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how much is the fourth estate worth?
irresponsible journalism slices the have-nots from the whole
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)
12.26.05
news

The front-page, above the fold headline read, “Paradise Lost: A Felon’s Wife Picks Up the Pieces of Her Luxury Life.”

Hmm.

The front-page subhead said, “Her Trader Husband Jailed, Mrs. Elgindy Sells Jewelry And Cuts Kids’ Therapy.”

I’m...intrigued.

The second front-page subhead confirmed, “Cobwebs on the Bronze Lions.”

I’m all up in this now.

Mary Faith Elgindy was one of three sisters, each named by their minister father for a heavenly virtue: faith, hope and charity. She lived a relatively modest life until she placed her faith in Anthony Elgindy, a stockbroker who had apparently never heard of the virtues temperance or justice, as he was a dishonest businessman notorious for excess in all things. The profile in the Wall Street Journal focused on the wife’s suffering after Mr. Elgindy was put in prison -– again -– for a variety of sure and alleged crimes, and how the Mrs. has struggled to keep her family together as a result of the dire circumstances brought on by her husband’s actions.

The outlined horrors are significant.

The pull quote presented the shocking backdrop: “After the arrest, Mrs. Elgindy was suddenly a single parent with three sons.” In fact, single parenthood was so difficult for Elgindy that, when faced with being able to only have three people visit the husband/father in prison, one of the sons volunteered to stay in the car. Hard times. Not only has she sold her jewelry on eBay and cut the kids’ therapy, Elgindy also released the housekeeper and gardener. She dropped health insurance. A stipend, arranged by her attorneys and drawn from the family’s frozen assets, ended six months ago. This stipend included $10,000 a month for the family’s expenses and an additional $12,000 a month for the mortgage and property taxes.

Wait.

Lest you think tweaked-out lemurs just pranced across my keyboard on a raisin rampage, I’ll rephrase that last bit.

This trophy twinkie was given $22,000 each MONTH for more than a year for living expenses.

She didn’t have the common sense God gave a lime wedge to start a passbook savings account? My goodness, $275,000 a year doesn’t go as far as it used to anymore. Without the stipend, Elgindy was forced to place the family mansion on the market for an initial $3.2 million and after only a few months, it's now priced to move at $3 million. Damn that buyer’s market anyway. She’s had to “turn to friends” for utility money.

Obviously, Mary Faith should have really been named Charity.

I’ve known some quite wealthy people in my time – some very nice ones, as a matter of fact. They were honest, philanthropic individuals who loved their families and maintained as “normal” a life as possible. One could say they even had a frickin’ grip on some type of reality. However, social elitism spun the golden strands of this Trumped-up tale of woe.

The entire article, written by John R. Emshwiller, almost read like a parody, especially the overwrought details of the well-appointed Elgindy mansion (“the paint on the front gate is peeling and the guardian lions have cobwebs in their jaws.”)

Waiter! A magnum of Perrier-Jouët! Quickly, man! I’m choking over here!

Surely he didn't sympathize with the subject, the downfall of any good investigative journalist. Emshwiller was one of the reporters responsible for revealing the Enron scandal. He produced a documentary and a book on the subject and perhaps considers himself the prodigy of Woodward or Bernstein. And since I didn’t see a “sucks to be you” smirk as the final line, I’m thinkin’ this article was for real.

However, smack in the middle of the multimillion-dollar mêlée, here’s a toss-away paragraph:

“At a bail hearing, a prosecutor said the government early on had suspicions that Mr. Elgindy had advance information about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For example, Mr. Elgindy had instructed a broker to liquidate his children’s trust accounts on Sept. 10, although the order wasn’t carried out.”

I understand that my supposedly less sophisticated, livin'-in-a-red state perspective doesn’t account for much in the minds of the blue state-thus-totally-without-social-prejudice, center of the universe, New York-based Wall Street Journal editors, but that whole prescient Sept. 11 thing? Kinda smells like a tad newsier tidbit than tarnished statues, even from where I sit in the middle of a cornfield, dazzled by the razzle of Elgindy’s diamond-studded tears.

I also know firsthand that editors occasionally shove a hot poke-- uh, suggest different story angles than a writer would prefer. Some even rewrite the articles once the writer has invested all the sweat equity. So I’m trying very hard not to blame Emshwiller for slipping on his own hype, knocking his head and glossing over the simple fact that the Elgindys deserve exactly what they’re reaping now for stripping away their virtues and cannon-balling into the sparkling fountain of the seven deadly sins.

For the editors of the Wall Street Journal to consider the Elgindy financial “struggle” newsworthy of the front page is precisely why our country is going straight to hell. The fourth estate is on the market, preening to a certain elite subscriber demographic or corporation because of the suggested buying power instead of upholding the foundation of truth in journalism. The general populace, assimilated by this mutant media, are the ones mired in real struggle, because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact and news from the society pages and advertising collective.

Nevertheless, the American public can no longer blindly expect outside sources to convey balanced information. It’s our responsibility to question and decipher, to educate ourselves on more than Paris Hilton's new "forever" love and the lusty mojo Angelina smeared on Brad, to challenge what’s placed before us and refuse to eat it if it burns our tongue. Besides, the Wall Street Journal is definitely good for something.

Lighting torches. It’s time to storm the manor.

***

Author’s note: I attempted to send a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal Online on this subject, but was declined access as I am not a paid subscriber. There were a mere four letters to the editor published in the international print edition Tuesday, Nov. 29, the day the Elgindy story ran.




ABOUT TRACEY L. KELLEY

Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley

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COMMENTS

robert melos
12.26.05 @ 4:59a

Apparently the WSJ has fallen on hard times as well, or so I've heard. I think people put too much faith in what they read in the newspaper and see on television. Real news is hard to come by, it seems. Our new pillars of the press are Anderson Cooper for television, and honestly I can't think of a written press pillar I fully trust.

The New York Times flip flops, WSJ caters to the seven figure salary reader, and the local papers sell more ad space than papers.

Excellent take on this.

dan gonzalez
12.26.05 @ 9:32a

The media is definitely in a flux of some sort, and at times seems to have lost touch with the real world, or at least the real world that most of us live and work in.

Pointing out the obvious to create stories where there are none: "NEWSFLASH: The NSA listens to people!" "The FBI attempts to detect radiation, particularly around mosques". No shit? Oh wait, I forgot, we already know that.

But what kills me is, they don't even try to do their job objectively or ethically anymore. Newsweek barely retracted the false, over-hyped allegations at Gitmo, but we still hear about the 'torture' there. The NYT does not retract the falsehoods in Joe Wilson's Op/Ed piece, yet they continue to be reported on as facts.

[edited]

tracey kelley
12.29.05 @ 11:02a

I don't claim to be a journalist, but I live with one, so his take on this was very important to me, as I consider him and a few of his associates to be the remaining pillars, as Robert spoke about, upholding the basic tenets of the industry. Once he read the WSJ story, he just laughed and said, "This is crap."

One would think that with
1) all the competition for information these days and
2) the lack of sympathy for persons of elite status tumbling off their stolen throne that

the WSJ would have better editorial balance then what was displayed in this article. Did it need to be done at all, frankly?

dave lentell
12.29.05 @ 3:57p

Excellent column. I too read that story. Waiting....waiting...waiting for the "punch line" that let me know this lady is getting exactly what she deserves. And it never came. I figured it was some hack who's lame story got picked up on a slow newsday. I had no idea who Emshwiller is, or what his history is. Your information on him makes the article less "funny" and more "pathetic."

I used to be part of the "Fourth Estate" at one time. Sorta. Now I'm on the other side of the fence in a matter of speaking. Relying on them to help me do my job. I've always tried to stay objective in dealing with the media. Especially having once been a member of it. But it's starting to get more difficult. Fortunately, there are a lot of media folks I work with who I thank God every day for (I don't want to embarrass anyone. They know who they are).

What I wonder is how these folks are able to continue to do what they do as they seem to become less the rule and more the exception? As corporate decisions and advertising rates dictate what they cover and how they cover it. It can't be easy for them.

I agree the torches need to be lit. Let's just make sure we don't burn the good guys (and gals) while storming the castle. : )


nancy brookshire
12.29.05 @ 4:00p

Well Tracey, you know where I get my news from and I hope I will never hear anything of that nature on my station (and bet I won't). Sounds like an Inside Edition story. It is a shame that there is so much "crap" out there. It makes it tough to get to the real news.

tim lockwood
12.30.05 @ 11:15a

You know how cynical I've become about most "mainstream" news? I always ask at least a couple of the following questions of myself.

1) Who is the producer of this program or publication?
2) Who are the primary sponsors?
3) Who is the intended audience?
4) What sort of blanket all-or-nothing statements have been made without challenge?
5) Have proper representatives of both sides of an issue been given a fair opportunity to speak?

I personally read and watch nothing without first asking at least two of these questions. If the answers don't satisfy, I do a rough mathematical equation in my head to extract whatever little truth there may be.

For instance (and this is just an example, no need to go off on a tangent about it), if I watch a news story about how crooked and greedy "all" unions are; and I notice that no official from any union appears on this program; and all the interviewees are CEOs of companies that have actively resisted unions; and then I see a lot of Wal-Mart commercials; it gets me to believe there is so much bias in this program that I'll have to go on blood pressure medication just to watch it, because of all the grains of salt I'll have to take with every statement presented as fact.

Heck, even "normal" non-news television (I'm thinking of a particular episode of Law & Order: SVU here, but it could be any show really), has its own way of editorializing, and the same questions can be posed there too. Is it any wonder I don't watch a whole lot of TV? You can't get away from someone trying to sneak in their opinions unless you turn the damn thing off.

tracey kelley
1.5.06 @ 11:14p

The Daily Show had a New Yorker journalist on the other night who has apparently wrote some expose' on NYTimes journalists. He said the NYTimes is "so slanted, the words just slide right off."

Yeah Tim - CBS Sunday Morning tries to be all liberal-newsy, but then is sponsored by Wal-Mart. Cracks me up.

But I still like the show. Not for the news, but for the features.



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