Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Journalism in the age of Bush and Obama

The Frum bruhaha is in fact only a small part of a wider clustershag happening all over the world of journalism over intellectual freedom, dissent, and the proper role of journalists vis-a-vis their subjects.

We have three major leak stories:

  1. Wired Magazine reported on the exposure and arrest of Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who supplied several thousand documents including a controversial video of a helicopter strike on Iraqi civilians to the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. See Greenwald's excellence coverage of the matter for details.

  2. Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings published a humdinger of an article exposing disparaging comments made by General Stanley McChrystal and his staff about civilian leaders that ultimately led to his resignation. CBS News' Lara Logan slams Hastings in response, denigrating his journalistic ethics and his patriotism for daring to publish the remarks because there's an unspoken agreement that you don't publish anything that will embarrass the troops. "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has," she says at one point.

  3. FishbowlDC published remarks disparaging prominent conservatives made by Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel, whose beat is the conservative movement, on the liberal journalist listserv Journolist. The WaPo freaked out, and accepted Weigel's resignation. Conservative Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg says they were right to can him, that only conservatives should report on the conservative movement, and that he would gladly publish remarks from the listserv if they suited his purposes. Greenwald pwns him on it, and Joe Klein comes to Goldberg's defense by questioning Greenwald's patriotism and calling him a lawyer over and over (that may sound unfair, but seriously read it. One wonders if it was really written by John Boehner, as overloaded with sophomoric, Republican innuendo as it is).

There are numerous similarities between some of the stories, such as the question of whether anything you say in front of a journalist is unpublishable. What I find more interesting is the response from establishment journalists on these issues. We have Lara Logan and Joe Klein, neither one known as a conservative and one known as an out and out liberal, not only not taking the journalist's side but impugning people's patriotism. Meanwhile, in the first story, one involving an actual, bonafide whistleblower, the print press has already apparently lost interest, with coverage of the story now occurring almost exclusively online. To test this argument, I mentioned this story to a friend of mine who pays close attention to national news but doesn't read blogs, and he had never heard of this story, or even of Wikileaks!

In the first two stories there's the similar thread of establishment media personalities being uninterested in whistleblowing and hostile to reporting that is unfavorable toward the government. They show how the press has become more deferential toward the government in recent years and perhaps no longer claim the civil libertarian mantle they once did.

In the third story we see a similar argument that reporters should not be adversarial toward their beats, though this time it's an ideological beat. The argument from the WaPo and Goldberg is essentially that reporters should agree with those they're covering, that someone covering conservatives should be a fellow traveler (nevermind for now the issue that the WaPo doesn't have anyone covering the liberal side!). Also, what constitutes lack of "toilet training" in journalism is whether you say ugly things about your subjects and use naughty language, rather than whether you write things that are later proven to be utterly false, refuse to retract them, and use your column to let your friends insult your enemies anonymously.

Interesting and scary to see what's happening to that profession. And they wonder at their credibility problem.

1 comment:

Rene said...

I don't think they really wonder at the credibility problem. I think they're comfortable with it honestly.

My theory:

there are 4 types of news reporters

1)Conservative reporters - repeat conservative dogma, bend things towards conservatives and away from liberals at all costs. ideology trumps facts all day every day. Hyperbole and slander are also fun.
-probably 30% of all media

2)Corporate reporters - report on the most profitable news of the day. Put opposing talking heads on tv and watch them yell. Pick a fight and sell popcorn. Talk about fashion, shopping, hot trends and what the latest thing is. Never talk about consumer protections or corporate overreach.
-probably 45% of all media

3)hacks - have opinions on everything before looking for facts or context. Believe (incorrectly) that you are above news reporter types 1 and 2 because you don't serve an ideology.
-probably 15% of all media.

4)journalists - find facts and context about a story before reporting it. Spend time developing a story before reporting it. Report the story in front of you, not the one you want to report. Believe (incorrectly) that you are beneath the other forms of news reporting because you have a very small viewership.
-probably 10% of all media