Saturday, August 26, 2006

The problem with "unbaised" media

From media matters. This really makes my blood boil:
Two journalists explain their profession

Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman participated in an August 25 online discussion on the newspaper's website:

West Coast: Dick Cheney said he was stuck with the grave decision of whether to shoot down the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania or not. The recently released NORAD tapes confirm that the government first knew of the flight one minute before it went down. Is Cheney lying, again, or was he thinking very fast that day, with his drama unfolding within 60 seconds? I've yet to read anywhere that Cheney has been queried about his story. THANKS.

Jonathan Weisman: If I can get him on the phone, I will query him. Cheney's statements present a quandary for us reporters. Sometimes we write them up and are accused of being White House stenographers and stooges for repeating them. Then if we don't write them up, we are accused of being complicit for covering them up. So, all you folks on the left, what'll it be? Complicity or stenography?

We can't speak for all the "folks on the left," but we suspect most of them would choose "Option C: Journalism."

Indeed, several participants in the online discussion made exactly that point. As one put it: "[R]esearch and intelligent questions based on said research that makes up 'Reporting'. Retyping statements without research is 'Stenography'. Avoiding asking tough questions because it makes your original stenography look really, really bad is 'Complicity'." Weisman, showing nothing but contempt for his readers -- and, though it seems he didn't realize it, for his profession -- responded with a series of churlish comments like "Please apply for my job" and "Sometimes, you folks really drive us nuts."

We can assure Mr. Weisman that the feeling is mutual.

Is it any wonder that the media has done such a poor job of educating Americans? They can't even decide if reporting the facts is more important than avoiding illogical criticism! If reporting the news “with a point of view”* is the price we pay for avoiding journalist-retards like this guy, it’s a small price to pay.

*A description employed by Fox news.

Update: Berkeley-local Brad Delong asks the same question.


Thinker said...

I find that it is mostly in political reporting (and to a growing extent in business reporting) that the problem pointed to in the Media Matters excerpt you've posted exists. Politics and Business are where the big money is, and consequently where the PR consultants have developed lucrative businesses in training politicians and business leaders in the ways of manipulating and pressuring the press to publish the messages and images they want conveyed.

Even in political reporting, there are good journalists; but they have a hard time remaining at major papers and other mass mediated news outlets. The pressures to report like Weisman are great. If you want to read about what they are, take a look at Mark Hertsgaard's (ON BENDED KNEE: The Press and the Reagan Presidency and James Fallows' BREAKING THE NEWS: How the Media Undermine American Democracy.

Thinker said...

If you're interested, a long excerpt from Fallows' book was published in the Atlantic in February 1996. It is available online at I'd be interested in hearing what you think of it.