Sleeping Watchdog

When the Press Fails
Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina
W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston
University of Chicago Press, $22.50, 278 pp.

You are just as biased with your far left wing, hate America style as is Newsweek. We are all getting tired of the left-wing propaganda and we do not trust your reporting of any news. You are owed (sic) and controlled by a California hate America group and we now trust our government over the Trbune [sic], Newsweek, and all of the other Dan Rather style of people who hate our country!!! We have stopped buying your propaganda!

That is the full text of an e-mail message sent to me as public editor of the Chicago Tribune on May 17, 2005. The references to Newsweek presumably were the result of that magazine’s publishing a report earlier that month-embarrassingly retracted on May 16-about abuses of the Qu’ran, the Islamic holy book, by American interrogators during questioning of inmates at the Guantánamo Bay detention center for “enemy combatants” in the “war on terror.”

The Dan Rather reference apparently was to CBS’s report, based on what turned out to be fabricated documents, about George W. Bush’s service during the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard.

It’s not clear what offense of the Chicago Tribune provoked the letter-which came from a man who lived in a far western suburb of Chicago-since the newspaper had had no journalistic disaster on the scale of those at Newsweek and CBS.

But it really wasn’t necessary for a news organization to have committed a blunder to incur the...

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