full gusto? Which is going down first, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Chicago Sun-Times or another outlet?

Jack Shafer: Charles Layton of the American Journalism Review recently predicted that the San Francisco Chronicle would be the first big-city, monopoly daily to shut down. It's supposedly losing $60 million a year.

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LalitaZ: Re: New Yorker Cover, John Dickerson identified "taking umbrage" as "this year's hottest campaign tactic" but it's more than that—it's become our national pastime.

Jack Shafer: How dare you say that, LalitaZ?! I'm so offended by your heartless comment that I'm going to pout for five minutes.

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