PAPER OF RECORD?….Last year there was a kerfuffle at Columbia University about the conduct and evenhandedness of its Middle Eastern program. Accusations were made, charges were traded, and eventually a report was commissioned.

I’m not interested in any of that. Google is your friend if you are. But what I hadn’t heard was that New York Times reporter Karen Arenson recently managed to scoop her competitors by obtaining a copy of the Columbia report a day before it was released. How did she get it? An editor’s note explains:

The article did not disclose The Times’s source for the document, but Columbia officials have since confirmed publicly that they provided it, a day before its formal release, on the condition that the writer not seek reaction from other interested parties.

As Daniel Okrent writes today, this is part of the obsessive scoop driven culture of American journalism, in which fact checking is secondary if you think the competition is close to breaking a story you’re working on yourself. (See Clinton, William J., 1997-1998, for further details.)

But it’s worse than that. If this story is any indication, it’s an out and out psychosis. Cutting corners to get a jump on your competitors is bad enough, but being offered an exclusive by a corporate PR department isn’t even a scoop. It’s just PR. Once you start making explicit agreements about who you will and won’t talk to in pursuit of a story, you’re just a shill.

Are bloggers journalists? Beats me. But if Karen Arenson is a journalist, I think I’ll pass.

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