Maintaining the delicate trust between press and public
SALT LAKE CITY
These are troubling times for journalism. There is furor over anonymous sources. One of the most famous anonymous sources in recent times was Mark Felt, aka "Deep Throat." And last week we had President Bush's key aide, Karl Rove, gazing cherubically off the covers of Time and Newsweek.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Though journalists cherish such inside sources as Mr. Rove, some are baying for his head for his alleged role in outing CIA employee Valerie Plame. In this complicated and unraveling saga, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who actually never wrote about Ms. Plame, is in jail for refusing to tell who told her about the person she never wrote about.
Distinguished news organizations like The New York Times and CBS News are recovering from disastrous journalistic scandals. Jayson Blair, at the Times, made stuff up. Dan Rather, at CBS, went with badly sourced and unsubstantiated accusations about Mr. Bush's military record on the eve of the presidential election.
Then we have an explosion of "blogs," creating literally millions of untrained journalists who "report," factually or not, on virtually anything that takes their fancy.
The abundantly clear lesson emerging from all this is the need for trust.
Trust between sources and reporters.
Trust between reporters and editors.
Trust between editors who package the product and the readers, listeners, and viewers who consume it.
The Christian Science Monitor has maintained a widely recognized reputation for integrity in almost a century of publication. When it has erred, or been misled, it has been quick to make amends, corrections, or apologies.
Recently questions have arisen about two journalists who years ago worked for the newspaper - Pham Xuan An in Saigon and Edmund Stevens in Moscow.
I met An, the subject of a recent profile in The New Yorker, several times when I visited Vietnam during my time as a Monitor correspondent in Asia. He had studied journalism at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., and was popular with the large American press corps in Saigon covering the Vietnam war.
His connection with the Monitor was as a part-time guide, interpreter, and gatherer of information for Beverly Deepe, an able freelance reporter for the Monitor. There is no indication that at any time he actually wrote for the newspaper.
When Elizabeth Pond, a highly regarded Monitor foreign correspondent, succeeded Deepe in Saigon, she inherited An on the same part-time basis.
Ms. Pond told me in an e-mail a few days ago: "He knew all the arcane convolutions of Saigon politics, so was very good at explaining to me as we debriefed after interviews what it all meant. I certainly had no inkling about An's real role at the time."
An's real role, as became evident after the fall of Saigon, was that of spy for the Vietnamese communists, who had recruited him years earlier. It is a given that had the Monitor had any inkling of his communist connection he would have been instantly dismissed.
An worked for various news organizations but his primary journalistic connection was with Time magazine as a correspondent over a period of years.
I never knew Ed Stevens, apparently soon to be the subject of a new book. He was a distinguished foreign correspondent before being assigned to Moscow in 1943. By 1955, when I joined the paper, he had gone to work for Look magazine.
As with other reporters who managed to survive in Moscow over an extended period, his tenure raised questions as to whether he had special ties to the communist regime. His work for the Monitor could not have suggested any favorable treatment. As his son, Edmund Stevens Jr., commented: "His reporting repeatedly got him into hot water with the Soviet authorities and got him kicked out in 1949." For a scathing, 44-part series, "This is Russia Un-Censored," he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. (He was not readmitted to the Soviet Union until 1956.)
A book, "The Secret World of American Communism," published by Yale University Press in 1995, asserted that Stevens had joined the American Communist Party in 1938.
Monitor editor David Cook wrote at that time: "If Stevens did join the party, whether as a youthful experiment, out of a deeper commitment to communism, or as a means of securing an exit visa for his family, the fact should not have been hidden."
Though the Monitor may have been disappointed, or its trust betrayed, in a couple of instances, its sturdy editorial opposition to communism, and its clear-headed reportage from countries that embraced that unhappy dogma, is of course beyond dispute.
• John Hughes, editor of the Monitor from 1970 to 1979, was the Monitor's Southeast Asia correspondent during the 1960s, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his coverage of Indonesia.