Democracy Soup

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The Philadelphia Inquirer hires John Yoo as a ‘legal expert’ to win the Media Putz

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Originally published on on May 14, 2009

The Philadelphia Inquirer


Hiring a columnist for his or her expertise is part of what makes newspapers a unique form of information, even in these difficult economic times. But when your expertise is torture and illegal acts, is that a niche that a newspaper should pay to run?

John Yoo has written freelance commentaries for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 2005. But the paper’s management has admitted that the paper signed Yoo to a contract in late 2008, and only recently has given Yoo the byline of “Inquirer columnist.”

Even without the recession, loss of advertising revenue, and a slowness to catch up to late 20th century technology, the newspaper industry was already suffering from huge credibility issues, especially during the times of the Bush Administration.

No matter how little credibility members of that team had, their words were treated as golden truths, regardless of the reality. It’s one thing to cower in fear while they are in power. But The Philadelphia Inquirer continues to follow that principle, even after the Bush team left.

You have to wonder even if the newspaper felt some concern since, while Yoo has been writing a column for them for awhile, only now did they announce that Yoo was a regular columnist. If the newspaper thought so highly of his legal mind, why do we only hear it now that Yoo is doing a regular column?

Inquirer’s editorial page editor Harold Jackson responded to Will Bunch (aka Attytood) of the Philadelphia Daily News as to why Yoo was hired:

He’s a Philadelphian, and very knowledgeable about the legal subjects he discusses in his commentaries.

Hiring Yoo for his legal mind is rather pathetic given the lack of respect for the law he clearly displayed in writing the torture memos. But even this “knowledge” — does it come with any credibility? And isn’t credibility supposed to be the bread and butter of a columnist?

The Philadelphia Inquirer, along with the Daily News, filed for bankruptcy. Amusingly, as part of the bankruptcy, we found out that the newspaper is paying former Sen. Rick Santorum $1,750 per column. If a former senator is getting that much, imagine how much a former torture memo writer would get?

One reason we give out Media Putz awards is the mutual back-scratching nature of the powers that be and the Fourth Estate, granting undeserved legitimacy at every opportunity. A newspaper should be using its resources, however little that may be remaining, to ask whether Yoo’s actions might constitute a jail sentence, not to take those resources and give them to him.

Bunch put Yoo’s hiring in the broader picture:

This is exactly the kind of “on one hand, on the other hand” cowardly practice that has become a cancer destroying the moral DNA of America’s newsrooms. “On one hand, torture is not only immoral but a violation of international and even U.S. law, but on the other hand, check out our ‘provocative’ new columnist, John Yoo, who can’t travel to Europe because he might be arrested for war crimes!” This is wrong — horribly so. For more than five years, American newsrooms have helped to normalize the inhumane practice of torture, giving into the government’s Orwellian terms like “enhanced interrogation” and failing to call for accountability of those responsible for these crimes, including — but not stopping at — John Yoo. For a much-honored newspaper like the Inquirer to pay someone like Yoo to write a regular column is surely the exclamation point on a dark period in which most of my profession flunked its greatest moral test.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, among many newspapers, is sinking. Instead of reaching for a rope, the newspaper poured more quicksand on itself by hiring Yoo and giving him a cherished platform. But before it disappears into oblivion, The Philadelphia Inquirer wins one more prize: the Media Putz award.


Written by democracysoup

May 14, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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