Sadly, the longer I’ve been out of journalism, the more my respect for journalists wanes. When I was sitting in a newsroom 5 days a week, I saw the work they produced was not always fair; it was not always complete; it was not always accurate. But at the same time, I interacted with those reporters. I saw them working hard. I saw they were trying to get it right.
Now, I see only the end product—and all too often that end product is crap.
Let’s start with The New York Times. I remain convinced that if there’s one single thing that could make journalism in the United States better, it would be the destruction of the Times. Journalists at every newspaper in the country follow the Times’ lead on what is important and how it is important as a shortcut for actually thinking for themselves.
This week, Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane steps down from his perch at the paper, and his final missive to both the Times’ readers and staff raised some hackles.
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.
To any honest person who’s read the Times, much of this elicits a “No, Duh” response. The problem with the Times’ fairness and balance is that when there is a failure, they always come down on the liberal/left side. Always.
This mild critique got the paper’s executive editor up in arms.
But Times executive editor Jill Abramson says she disagrees with Brisbane’s "sweeping conclusions."
"In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane’s sweeping conclusions," Abramson told POLITICO Saturday night.
"I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base," she continued. "But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping ‘the paper straight.’ That’s essential."
Abramson misremembers Okrent’s critique, which was far harsher than Brisbane’s.
I’ll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.
But if you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.
As I’ve been saying for well over a decade, I think journalists and journalism would garner a lot more respect from the public if they were simply honest about where they’re coming from politically. There was much horror in the media establishment when my former paper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, was purchased by hotelier Doug Manchester—who supported the controversial Prop. 8, the pro-traditional marriage referendum, and is known to be politically conservative. Would Manchester use the paper to promote his views and pet causes? “People” (read: the journalism establishment) were concerned.
There’s never been any similar concern about the Times when it came to the activism of that paper’s publisher, Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger—because the journalism establishment concurs with him on political and social issues.
Who do you trust?
If the mainstream media seriously adhered to the values they profess to hold, then Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter couldn’t get booked for an appearance on Sesame Street. Cutter lied repeatedly about knowing the details behind the story of Joe Soptic, a former steelworker who appeared in the Obama-supporting Super PAC Priorities USA, where he alleged that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was to blame for Soptic’s wife’s death.
This wasn’t some arcane bit of federal budget trivia that can be argued two different ways in good faith. Soptic had appeared on a conference call with Cutter. Cutter knew all about Soptic’s story—and then she brazenly lied about it. Yet, she still makes regular appearances on behalf of the Obama campaign on every single cable and broadcast news network.
Compare that response to a source who lies with this one where a small-town newspaper reporter was lied to about four guys sinking holes in one at a charity tournament.
This was deception. This was a willful misrepresentation of what happened on the course that day, with the knowledge that we were planning to publish a story about it.
This isn’t the type of thing I’d expect from [McCormick Woods golf director Shawn Cucciardi], who didn’t return messages left at McCormick Woods or his home over the past two days. To say I’m disappointed he let me run with a story he knew was bogus would be an understatement.
He’s no longer a source I can trust.
How out of whack are your journalistic judgments when lying about golf scores at a charity tournament is treated more seriously than accusations of cold-hearted murder against one of the two major party’s presidential candidates.
The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway takes another whack at the hacks at Politifraud.
Here’s something for PolitiFact to ponder—I know this is difficult to believe, but maybe the Obama campaign didn’t specify that they were referring to an outdated version of the Ryan plan because they were trying to be deliberately misleading. That’s an obvious conclusion to consider here, as it’s not like political ads have a reputation for strict veracity. And since when is it ok to give the Obama campaign "wiggle room" because they said that it "could" cost seniors more than $6,000? If the Romney-Ryan campaign releases an ad saying that the president "could" be putting dead hobos in the crawlspace under the Oval Office, will they be granted "wiggle room" for making their accusation conditional in the absence of evidence?
Bryan White over at Sublime Bloviations also takes note of this tendency on Politifraud’s part to give liberals the benefit of the doubt, but doesn’t extend it to conservatives.
And so it continues that most journalists give all journalists a bad name.