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Pseudo-journalism ethics

Traditional journalism has been so battered that it can hardly afford to receive another black eye.

Remember the CBS Evening News and the Dan Rather debacle regarding President George W. Bush's National Guard service? "Just the facts, ma'am" has been replaced by the mantra, "All sensation, all the time." And there's nothing some members of the mainstream media like better than a salacious story about the troops in Iraq.

Since January, the New Republic has been running a hot series by a soldier operating under the pen name "Scott Thomas." The articles spoke of an Iraqi boy making friends with the Americans, then having his tongue slashed by insurgents. Hard-hearted soldiers in Iraq make fun of a disfigured woman; animal-hating GIs use armored personnel carriers to mow down dogs.

Such stories may make great copy, but the Army says that, as told in the New Republic, they simply weren't true. The whistle-blower, in this case, was the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. In an example of virtual democracy at work, the magazine dared bloggers to uncover the truth behind the liberal New Republic's dispatches.

Meanwhile, the military probe showed that all the soldiers from his unit countered the allegations made by Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the author of the articles. The Weekly Standard reported that Beauchamp eventually swore that the articles represented falsehoods.

Unfortunately, people with a penchant for publicity may be tempted to exaggerate. And the temptation can prove irresistible when there's a magazine around that's salivating at the chance to cast U.S. military efforts in Iraq in the most unflattering light possible.

Still, some important lessons are emerging from this journalistic travesty. To begin with, despite the efforts of some media outlets to discredit our military, the Army is not always wrong. In fact, it may be right quite a bit of the time. Secondly, the mainstream media's opposition to the war can lead to a kind of ideological blindness that makes it possible for articles with little credibility to appear within the pages of mainstream magazines. Thirdly, conservatives have more credibility than many rank-and-file journalists would have you believe. After all, it was the conservatives who called into question Beauchamp's dispatches.

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