Congratulations to the LA Times' on their new and ballsy op-ed feature, "Outside the Tent", wherein an unaffilated writer trains his guns on the LA Times and blasts them for their deficiencies. While the feature sounds like the ombudsman/public editor dispatches that other papers carry, Kinsley's page isn't pretending at dissent by allowing a neutered "reader's advocate" (who receives checks signed by the paper and has a desk adjacent to those he's criticizing) to write a column. Instead, the LA Times is inviting flamethrowing writers from opposed publications to scorch their printed earth. This week, Marc Cooper, of The Nation and The LA Weekly, steps up to the plate and swings at "objectivity", particularly in the paper's Iraq reporting. Why, Cooper asks, should the few correspondents brave enough to be on the ground be forced to contaminate their reporting with government press releases while the editorial page, safely ensconced in Los Angeles, can write what they want?
Cooper's right, and it reminds me of something Matt Yglesias said awhile back, that a smart paper would arm their Iraq reporters with blogs. After all, if our medium is good for anything it's providing a kaleidoscopic view of an incoherent life, which is really what the reporters in Iraq should be doing. If newspapers need to hew to "objectivity" in their once-a-day distillations, they could at least offer their correspondents free reign in the guise of personal websites, and in so doing, offer their readers a much more immediate and unvarnished window into the realities of life on the ground. We might not be able to end the perversions of ritualized "objectivity", but maybe we could mount an end run around it.