Libel Bible

"I think it's the most cynical thing David Talbot has done," says one critic, who adds that the last thing Salon needs is an- other screed writer.

Dickerson, an African American in her late thirties, has lots of attitude but no training in journalism. A St. Louis native, she joined the air force in 1980, attended Harvard Law School 12 years later, and then moved to D.C. with an agenda. As she wrote in The New Republic in 1996, "I'm a well-educated, well-paid . . . transplant who came in pursuit of a cool job and a place in the power elite."

Her first job out of law school was with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, but in the tradition of the disaffected young lawyer, Dickerson began contributing essays and reviews to the likes of The Nation, the Voice, and The Washington Post. Her big break came in 1997, when former U.S. News & World Report editor James Fallows hired her as a senior editor, as part of his crusade for diversity. She filed cover stories and essays, but was not assigned to a particular beat.

Last summer, after Fallows was fired, Dickerson stayed busy, working on a memoir to be published by Little, Brown. In January, she was awarded a $50,000 senior fellowship by the New America Foundation, a think tank devoted to promoting liberal intellectuals. (James Fallows is a board member; David Talbot's sister, Margaret Talbot, formerly of The New Republic, was also named senior fellow. The fellowships were announced— where else?— in Salon.)

Talbot's critics feel that he needs to redeem the magazine's political reportage, which has been so biased in favor of the White House that Broder felt it hurt his ability to do his job. (See, for example, Salon's January 28 profile of Sidney Blumenthal, which made the sweeping claim that "admirers and enemies alike agree that . . . Blumenthal is brilliant." Did anyone ask Christopher Hitchens?)

"I had no idea that Salon's hires were under such intense scrutiny," Talbot jokes. "In the future, I'll have to float candidates' names in the New York Post." He says Dickerson's column, which does not kick in officially until she finishes her book, will be "reporting-driven. This is part of our renewed commitment to break news and not just comment on it." Talbot plans to add several reporters in the next year, and to hire a Washington beat reporter by next month.


High Times

What are they smoking over there? On January 23, the Times of London magazine published a story on the popularity of illegal drugs in the U.K. In addition to a British government survey which found that "nearly half" of its 16- to 29-year-olds have tried cannabis and hallucinogens, the writer recounted a Drug Enforcement Administration survey which found that 71 percent of some 40,000 U.S. professionals have experimented with "controlled substances."

Oops! It turns out the DEA survey was a hoax. The original story was posted in 1997 on a satirical Web site, www.theonion.com, under the headline, "DEA Survey: 71% of 'Winners' experiment with drugs."

In polished news style, the story quoted a fictitious DEA researcher, who said that "winners have an unknown quality that enables them to use drugs and keep on winning" and cited the Dallas Cowboys as an example of "winners who achieved greatness while engaging in frequent recreational drug use."

The "winners use drugs" story was reposted on the Web site of the Media Awareness Project, which provides balanced coverage of drug policy. MAP Executive Director Mark Greer calls satire "an important communications vehicle" and says that "only those that briefly scanned the article could fail to recognize it as satire." (MAP has now labeled it as such.)

So how did it get past the Times? Simon Hills, the editor who commissioned the story, says he did not question the idea that 71 percent of U.S. professionals have used drugs, because it "didn't strike me as shocking. It's not an unimaginable figure." Writer Stephen Kingston did not respond to a request for comment.

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