William F. Buckley must be turning over in his grave today.
In 1955, Buckley founded the conservative political magazine National Review. He, and it, were contentious and, at times, ferocious, but also ethical, smart and intellectually honest.
Buckley died in 2008, which at least did save him from seeing what National Review has sunk to.
On the magazine’s Web site, on a blog called “The Corner” by publisher Jack Fowler, this little note has just appeared: “The image used on the cover and the contents page of the October 1, 2012, issue of National Review, in both the print and various digital editions, was altered by National Review. It is not the original photograph as provided by Reuters/Newscom, and therefore should not have been attributed to this organization, nor attributed to the photographer.”
Well, the pictures were similar. The original version showed attendees at the Democratic National Convention holding signs that said, “FORWARD.”
The doctored version showed attendees at the Democratic National Convention holding signs that said “ABORTION."
It’s not all that unusual for magazines to create “photo illustrations” to make a point, although the most ethical ones generally do it in a way so cartoonish as to make it clear it’s a fake. By attributing the image to Reuters/Newscom and a photographer, National Review implied it was a real photo. And by putting up something that looked so much like a real photo from the convention, the publication put out a fake many readers could easily mistake for a real photo, and thus made their magazine not a joke or a satire, but a lie.
This incident does so much to stain and undermine journalism, to degrade the political discussion in our nation and to decimate what was once a fine publication that there’s no way to properly express my disgust on a corporate-owned blog that my bosses might read.
But I think anyone who’s ever stood in the pouring rain covering a homicide, or worked 72 hours straight reporting on a flood, or been subjected to enemy fire while trying to tell the readers at home about the war their boys are fighting, will understand my feelings.
What I can say is that everyone involved ought to be fired, and not one of them should ever be employed in this business again.
But what I hope is this. I hope, wherever they go after they do die, William F. Buckley is there to meet them.
I think he’d know how to handle this.