Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2002 / 21 Kislev, 5763

Jerry Nachman

Jerry Nachman
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The pint-sized scoop artist and the Old Gray hypocrite | Samantha Ueckerman is a junior at Newtown High School in Connecticut and a newly minted reporter for the school newspaper called "The Hawkeye."

It seems there's a new celebrity in Newtown just up the road from the school at a maximum security prison. The celebrity is Michael Skakel, now serving 20 years to life, following his sentencing last summer for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley. Now journalism teacher Nicole Rossi mentioned that some of her students had interviewed other inmates at the prison the prior year and thought out loud what a coup it would be if one of her students scored an interview with a convicted killer.

So Samantha, too new in the business to be jaded, calls the prison and is told it might take months to be allowed to visit Skakel and then only if he gave his approval. So Samantha, too inexperienced to give up, writes the Kennedy cousin a letter and starts doing her homework on the murder case and trial.

Comes the day of her deadline, a letter arrives at "The Hawkeye" for Samantha Ueckerman. Four pages, handwritten from Michael Skakel. It was a stop the presses moment. Something, by the way, that never really happens at real newspapers. Skakel professed his innocence and the loss of contact with his son.

The paper had a big scoop, although a little late. Skakel has since written Samantha a second time. She's not saying much about it, adding "Since I'm as young as I am, I have more integrity than people who have been in journalism longer."

Ow. The urchins around here will attest that "Nachman's first law of journalism" is, "You don't ask, you don't get." So for journalism teacher Nicole Rossi asking and for kid reporter Samantha Ueckerman getting, they get this week's "Nachy" award.


Today, I read an 11-year-old review of an autobiography of legendary "New York Times" James Reston. "Scotty," as he was universally known, was one of the most influential newspaper men ever. One anecdote has him writing a column at the behest of John Kennedy an then given JFK final say-so on the language in the piece.

Another story recalled by Reston had Lyndon Johnson picking his brain about the upcoming campaign against Barry Goldwater. Reston also told us suggesting a revision of a speech a senator was about to deliver on foreign policy. Reston's most famous blurring of the line between press and government was in mudding a story about the imminent invasion of Cuba by that ragtag army, hoping to oust Fidel Castro. And he sat on what he knew about the Cuban Missile Crisis at the request of the White House.

Reston's predecessor at the time, Washington bureau chief, was Arthur Crock. Crock may have taken money from and certainly lobbied and was a ghost writer for JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy. Between them, Reston and Crock won six Pulitzer Prizes.

Why this history lesson? Well, last week, it was reported in the "Washington Post," Bob Woodward's new book about what really happened in the Bush administration following 9/11. It turns out that Fox News channel boss Roger Ailes sent President Bush a little note after the attack. Ailes claims it was only a message of patriotic outrage. Woodward said it contained advice for the son of the man Ailes helped get elected in 1988. The original item in the Woodward book was but a paragraph long. But on a single day this past week, "The Times" published two much longer pieces critical of Ailes. And yesterday, "The Times" excoriated Ailes in an editorial, even observing that other network news executives might have trouble keeping his job after a similar misstep.

One of my frequent complaints is, when did we change the rules? So for combining equal measures of amnesia and hypocrisy, this week's "Hacky" award goes to "The New York Times."

JWR contributor Jerry Nachman is vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC, and the host of “Nachman,” which airs at 5 p.m. ET, weekdays on MSNBC. A former radio reporter, newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Hollywood screenwriter, he is the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He has served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition. Comment by clicking here.


11/19/02: The tale of the dumb TV station --- and the even dumber crook

© 2002, MSNBC