Skip to comments.Newsrooms under siege
Posted on 09/09/2004 7:31:10 AM PDT by ZGuy
News is a messy and elusive form of information. Journalism is crude, tentative and fumbling, always involving compromise, and there's a healthy measure of give-and-take in the process.
But anybody who enters the profession makes a core commitment to do his or her best to determine and tell the truth. And that commitment is now under assault.
The attack doesn't come from ideologically committed journalists and commentators who put together reports clearly selected and spun-dry to sell a political line. As long as such writers retain some minimal respect for fact, the transparency of their motives may even work to enrich the variety of information and interpretations available to all.
The more compelling danger concerns news organizations in the so-called mainstream. These are the country's best-staffed and most influential news organizations, and they're losing their nerve.
I understand why. It's hard now even to write for publication without being aware of just how thoroughly what you say is going to be inspected for any trace of undesirable political tilt and denounced by a free-floating cadre of rightist warriors.
If that's apparent to me as a mere columnist, I can only imagine the current mind-set of supervising editors: If we give prominence to this story of carnage in Iraq, will we be accused of anti-administration bias? And - here it gets interesting - will we therefore owe our readers an offsetting story, perhaps an inspirational tale of Marines teaching young Iraqis how to play softball?
Now, both stories may well be integral to the news. If so, both should be told. The problem arises when the pressure to tell the softball story comes not from a principled desire to deliver a factual account that is broadly emblematic of significant happenings in Iraq, but from a gutless attempt to buy off a hostile and suspicious fragment of the audience base.
News then becomes a negotiation - not a negotiation among discordant pictures of reality, as it always is, but an abject negotiation with a loud and bullying sliver of the audience. News of great significance becomes not an honest attempt to reflect genuinely contradictory realities, but a daily bargaining session with an increasingly factionalized public, a corrupted process in which elements of the news become offerings - payments really - in a kind of intellectual extortion.
The performance of this country's finest news organizations in the run-up to the Iraq invasion of March 2003 will be remembered as a disgrace. To be sure, it was an angry, fearful time, when independent-minded reporting might not have been heard above the drumbeats of patriotism and war. But it's hard to read the hand-wringing confessionals from news organizations that now realize that they got the prewar story wrong without concluding that the real problem was they were afraid to tell the truth.
Resisting undue outside influence is part of what news professionals do. But it's hard enough to get the story right, without holding it hostage to an open-ended negotiation with zealots who believe they already know what the story is.
"Rightest warriors". And proud of it.
"But it's hard enough to get the story right, without holding it hostage to an open-ended negotiation with zealots who believe they already know what the story is."
The leftist zealots in the press have been doing this for years unchecked.
Translation in Kerryspeak: "How dare you commoners question what we tell you?"
Great post. Journalists are beginning to whine. "WAAAAAHHH....WWWAAAAHHH.... I'm being forced to be truthful and balanced". Thank God for computers and the internet. Liberal lies and liars are being spotted and counterattacked almost instantly.
Absolutely, if you insist on using words like "carnage".
We "rightest warriors" want the news to be reported "right" as in CORRECT, HONEST and UNBIASED. Apparently some newsrooms think that is too much to ask. That's okay. We "rightest warriors" will just keep getting our news from the internet and watching FNC for fair and balanced news.
This sounds like a buggy whip maker bemoaning that new fangled horseless carriage Mr. Ford was pimping.
I am a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (in the late 1970s), and while there I was amazed at the extent to which the students and faculty parroted the conventional wisdom of the media (at the time, the students all seemed to believe that Ayatolla Khomenei was a would-be Jeffersonian Democrat who would bring a new era of peace to the world).
This columnist can be pinioned by his own example. Why would the softball game be part of the news? Why wouldn't it be news? Herbert Gans wrote a book called "Deciding what's News", but it really doesn't begin to answer the question. The fact is, the mainstream media (and all other media, for that matter) decide what's news by instinctive feel within very general guidelines.
This journalist wants to be one of the high priests in the temple, making decisions that no mere commoner can fathom. The fact is, this kind of failed elitism is what has brought the mainstream media to the state they are in today.
I don't believe that the bloggers whom he refers to are right-wing as much as they are appalled by the important information that does not get reported, and by the way that other stories are portrayed. They started as a reaction to the failures of the media to cover stories from a fair and balanced perspective. As the mainstream media, led, I believe, by Pinch Sulzberger's New York Times, dug in their heels, the bloggers have discovered that they can function as a source of news themselves.
Moreover, where Free Republic stands head and shoulders over even the best of the webloggers, is that it has a democratic self-correcting mechanism -- the threads. People here have a real instinct for what is news. When an article is posted, other FReepers will read it carefully for bias and comment on any unfair word usage, prejudiced selection of information or other spin. If there is an outright inaccuracy in the article, FReepers will jump all over it to correct the mistakes. What we are doing here is a transparent collection and dissemination of the news in real time.
It is the failure of the mainstream media to recognize their own biases, coupled with the availability of alternative sources of news (and interactive participation) in weblogs and Free Republic, that is killing the media. Today, even if the media were to turn overnight into a fair and balanced vehicle, I think it is too late. By their failures, they have created a viable alternative to their closed system, and information flow will never be the same.
That's not newsworthy? It's only an "offsetting story" to placate the "rightist warriors"?
Americans liberating Iraqis IS the story. The fixation on "carnage" is background noise.
Oh, quit the dramatics. CNN admitted that they spiked the truth about atrocities in Iraq. Thus, they didn't report the story anyway! I mean how hard was that? And, one more time, the consumers understand that there is no need to trust the MSM anymore since the MSM spins the truth or suppresses it to favor the Democrats. So you can just do as the great Mama T advises - "Shove it."
Where's the BARF ALERT?
Rightest warriors". And proud of it."....ditto
Until they wake up they wil continue their march towards irrelevance.
If that were only the case
but a daily bargaining session with an increasingly factionalized public
Bargaining? It should come down to which side can provide the facts to support their assertions, and not relying on the lies of ommission to make one's point.
What a pantload.
I won't be satisfied until newsrooms are under siege from heavy weaponry.
And a blogger is limited to his own personal knowledge and experience. FR has thousands of very informed persons, and you can take almost any subject and you will have FR posters who have personal and/or expert knowledge of the subject. And differences of opinion and variances of facts are tried in a very public court on the threads. That is where FR is vastly superior to the blogs and the MSM.
Awwww. Maybe we should send him some cheese to go with his whine...
It feels so good to see Old Media squirm as it dies a slow, painful and well-deserved death...
Outstanding post! Journalism isn't brain surgery. It turns out that pretty much anyone can be a decent blogger (read "news editor"), even working part time.
Some of my leftist friends are stymied by Fox News. They insist that they lie and just make stuff up. I tried to explain to them that media bias usually doesn't manifest itself by reporting fake news. Media bias is mostly a function of excluding real news that doesn't fit an agenda.
When Fox runs a story and then 3 days later, it shows up in the New York Times, that's not Fox's "bias". That's a SCOOP. It used to be considered a GOOD thing.
Right. It seems there aren't many reporters left who are capable of gathering facts and writing them down in plain english.
How easily he excuses the bias that has been the cause of the awakening of the masses to the bald face distortions and slanted reporting of the anti-American communist news agencies.
That segment of zealots contains the majority of main stream Americans who have switched to Fox News to sop up slivers of fair reporting.
It is the minority of zealots, that dare to claim majority status, that makes up the major news networks that hate patriotism, nationalism, and the American culture. Their day is ending, and one cannot help but take pleasure at their discomfort.
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"a free-floating cadre of rightist warriors"
This seems to be a step up from right-wing extremists, being a warrior is a good thing, no? Especially when one is right.
Once again the Left demonstrates that it expects a complete, unchallenged monopoly or it will whine about how unfair life is.
...But it's hard to read the hand-wringing confessionals from news ...
...But it's hard enough to get the story right, without...
Literally, this is a case of bitch, bitch, bitch.
As a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism (late 80s), I agree with you.
I think part of the visceral reaction we see from those who run the "mainstream" media nowadays centers on the fact that there are news consumers today who can make news judgments on their own - and are no longer afraid to sing out when they feel wronged.
Most consumers can't perform the tasks that you and I were trained to do (although some, especially bloggers, can and do), but the point of the matter is that at least from an editorial standpoint, there are people who know at least as much as the editors. That frightens them, and the result is the pablum we see quoted by this writer.
I lost my respect for CNN during the invasion of Iraq, when Eason Jordan EVP and Chief News Executive of CNN, wrote an OpEd piece in (as I recall) the NY Times, defending CNN's news coverage from Iraq over the years.
In that article, he admitted that CNN routinely withheld information and flattered Saddam (I don't think he mentioned it in the article, but CNN's puff piece on his birthday party was one egregious example) in order to protect its access to Iraq. CNN even went so far as to withhold information that could have saved the lives of Saddam's sons-in-law who returned to Iraq from Jordan and were killed by him. If even refused to report on threats and torture of its own people.
What was the point of maintaining this access, if the access wasn't used to report the news?
The punchline of the story is that the Times apparently didn't find anything objectionable in Jordan's news decisions. I have not watched CNN for years, so I can't comment about its current coverage. I do know that the NY Times has gone beyond all boundries of common decency, and has utterly failed to uphold the first principle, that news belongs in the news pages and opinion belongs in the opinion pages and news-analysis pieces.
The NY Times used to be my secular bible. Today, I don't even buy it at airports, even for the crossword puzzle.
40 Days of Abu Garib prison stories by the NYT ring any bells?
Isn't that the theme of the Kerry Campaign?
Just the facts, bub, give us the facts. We didn't ask you to interpret them for us.
If Fox made stuff up, we would see a spate of articles about Fox's sloppy reporting. I can't recall a single one.
Let me get thsi straight. The author thinks he shouldn't provide both good news and bad news because the right wing demands it ? Shouldn't it be a concept that is germaine to accurate reporting ?
Excellent post. Don't you just love it?!
If you find yourself in a hole, dig twice as hard.
The author's bias is showing. How would a story about teaching Iraqis to play softball offset a story on carnage? Or should any story be used to offset another? We just want the total picture. The media could place the story of carnage into context. How widespread is violence in Iraq? What has been done to improve the infrastructure, e.g., electrical system, roads, economy, oil production, etc? What has happened to the rebuilding of the Iraqi security apparatus, i.e., police and military?
We don't need the press to pick stories. Rather, we want the whole story.
News gathering itself is inherently subjective. Who do you talk to, and why? What do you ask him?
A reporter has to limit his sources and write within space and time constraints. As a consequence of this limitation, journalists have to inform themselves before covering a story.
Typically (at least before the internet), journalists prepared themselves by reading their own newspaper's previous coverage in the paper's "morgue", or file repository. Therefore, the paper's own biases become self-perpetuating.
In too many cases, a journalist will write his story before he covers it, knowing who will say what, and will simply look for people to give him the quotation (or selective information) that bolsters his own point of view. A rushed reporter will do this. A lazy one will as well. And, more to the point, a reporter with an agenda will do this.
Journalism is an art masquerading as a science. A science has data points, a specific methodology and repeatable results. Journalists get to make their own choices about whom to speak with, what to ask and how to structure their articles.
I think that the obvious bias of the news media was kept on a low burn for most of the 20th century, but it was there. The difference between now and then is that in the past (except for certain acute times, like the Nixon administration), the mainstream media believed that there were people of good will on both sides. Today, the mainstream media believes that this is a war of good versus evil -- and President Bush, his administration and his policies are evil. As a result, the media have gone beyond all balance (in my own cheap shot, I have taken to calling the mainstream media the "access of evil").
It's very interesting that the solution (the internet, the bloggers and Free Republic) came about just at the time when they are needed most keenly as a result of the meltdown of the meinstream media.
My B.S. meter is off the charts!
I think it goes even deeper than the matter of competing news interests. We're a threat to their power to control the flow of information. In the old days, the Swift Boat story would have not made an impact. In the old days, the AP could have lied about the booing at Bush's speech and there would have been no way to counter that story in realtime. Now, every time the media either lies directly or lies through omission, there are hundreds if not thousands of folks ready to jump on every single error. Their power to be kingmakers is slipping through their fingers, and they will become more and more vicious as their power wanes - which, ironically, will only hasten their demise.
I agree. Well said. This article itself is an example of their frustrated, impotent bitterness.
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