At TheNation.com we make it a point to practice fearless, bold, timely journalism that raises critical issues ignored by the mainstream press. On very rare occasions that ambition leads to mistakes, and when it does, we’re committed to acknowledging them and setting the record straight. Unfortunately, a recent article by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, "TSAstroturf: The Washington Lobbyists and Koch-Funded Libertarians Behind the TSA Scandal," was one such moment.
As Glenn Greenwald of Salon quickly pointed out (and as other writers echoed), the article wrongly suggested that John Tyner, the libertarian citizen-activist who coined the "don’t touch my junk" protest against the TSA’s security procedures, might be linked to an Astroturf operation. Ames and Levine’s article didn’t directly call Tyner a plant, and they didn’t say that he was funded by the Koch brothers. Nonetheless, their article gave that impression—by placing Tyner in the article’s lead and by using a generally disparaging tone to refer to him. The article also used innuendo to cast doubt on Tyner’s motives, and when Tyner denied any connections to lobbyists and to Koch-funded organizations in an interview, we printed his denial—but we didn’t press hard enough to get clarity on his actions and intentions. We should have stopped and done just that, and if Tyner’s story checked out, we should have removed him from the piece.
We have published a reply by Ames and Levine that acknowledges some of these problems, but as editor of The Nation, I also want to apologize to John Tyner. The Nation hasn’t been—and never will be—in the business of muffling citizen protest.
We are, however, committed to bold reporting and to airing intelligent debates even—or especially—when they challenge our preconceptions and make our readers uncomfortable.
Citizens from across the political spectrum are right to call out the TSA’s invasive procedures and the threat to civil liberties they represent. We have long opposed, and exposed, the continuing encroachments of the national security state, though we also think that those who applauded each sacrifice of liberty for security under the Bush administration should expect to be regarded with skepticism if the presence of a Democrat in the White House suddenly prompts libertarian concerns. As John Tyner pointed out, this issue "isn’t Republican and it isn’t Democratic." It is also simply a fact that the backlash against TSA procedures has led to calls for racial profiling and for the privatization of the agency.
I believe the furor over the TSA scans warrants further reporting and analysis. We do, however, pledge to do it with the care and integrity that marks The Nation‘s best journalistic traditions.