Last weekend, the University of Memphis, through the aegis of its department of journalism and its law school, conducted the second annual Law School for Journalists, in which members of the local news media took part in various role reversals along with participating lawyers and judges. As we said last year, the event should become a tradition, and it seems well on its way to becoming one.
A special treat of the proceedings was Saturday's luncheon address to participants by one of the lions of journalism, former Nashville Tennessean publisher John Seigenthaler who, appropriately for this occasion of looking from one side of the fence to the other, had also logged serious time in government as an adviser to attorney general Robert Kennedy.
But it was as a journalist that Seigen-thaler spoke to the mixed assembly at the U of M-area Holiday Inn. It was a case of a veteran and traditionalist looking both backward and forward at the same time. The legendary publisher made every effort to update his sense of his craft, focusing -- as everyone in journalism must increasingly do -- on the newer electronic art of online journalism that has begun to supersede even broadcasting as a staple of communication.
Seigenthaler spoke of journalism's "self-inflicted wounds," one of which was perpetrated against himself -- an egregiously libelous caricature of him as a potential assassin that was posted for some months on the Wikipedia Web site before being corrected. Seigenthaler also reviewed the case of The New York Times' erstwhile fabricator Jayson Blair and those of several other recent frauds perpetrated within the journalistic mainstream.
Beyond these outright misrepresentations, however, Seigenthaler noted an even greater danger: that of willful ignorance, of not knowing how the diverse and complex modern world actually works.
To some degree, the presence in journalism of ever greater numbers of women and minorities has begun to remedy that situation -- though Seigenthaler, citing the unexpected lessons of Katrina, believes that the intersection of race with poverty is one corner of reality that has never been investigated properly.
His most surprising caveat: that at a time when resurgent varieties of Islam have begun to dominate the map of world history, Western journalism -- and the American brand in particular -- is way behind the curve in understanding that religion and its motivations. Seigenthaler's solution? More newsroom hirings of Muslims. Only through such an osmosis could we close so potentially lethal a gap in our mutual understanding.
The Lesson of Walter Reed
And speaking of wounds: Even through all the Anna Nicole Smith brouhaha, most Americans have begun to learn something from their media of the abominable conditions awaiting the legions of maimed veterans of duty in Iraq who are returning home for medical treatment and rehab -- in proportions far exceeding those of any other American war.
Mold, filth, improper and insufficient protocols, red tape, and neglect -- all this and worse confront our veterans at the hands of this benefits-cutting administration that would shame the political opposition with the slogan "Support Our Troops," then shames itself by failing to do so in the most elementary sense.