Is Elspeth Reeve of The Atlantic the least curious journalist in these United States? I think that there is a case that can be made for that.
Miss Reeve this week made a fool of herself and embarrassed The Atlantic, if The Atlantic still can be embarrassed, by claiming that a photo from the Texas abortion protests — the particularly stomach-churning one of a little tyke holding a sign reading “If I Wanted Government in My Womb I Would F*** a Senator” — was a fake, or at least an image from another protest, not something that happened in Austin. Miss Reeve cast aspersions upon Twitchy, The Daily Caller, The Blaze, and others by claiming that they had run stories based on this fraudulent evidence.
She did not mention National Review, though she probably should have. Not only did our Betsy Woodruff share that image on the Corner, she also documented its origins: It was taken by a friend of hers, Ethan Gehrke, who, as she put it in quite plain English: “took this picture yesterday during the pro-choice activity at the Texas statehouse.”
The picture was of course real, and Miss Reeve was later forced to admit as much. She says she misread the date of the photo, which was posted on an Internet bulletin board. I do not see how that is possible, given that the date on the post is right there — “07-03-2013, 12:41 AM” — but let’s take her at her word and assume that this was an honest mistake.
If I were an utterly predictable liberal journalist writing for The Atlantic and I thought I had a nice little scoop about those evil rotten mean conservatives at National Review, The Blaze, The Daily Caller, et al., having run a bogus report based on a falsely attributed photo, the first thing I would think is: I wonder where they got that photo? Did somebody intentionally mislead these feckless gullibles? Maybe one of the pro-life organizations? Somebody, somewhere, must have been acting in bad faith — but who? The media’s main interest is the media, and stories of journalistic malpractice are everybody’s favorite. And the next step — and this is Advanced Journalism from a certified professional newspaper editor — would be: Pick up the phone. First to verify, then to inquire, and then to gloat. She mentions Ethan Gehrke in her post, so she knows where the image came from. It’s true that Betsy can be sort of intimidating, but I’m sure somebody at National Review would have been pleased to set her straight if she’d only had the journalistic wherewithal to make like a rookie reporter at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and make a telephone call.
Apparently, Miss Reeve and The Atlantic are entirely free of basic journalistic curiosity, even regarding the thing journalists are most curious about: other journalists.
All journalists make mistakes, and journalists who blog make more mistakes than others (my own collection of corrections is not insubstantial), but this borders on what lawyers who sometimes threaten to sue me sometimes call “reckless disregard for the truth.” Not to mention reckless disregard for a 150-year-old institution that used to publish Ralph Waldo Emerson.
SUPERSTITION ALERT: Writing about the foibles of other journalists invariably is the precedent to making an embarrassing error of one’s own. I apologize in advance for whatever dumb thing I am on the verge of doing.