Sunday, February 11, 2007

Michael R. Gordon, A Tape Recorder? It's A Joke?

With a tongue wedged between gum and cheek, Jonathan Schwarz of Tiny Revolution posts, "New York Times Reveals 'Reporter' Michael Gordon Actually Voice-Activated Tape Recorder":
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller today announced that the paper’s longtime staff writer Michael Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder:
“I’m not sure why everyone didn’t figure this out before now,” said Keller, pointing to the fact that, in Gordon’s 26-year career, all of “his” stories have consisted entirely of transcribed statements by anonymous government officials.
According to Jill Abramson, the paper’s Managing Editor, Gordon was purchased for $27.95 at a Radio Shack on West 43rd Street. Describing the situation as “a prank” that had “gotten slightly out of hand,” Abramson said the paper had decided to acknowledge Gordon’s identity because—after the tape recorder’s front page story today, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says”—there “was no place left to take the joke.”

Keller described how he and Abramson “really had a good laugh” while preparing the Iran story, which is based on the following sourcing:

U.S. Says…United States intelligence asserts…reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies…civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided…military officials say…The officials said…The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials…Administration officials said…according to the intelligence…According to American intelligence…Some American intelligence experts believe…they assert…notes a still-classified American intelligence report…a senior administration official said…according to Western officials…Officials said…An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said…Other officials believe…American military officers say…American officials say…According to American intelligence agencies…Assessments by American intelligence agencies say…Marine officials say…American intelligence agencies are concerned…Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

“You can’t deny that’s funny,” said Keller, adding that the lack of skepticism displayed by Gordon was “literally inhuman.” Keller and Abramson asserted that the Iran article is “even more hilarious” than Gordon’s 2002 stories on Iraq’s purported nuclear program, written with Judith Miller.

According to the paper’s management, the Times plans to keep the tape recorder on its staff indefinitely, given that it does not require health insurance and its voice-activation feature “saves a lot of tape.” Indeed, the tape recorder formerly known as Michael Gordon has already filed its own story on the matter, consisting entirely of transcribed statements from anonymous government officials.

It's too bad it's a spoof. It would have been the closest Keller and Abramson have come to speaking truth in years. Here, is the butt of the joke:

Michael R. Gordon is the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1985. He is the coauthor, with Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, of The Generals At War. He has covered the Iraq War, the American intervention in Afghanistan, the Kosovo conflict, the Russian war in Chechnya, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the American invasion of Panama. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area. [photograph & bio courtesy of Random House]

At UC Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, Harry Kreisler interviewed 'Michael R. Gordon' (watch webcast)
"Vice President Cheney thought at the end of the Gulf War that Saddam would fall of his own weight. I know that because he told me that in an interview I did with him for my previous book, The General's War. We even had a bet on it, which I've yet to collect."

Audio: Bernie Gwertzman, editor of, talks to the Times's military affairs correspondent, Michael R. Gordon, who accompanied the vice president on his trip to the Middle East.

RELATED MATERIALS: Cheney, in Jordan, Meets Opposition to Move Against Iraq (March 13, 2002)

Holding the Media Accountable

Study Gordon's face well. If you should happen to run into him on the street, ask him how much the bet with Cheney was for. Once you break the ice, ask him why he got into journalism, and what he believes good journalism is. And what, if any, responsibility he thinks a journalist has to the public.

Don't forget to check his back for batteries.

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