Most news organizations prohibit their reporters from press junkets – trips paid for by an outside interest group or company. Others aren’t so strict. Slate editor Emily Bazelon explains why she participated in a recent junket sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
MIKE PESCA: The more sophisticated the audience, the harder the messengers have to work. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, describes itself as America's leading pro-Israel lobby. And one successful form of that lobbying is the junkets they've provided for journalists for the past two years. They supply the itinerary, set up interviews and tours of the country, and they hope you, the journalist, provide favorable coverage for them.
Most big newspapers forbid junkets, but in some news organizations they're treated on a case-by-case basis. Recently, two editors from the online magazine Slate, Emily Bazelon and David Plotz, took the Israel trip on AIPAC's dime. Emily joins us now. Emily, welcome to the show.
EMILY BAZELON: Thanks very much.
MIKE PESCA: Well, why'd you let them pay for it?
EMILY BAZELON: Because they offered, essentially – and also because we are an opinion magazine, so the opinion analysis we do has our ideas and our thoughts in it in a different way from traditional beat reporting. And we also make very sure to disclose the trips that we go on.
MIKE PESCA: Most newspapers, most magazines don't let their reporters go on junkets. Do you think that there's any logic to that?
EMILY BAZELON: Oh, sure there is. I mean, look, there's no way that this isn't a problematic thing to do, which isn't to say that we shouldn't have done it. I mean, I don't regret that I went. But I completely see the argument that it's troubling and creates these ambiguities and creates questions about our objectivity in covering the region.
My own sense is that the problematic part of this has to do with things that are fairly specific to Israel. But we went to a lot of briefings with important Israeli officials from the government, from the army, etcetera. And I do think that we actually got a pretty varied picture of Israeli politics from different parts of the Israeli political spectrum.
But what we didn't get was a regional picture or a picture that did very much to fill in the thinking of the Palestinians. That's a problem. I mean, certainly I can't give myself an out by saying, hey, I'm really willing to go on a Palestinian junket, because, you know, for the most part I imagine they don't have the resources to be sending people on those junkets. So that's kind of a fake defense.
MIKE PESCA: Recently you wrote a cover story for The New York Times Magazine about post-abortion syndrome. What if the Right to Life Foundation or Planned Parenthood said, you know, we'll drive you around in a van and we'll pay for your expenses and, you know, you'll sleep at a hotel, and that way you'll get to talk to all the right people in our movements?
EMILY BAZELON: Well, obviously I wouldn't have done that story that way. I mean, that's not how to go about reporting a story in a way that gets you what you need for any kind of reporting where you're trying to present characters and you're trying to tell a story from lots of different points of view and be fair. That's why I wasn't working on a magazine story in Israel about the AIPAC briefings that I was going to.
MIKE PESCA: So the difference is what you intend for the output to be?
EMILY BAZELON: Yeah. I think that is a big difference. I mean, look, I think all of these things are partial disinfectants, so I don't want to seem like I'm completely excusing myself or erasing the troubling aspect of these sorts of trips.
But I do think it is different to go in a kind of, you know, background briefing way, which is really what David and I were doing, as opposed to going and reporting a story and only seeing what someone, you know, with a particular agenda wants you to see in the course of reporting that story.
MIKE PESCA: You said disclosure would be necessary. How much? How often? Every time you write about Israel? When does the disclosure end and how far should it go?
EMILY BAZELON: Particularly now that we've discussed all this, I think I'll be erring on the side of disclosure for a while. On the other hand, I don't think that if in five years I write a story about a case going through the Israeli court system, I don't think that I'm going to feel like I need to disclose that.
But in the next year or so, or anything that directly pertains to something that I do feel like I learned on the junket, yes, I need to disclose it. And I should err on the side of being conservative, because, you know, people can decide for themselves whether the junket is connected to what I'm saying in the piece. But they can only decide that if I let them know that I went.
MIKE PESCA: All right. Emily Bazelon, senior editor for Slate. Thanks very much for your time, Emily.