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October 8, 2004

Satullo Responds: "Bloggers, Journalists, Can't We All Just Get Along?"

Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the Philly Inquirer, responds to the big discussion at PressThink about his op-ed on bloggers and journalists. "Public life goes well when elections are about the issues most on the mind of the electorate, when the voters voice helps frame the choices and the debate, and the candidates are required to respond to that voice."

Background… Chris Satullo wrote in with these reactions to my Oct. 4th post, Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes and to the extended discussion in comments. That post was itself in reaction to this earlier op-ed: Chris Satullo, Cries of ‘media bias’ hide sloppy thinking (Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep. 26, 2004.)

The Best Approximation of Accuracy Possible in a Given Moment

by Chris Satullo
Philadelphia Inquirer

Good Lord, what a lot of words over 668 words done in two hours (thanks for the word count, Jay). I mention the two hours because I find so much of the talking about “bias” and “journalism” ignores what writers for newspapers actually do: Do the best they can to think straight and write straight in too little time with facts that are too sketchy for any sane person to think they constitute “truth.”

We try to get the best approximation of accuracy possible in a given moment in the time allowed. Do we sometimes, under that pressure, fall back on reflexes and group think that is an unacknowledged, fuzzy form of bias? Of course we do. As I tried to make clear, we screw up and give critics ammunition every day.

But what I find so discouraging, as a person who knows newsrooms have to get a lot more serious and vigilant about how bias actually infects work, are the confident and utterly false assumptions of outside critics who are themselves thoroughly ideological and biased. Being people who submit all reality to the filter of their set system of beliefs, they assume reporters are just like them and must be doing the same thing. In fact, reporters tend to be quite nonideological and unreflective about political ideas; when we commit bias, it is a thought-less act, not a thoughtful, premeditated one.

By the way, and I remind everyone it was only 668 words (thanks again, Jay) I apparently was not clear to everyone. So let me be Nixonly clear: What when I talked about the Orwellians, I was not denoting bloggers in toto or even in particular.

Someone wanted me to name names. Happy to. Bozell is a good one. To be fair and balanced, I find lefty web sites like takebackthemedia equally sloppy. A lot of what I’m talking about are not bloggers at all, but the political operatives and email pests who have taken up the bias chant as a form of intimidation and harassment of journalists.

Try writing about Israel in Philly and you’ll get a taste of what I mean. We get hammered incessantly by the Zionist Organization of America (site) on one side, Palestine Media Watch (site) on the other. For my sins, God based both of them in Philly. If you sit down and listen to their close textual analysis of your awful sins, you will occasionally recognize a lapse or sloppy thinking in your work. But don’t mistake this for a conversation with people who want or could define good journalism. They want only coverage that supports, 100 percent and down the line, their world view and propaganda.

For my sins, God also gave me Ed Herman, a lefty old Penn prof who fulminates on about my disgusting failure to run the Inquirer opinion pages as a daily version of the Noam Chomsky Report. (See this.) Ed, too, in my view is an Orwellian.

Finally, “public life go well.” Jay, you know I blame you for this. It’s your damn phrase. And, wow, I didn’t think it would still be so misunderstood after all these years. Public life going well — could the ideological among you possibly accept that this concept does not have a shred of partisan ideological content to it? It’s only ideology is democracy.

Public life goes well when people have multiple, useful forums to identify the problems that affect their lives together in community, when their dialogue is civil and robust, and leads to the hope of solutions. Public life goes well when people know about and know how to use the instititions that are civic glue of the community. Public life goes well when elections are about the issues most on the mind of the electorate, when the voters voice helps frame the choices and the debate, and the candidates are required to respond to that voice. Journalists do not define “go well” as a set of policies; they do not presume sole responsibility for “go well.”

I said “help” go well; not dictate go well. Obviously blogs can help it go well; christ, even talk radio could help it go well. (By the way, why talk augustly of “the press,” one young skeptic asks? Perhaps because it’s the only craft specifically protected by a constitutional amendment?)

Bloggers, journalists— As Rodney said, why can’t we all just get along? He concluded plaintively.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Chris Satullo, Citizens raise their voices about Philadelphia. (Sep. 28, 2003)

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 8, 2004 8:59 AM