Story location: http://archive.pressthink.org/2004/11/03/op_press.html
Back before the 2004 campaign began, before the emergence of Howard Dean, Democrats shocked at the weakness of their party in Congress would commonly say that the only one “taking on” Bush and putting up a real fight was Paul Krugman, the columnist for the New York Times.
John Kerry’s defeat is only hours old. One of the first questions to occur to me is: will we see the fuller emergence of an opposition press, given that George W. Bush and the Republicans are to remain in office another four years? Will we find instead that an intimidation factor, already apparent before the election, will intensify as a result of Bush’s victory?
I believe Big Journalism cannot respond as it would in previous years: with bland vows to cover the Adminstration fairly and a firm intention to make no changes whatsoever in its basic approach to politics and news. The situation is too unstable, the world is changing too rapidly, and political journalism has been pretending for too long that an old operating system will last forever. It won’t. It can’t. Particularly in the face of an innovative Bush team and its bold thesis about the fading powers of the press.
This election, says Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, “sharpened the cultural divides that have increasingly defined American politics over the last generation.” With Bush’s majority-of-the-vote win, this dynamic is likely to intensify, but it’s only one thing causing an intellectual crack-up in the press. Here are some developments to watch for:
Journalists who have been paying attention know that something big in their world changed in 2004. (See my list of stuff happening.) But will they go through the kind of agonizing re-appraisal the Democrats will soon be undertaking? (It’s already been called a “battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.”) Or will they let that old weary operating system grind on?
PressThink believes the re-appraisal starts now.
David Shaw, the longtime media critic of the Los Angeles Times, took issue with this post in a column eleven days later: “Would a left-leaning cable network make things right?” He says no.
USA Today, in the person of media writer Peter Johnson, took a similar view: Will Fox News’ success force competitors to take sides?
Similar response in Business Week, in a commentary Nov. 29:
The anxious new mood was captured, the day after the election, by an article New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote on his Web log, PressThink. It was titled “Are We Headed for an Opposition Press?” and examined whether America is moving toward a European model, wherein many leading papers have well-known party affiliations. This once-radical idea has suddenly gained highbrow intellectual currency based on the theory that reporters should show their true colors rather than pretend to be above ordinary human bias. Staffers at Web site Slate, for instance, disclose their party affiliations — a big taboo in the Establishment media. “The press has been pretending for too long that its old operating system will last forever,” argues NYU’s Rosen. “It won’t.”
Ideological transparency is the type of apple-pie virtue that seems impossible to oppose. But while it may be appropriate for the world of opinion media, it has the potential to be quite destructive to the fact-seeking media.
Call for Writers: This is a call to professional journalists (people employed in the press) who have something to say to their colleagues in the wake of the 2004 election and in light of bigger developments around us. Over the next few weeks, I would like to invite some guest writers to continue the examination of old think in the press, begun by ex-New York Timesman Doug McGill (The Fading Mystique of an Objective Press) and Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub (No Longer Do the Newsies Decide.) Background to those pieces was my post, Too Much Reality, which featured a list of twenty puzzles and problems, such as:
What has to change in journalism? What was learned in 2004? Send me your press think—in the form of a personal essay with examples and ideas, stories and insights—and if it’s good, I will run it. Or e-mail me with an idea. Other guest writers: Ernest Sotomayor of Unity, Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News.
Harry Jaffe in Washingtonian magazine: Among the Election Losers: White House Press Corps?
“Even within the White House information was very closely held,” says a reporter who covered Bush’s first term. Covering this White House was “nigh on impossible,” she says.
Can it get harder?
A president who already holds the record for calling the fewest solo news conferences might convene even fewer.
Some reporters wonder if the Bush team will attempt to kill off the daily briefing.
There are rumors that Bush wants to carry out Hillary Rodham Clinton’s threat to move the press room out of the West Wing.
Public Opinion, an Australian Blogger rephrases this post: “Will we see the fuller emergence of an opposition press, given that John Howard and the conservative Coalition are to remain in office another three years? Will we find instead that an intimidation factor, already apparent before the election, will intensify as a result of Howard’s victory?”
Earlier speculations at PressThink (Sep. 2) “Turn to Fox News for Exclusive Coverage of the Republican National Convention.” By 2008 we may see something different emerge: The Republican and Democratic parties negotiate deals with a single network to carry exclusive coverage of the event— like the Academy Awards, or the Olympics.
At Corante, Ernest Miller responds to this post: Whither the Press?
In politics we have opposition parties. Those in each party express one position when it is their party in charge, and castigate the same position when it is championed by the other party in charge. How expected. And how sad. Is this the future we want the press to adopt?
Why not a press that is the permanent party of skepticism and contingent thinking? How about a press, not without bias, certainly, but with a commitment to exposing the facts and a humble recognition of the possibility for error? Why not a press firmly on the side of transparency? Such a position is hardly apolitical. In fact, it is radically engaged with and opposed to “politics” as well as the “view from nowhere.”
Read the rest. It is all forward looking.
Peggy Noonan in her morning-after column for Wall Street Journal (Nov. 4, 2004):
Who was the biggest loser of the 2004 election? It is easy to say Mr. Kerry: he was a poor candidate with a poor campaign. But I do think the biggest loser was the mainstream media, the famous MSM, the initials that became popular in this election cycle. Every time the big networks and big broadsheet national newspapers tried to pull off a bit of pro-liberal mischief—CBS and the fabricated Bush National Guard documents, the New York Times and bombgate, CBS’s “60 Minutes” attempting to coordinate the breaking of bombgate on the Sunday before the election—the yeomen of the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet took them down. It was to me a great historical development in the history of politics in America… God bless the pajama-clad yeomen of America. Some day, when America is hit again, and lines go down, and media are hard to get, these bloggers and site runners and independent Internetters of all sorts will find a way to file, and get their word out, and it will be part of the saving of our country.
Former Newsweek reporter Robert Parry: Too Little, Too Late.
Yet, even as conservative foundations were pouring tens of millions of dollars into building hard-edged conservative media outlets, liberal foundations kept repeating the refrain: “We don’t do media.” One key liberal foundation explicitly forbade even submitting funding requests that related to media projects.
What I saw on the Left during this pivotal period was an ostrich-like avoidance of the growing threat from the Right’s rapidly developing news media infrastructure.
President Bush’s press conference after victory, from Dan Froomkim’s White House Briefing.
After Associated Press reporter Terence Hunt opened the questioning with a three-parter, Bush said: “Now that I’ve got the will of the people at my back, I’m going to start enforcing the one-question rule. That was three.”
For mourners only: The election hangover of a lifetime.
Latest installment in Big Journalists bravely debunking bloggers: Frank Barnako, CBS Marketwatch, Bloggers blew it: Much posting, little impact. Here’s Jarvis on it. (Who expected big things from bloggers on election night? I didn’t.)
Howard Kurtz on the explanations game in the press, post-election: Let the Explaining Begin!
Here is Ron Suskind’s New York Times Magazine article from before the election, Without a Doubt. In PressThink’s view, the most heroic work of journalism during campaign 2004.