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 V.17 No.47 | November 20 - 26, 2008 

Thin Line

Extra! Extra! Lies!

Oh, to live in a progressive paradise.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, pranksters handed out thousands of fake copies of the New York Times with the front-page headline "Iraq War Ends" to commuters at several busy New York subway stations.

The paper, which is dated July 4, 2009, also includes stories with headers like "Maximum Wage Law Succeeds," "Nation Sets Its Sights on Building Sane Economy" and "Ex-Secretary Apologizes for W.M.D. Scare."

If only the headlines were more than just empty words.

The elaborate ruse was carried out by three unnamed Times employees, a film promoter and an art professor. Notorious left-wing hoax squad The Yes Men also provided software and Internet support for the paper's accompanying spoof web page, which looks like the Times' site. The paper was meant to encourage politicians nationwide to push for a more liberal agenda.

At first, it was satisfying to marvel at the pranksters' ability to pull this thing off. The Associated Press reports copies of the paper were given out in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The Yes Men's website estimates that more than a million copies were distributed. That's pretty impressive circulation.

But why should things like bringing our troops home, passing a progressive income tax system and providing universal health care be limited to a spurious newspaper? These are real options for our nation's future that should be put on the table, not just dismissed as liberal propaganda. If only the headlines were more than just empty words. If only the false hope was an actual edition of the New York Times.

Real Journalists, Please Stand Up

Are writers who work for web-based news organizations authentic journalists? The New York Police Department may not think so.

Three web-based writers are suing NYPD after they were denied press passes by the department. NYPD's terse response to the litigation essentially says it's looking into the incidents and doesn't explain why the journalists' requests were denied. Some NYPD press passes can be used to get past the tape at crime scenes and can also get reporters into events like mayoral press conferences, which are not open to the public.

Just because writers do their work on the web doesn't give the NYPD or anyone else the right to deny them the freedom of the press.

All three writers filing the lawsuit are credible journalists. Each has been in the field for years, and the websites they represent are not fraudulent or bush-league. Why NYPD decided not to give these reporters their precious passes is unclear, but the lawsuit points to bigger issues brought about by the proliferation of news websites. Which reporters are legit? Who gets to decide what is and isn't a "real" news website? What criteria are they basing it on? Is print media somehow more trustworthy than its Internet counterpart?

Just because writers do their work on the web doesn't give the NYPD or anyone else the right to deny them the freedom of the press. Still, it's important to establish guidelines for authenticity. Without a set of hard and fast rules, legit journalists can be turned away for no good reason.

 
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