Read Seipp's column -- with a careful eye

January 29, 2006  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Weblog

Cathy Seipp has a commentary in Sunday's LA Times of which I don't entirely approve but nonetheless deserves reading, regarding our earlier back and forth in National Review Online and what brought it all about.

What I don't care for:

First, it's hard to tell to what extent she's kidding when she reverses my statement that the Scripps Howard syndicate that so gladly accepted over 100 columns from me for no pay dropped that column without even telling me, much less asking me for my side of the controversy. She says it makes it clear that if Scripps wasn't paying me, obviously somebody was. Well yes, my employer, Hudson Institute. Fact is, while virtually all syndicated columnists are paid something almost none can make a living at it. That should hardly bring suspicion down upon their heads.

Second, she takes issue with my talk of a witch hunt because "there never were such things as witches." As an aside, there are and were. There are Satan worshippers, though few in number, and there are Wiccans who worship nature and call themselves witches. But mostly she misses the point that people were burned and hanged because of accusations of witchcraft. Practicing it had nothing to do with it. Likewise, there truly is a serious effort underway to impugn writers innocent of nothing more than having the "wrong" political leanings.

Finally, regarding me, it seems a bit of a cheap shot to say I'm a "self-described extremely pro-biotech'" journalist. I've been writing pro-biotech articles since 1993. I published a 500-page book on it that was far longer before the editor took a cleaver to it, wrote chapters for two others books on it, and I've written close to 50 (!) pieces on biotech. That practically puts me in fanatic territory.

Yet her piece is worth reading for what she says about the New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman, who has gone completely out of control in her pursuit of conservative and free market writers and PR firms. She writes of one case in which there:

"Began a series of calls from Waxman to a self-employed PR person she suspected was the person who'd offered [Seipp money to write a piece] in which she threatened to burn him (by contacting his other clients, all small, nonpolitical businesses) if he didn't cooperate -- by telling her things she wanted to know about the big company that was the focus of her article. She also said that he'd better not tell me or anyone else about this conversation or the deal was off, and tried very hard to make him believe that I'd given up his name, which, of course, I hadn't."

Says Seipp,

"When journalists go from keeping secrets about sources to expecting sources to keep secrets about them, something in the media has begun to stink with self-importance."

I found her source and confirmed what Seipp wrote. Waxman engaged in blackmail pure and simple and should be fired immediately by the New York Times. Waxman, Ms. Seipp, is witch hunting.

But of course, as we learned from the Jayson Blair incident (which was really a very long series of incidents) the Times doesn't work that way. Its stock is collapsing like a house of cards under the weight of a bull elephant and it wants a hot story. Ideologically, it wants to emasculate the right. And as always, from the days of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty, the Times has felt itself above reproach. Merely having Waxman on the payroll is a breach of journalistic ethics. For all of our disagreements, I'd hope Miss Seipp and I agree on that.