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H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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November 17, 2004

Two Replies to David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times

"Both the American in me and the journalist in me hope Rosen is dead wrong." Shaw argues against having a liberal news network that would compete with Fox. He says my suggestions to that effect would be terrible for journalism and democracy. MSNBC and CNN agree: terrible! I reply to that, plus: Reason columnist Matt Welch on David Shaw.

On November 3rd, a few hours after John Kerry gave it up, I posted my reaction piece: Are We Headed for an Opposition Press? I used a question mark because that was how I felt. My attitude then was: Who can say there’s no argument for it?

Now we know who. This week David Shaw, longtime media critic of the Los Angeles Times, published a column in reaction to my post. So this is a post in reaction to his column, which ran online without a link to the essay he was talking about. That’s unkind, L.A. Times. (On the other hand, putting “one of the nation’s more thoughtful agents provocateurs” in the first paragraph was very kind, so thanks!)

Shaw, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, argues against MSNBC or CNN coming out as the more liberal network, and competing with Fox that way. He thinks my suggestions to that effect (they were really provocations) would be terrible for journalism and democracy. We also hear in his column from MSNBC and CNN, who are quick to agree: terrible idea, Rosen.

When I asked the folks at CNN what they thought of the idea, Jim Walton, president of the CNN News Group, shot back, “Under no circumstances would we do that. We’ve established that we’re a trusted network. We’ve done that by trying to provide balance … to be independent in our thinking.”

Notice how Walton thinks an avowedly liberal network could never be a trusted network. Nor could a liberal network be independent in its thinking. No, the only way to maintain trust and claim authority is professional even-handedness, “objectivity,” balance, the view from nowhere. And that is what CNN will contine to be about. Sound like a strategy for catching up to Fox and its momentum?

“At MSNBC, the top brass demurred when I asked for a comment,” Shaw reports. Huh. Kind of interesting. Could mean nothing, of course.

But Jeremy Gaines, the network’s vice president of communications, said the concept of MSNBC as a self-described liberal network “makes no sense. It is flawed, shallow reasoning and is totally without merit.”

Shaw’s own view of Opposition Press is strongly negative. It was based in part on the interview we did— a good interview, I felt. His questions were challenging because they were aimed at getting me to take a position: was I actually for one of the networks coming out as the liberal network?

Fair question. But I was less for it than I was interested in it. I don’t only speak as an advocate for things, I also like to notice them. For example, in raising the question: Opposition Press? the day after the election you notice how many people think it implausible, outrageous, non-sensical, (redundant)… in fact, “totally without merit.” Whereas hiring the telegenic runner-up from last year’s Apprentice—Donald Trump’s reality show—and giving him his own interview program on CNN, though he has zero experience… that’s a strategy with obvious merit, at least to someone at the network. As I told Shaw:

If Fox continues to surge, how do others compete — CNN, MSNBC or some new cable channel? Will the … 48% of Americans who voted [for John Kerry] in the last election be open to a different kind of news?

Show of hands: Who’s open to a different kind of news? To me that is the question journalists should be asking each other these days. A Blue State News Network, with some Red State programs and hosts—and some Purple shows too—could be great. Or it could be an embarrassment and a disaster. I don’t actually know. (Why, am I supposed to?)

Maybe there is a way to create a more openly liberal news operation that starts to make sense—professionally, financially, politically, culturally, but most of all, generationally—once you take a serious look at it. Fox News Channel was at one time an idea, until someone took a serious look at it. But do I recommend it? Shaw picks up the story:

Interestingly, when I pressed Rosen on this, he didn’t want to come right out and say he was certain it would be a good idea. Asked point-blank, he repeated that he thought it “likely” and “logical” and “practical” and perhaps even inevitable. But good — beneficial to journalism and society at large? His not very convincing response was, “It’s not my job to tell television networks how to do their jobs.”

“It’s not my job, either,” wrote Shaw. “But I’d like to offer my opinion anyway. DON‘T DO IT.

Shaw puts into one concise statement the propositions that I have called, collectively, The Contraption. (See Not Up to It.) This refers to the standard routines in mainstream journalism and their rationales, to newsroom practices and the principles that bind all this together into a code of behavior. The contraption includes a “code” for talking about press matters, and David Shaw is fluent in it.

Some Americans, he admitted, “do want their news prepackaged and predigested — slanted, biased — so they don’t have to think about it.” In Shaw’s mind, if you don’t want The Contraption as your operating and ethical system, then you must want the alternative, which is Pravda, “slanted, biased” news that suppresses all those inconvenient truths that Shaw—a real journalist—is duty bound to tell.

“So Rosen’s probably right; the liberals among these intellectually lazy folks would probably welcome a genuinely liberal news network.” (Some market he’s left me— the lazy liberals!) “But both the American in me and the journalist in me hope Rosen is dead wrong.” Because the Contraption, according to David Shaw, is dead right; indeed it’s the source of all right in journalism. Its truth keeps marching on. Here is what I wrote on Day One of Bush’s second term.

Are We Headed for an Opposition Press?

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.

And to that observation David Shaw said:

Would a left-leaning cable network make things right?

In our increasingly polarized society, the last thing we need is a partisan press. Yes, I know that many conservatives think we already have a partisan press — a liberal press. And yes, I know that far more big-city journalists are liberal than conservative. I’m a liberal. But I’m a columnist, paid to express my opinions. When I was a reporter, I worked hard — and, I think, successfully — to keep my opinions from unfairly influencing what I wrote. When the facts led to a conclusion that was different from my opinion, I printed the facts, not my opinion. As a result, I sometimes wrote stories that gave aid and comfort to the “enemy.” I continue to think, as I’ve written before, that on most stories, most reporters and editors and news directors — people charged with keeping their opinions out of their work — are able to do that as well, to set aside their personal views and cover the news fairly and evenhandedly.

In other words, he answered with The Contraption. I’m sure you recognize it. It includes Shaw’s adamant view that “disclosing bias” would be a disaster for journalists. Plus: “When they complain about bias, they’re really complaining that the news isn’t biased in favor of their particular viewpoint, be it conservative or liberal.” Recognize that?

Bottom line for Shaw: “I’m opposed to Rosen’s suggestion about a liberal television network.” Fair enough. But it was really a provocation. Let me mention a few things I oppose by way of continuing the dialogue. Maybe down the road it will lead to another David Shaw column. I hope so.

I oppose those who, holding to a particular professional religion in journalism, continue to claim that it is the religion— the one way to practice a commitment to truth-in-reportage. It simply isn’t true that truthelling in journalism ends when you leave the neutral zone and abandon the view from nowhere. If that were the case, then—which, Scott Rosenberg told me, “self-identifies as opposition press”—would not be capable of truthtelling.

Neither would the Weekly Standard, or, or the National Catholic Reporter, or Reason magazine. But they are capable of truthtelling, so Shaw is leaving something out. What’s he’s leaving out is the possibility that other religions are spreading the good word about journalism— and maybe even better ones will emerge for the times in which we live.

I oppose, then, the simple-minded and far-fetched claim that The Contraption has only one truly thinkable alternative, which is bias— news-as-propaganda, Pravda-style, for people who don’t think. This is Shaw’s “suggestion” in the sense that he examines no alternatives but those two: believe in objectivity or abandon yourself to bias.

Some day a clever historian is going to explain how fear of being politicized (legitimate) convinced American journalists that the press could have—and should have—no politics at all. (Not legitimate.) It has been one devastating illusion.

Doug McGill is a former reporter for the New York Times, now a Stand Alone Journalist, which is Chris Nolan’s clever name for an independent news blogger. Clever, and also correct. McGill (of The McGill Report) became dissatisfied with The Contraption. But unlike many others who grumbled about it, he took a hard look at his career and asked: where did objectivity begin to go wrong? Those who never bought into the “mystique” of it find themselves with a clearer sense of purpose today, McGill said recently at PressThink.

“But we journalists, we are at sea because our Grand Old Professional Code is falling to pieces.” McGill does not oppose objectivity with a call for bias. He says to the craft: the code we have doesn’t speak to our problems. Thus he’s opposing objectivity to a shifted reality.

David Shaw: please read Doug McGill, The Fading Mystique of an Objective Press, but not because he has the answers. Rather, he was once a believer in your newsroom religion. Then he lost that faith. Now he opposes its simple-mindedness. He’s one of your generation, too; and I think you could profit by his example.

And I commend to you Tim Porter, a former newspaper editor reflecting on newsroom culture: “I practiced journalism, but I knew almost nothing about it— although I thought I did.” Maybe because I’m an educator, I find this a profound remark. Porter went from deflecting everything (The Contraption’s great strength) to reflecting on the most important things in journalism; that’s the human story inside the ideas at his weblog, First Draft. (Porter’s greatest hits.)

The Contraption can help prevent truthtelling, according to this from Liz Cox Barrett at Campaign Desk. (Now called CJR Daily, see below.) It’s about journalists as players who cannot admit that they’re players because The Contraption has no language for discussing it. “Whenever political reporters sit down to write a what-went-wrong piece, or to perform the autopsy of a failed campaign, they suddenly become invisible to themselves.” That’s it exactly. The Contraption has this odd feature: it can make the press invisible to itself. (My CJR essay from February ‘04, Players.)

And for the remainder of my reply, I turn the floor over to Matt Welch, journalist, blogger and struggling truthteller, a neighbor of Shaw’s in L.A., and a close reader of the Los Angeles Times. He’s a little more annoyed with the man. But then he’s a different generation. So take it away, Matt…

Because I Said So Journalism

by Matt Welch

Shaw’s response, typically for him, embodies five classic pathologies of the monopoly-newspaper media critic: Disdain for the audience, exaggerated self-regard, hostility toward competition, distrust of the audience, and a fundamentally conservative outlook toward change.

1) Disdain for the audience. “I think that some Americans, for all their protestations about ‘media bias,’ do want their news prepackaged and predigested—slanted, biased—so they don’t have to think about it.” America the sheeple!

2) Exaggerated self-regard. “When I was a reporter, I worked hard and, I think, successfully to keep my opinions from unfairly influencing what I wrote.” When Shaw was a reporter toiling the news pages, he constantly professed (and demonstrated) his opinionated preference for long-gestated multi-part series over spot coverage; infamously dismissed or ignored the work of the lower journalistic form known as Business Journals; expressed routine hostility toward the new-fangled Internet; and composed lengthy love-letters to himself.

3) Hostility toward competition. A partisan press is a competitive press. Put another way, every city in the country has a “straight” daily newspaper that attempts to pursue Shaw’s ideals. In order to compete, new papers have to differentiate themselves in some way, or get slaughtered. In the history of American newspapering there have been three reliable ways to differentiate from the dominate daily: Go more local, target a different economic niche, or cover a different part of the political spectrum. Alternative weeklies (another form Shaw famously looks down his nose upon) are largely a political creation, and they’ve contributed wonders to American journalism. Fox built itself from nowhere to a legitimate Fourth Network; then used politics to succeed in cable news (which still pales in comparison to network news broadcasts). We have a more diverse and competitive media landscape as a result. It’s striking, but typical, that Shaw and his ilk rebel against political diversity.

4) Distrust of the audience. Shaw writes: “But more important, I think any such accounting would automatically undermine the credibility of many, if not most stories. I’d rather have readers judge stories on their merits, on what the stories say, on the language used to convey the information, on what may be omitted, than on any political caveat that, as I’ve already said, I believe would almost invariably be as irrelevant as it would be distracting.”

Note especially the omniscient scare-phrase “automatically undermine.” This assumes, paternalistically, that the reader, given more information, will make worse choices. And would it indeed be “irrelevant” if we knew that, say, 95% of L.A. Times employees, including most its senior editors, voted for Kerry? We’ve seen from the Pew surveys that journalists describing themselves as “conservatives” have a far different interpretation of the same set of facts as journalists describing themselves as “liberals.” Politics and beliefs, like education and class, certainly affect coverage; a newspaper that was truly confident in its own work would embrace political and other types of disclosure, as an opportunity to demonstrate how they rise above certain biasing factors.

5) A fundamentally conservative outlook toward change. “In our increasingly polarized society, the last thing we need is a partisan press.” Shaw’s reasons? Because more transparency would somehow “undermine” credibility, because disclosure would take up too much space (a straw-man I will address below), and because, well, society is “increasingly polarized.” It barely even sounds like he’s convinced by these weak arguments; the more obvious undercurrent here is “because we haven’t been doing it that way for the last 40 years, darn it!” There are many reasons to champion the never-quite-attainable goal of objectivity and fairness, I think we’d all agree. Yet that approach—and the above-the-fray pathologies it engenders, to say nothing of the dominant passive political beliefs in newsrooms—clearly leaves a majority of potential news consumers unsatisfied. A partisan press can and should be a nice complement and competitor to the non-partisan press.

As to this from Shaw: “How—and where—are you going to disclose the ideology of the editor who conceived the story, the editor who assigned it, the editor who actually edited it, the editor who decided where (and if and when) it would appear in the paper? (And, in the case of television, the cameraman who filmed it.)”

The answer is - on the news organization’s website somewhere, where those interested can check, and those who aren’t don’t have to wade through it. If the Times had enough guts, it would have mini-biographies of every staff member, copy editors and interns and star columnists alike, complete with age, education, political party affiliation (if any), work experience (including extra-curricular stuff, like Shaw’s bio of Wilt Chamberlain), and links to every article written for the paper. If the Times is as professional and non-partisan as Shaw maintains, then this information could be used to demonstrate precisely that. At any rate, it would give the reader much more raw information about the messenger.

I know Shaw’s tendencies because I’ve been reading him closely for years and years. Other customers should be able to do likewise by clicking on a single link at the Times’ website. Newspaper employees have long been one of society’s main advocates for transparency, and rightly so. It’s long since past time that they allow the light to be shined just as brightly on themselves, while coming up with more convincing rejections of reform than “because I said so.”

After Matter: Notes, Reactions and Links

At Altercation, Eric Alterman of The Nation and When Presidents Lie has a lengthy and interesting reply to this post. He disagrees with Shaw:

Objectivity, moreover, is an ideology that, in its most pristine form, has no clear preference for fact over fiction. It is notoriously easy to manipulate by unscrupulous sources who place a higher value on their own personal advancement than on the value of the public knowledge. Because politicians tend to fall into this category, the rules of journalistic objectivity are regularly drafted into service on behalf of the most shameless kinds of demagoguery, lies, and outright thievery.

Andrew Cline at Rhetorica on a couple of sentences in my post: “But I was less for it than I was interested in it. I don’t only speak as an advocate for things, I also like to notice them.”

To notice something is a powerful intellectual and creative act. By noticing—and naming—we bring things into existence from something like non-existence. That’s the romance of it, anyway. Noticing plays an important intellectual and civic role: It gets people talking. Any good teacher is familiar with this role. We listen to students in class and try to notice things in their discourse. Once noticed, we comment. And if we have done a good job of noticing, then the conversation really gets rolling. Noticing is the grit around which crystals are born.

Amen, Andrew. And it’s fascinating how confused some people become when noticing is a writer’s primary “agenda.”

Just released online (Nov. 22): Press critic Michael Massing, who helped establish the holes in WMD reporting at the New York Times and Washington Post, has a new analysis in an upcoming New York Review of Books. Tomgram: Michael Massing on Iraq coverage and the election.

News Flash… Campaign Desk has been re-born as CJR Daily. Smart move. See the announcement from Steve Lovelady. These words are apt: “Many journalists to whom we talk, day in and day out, have the vague sense that calcified old forms and formats are failing them; the trick will be to find new frameworks up to the task at hand.” (And sometimes the trick is turning a vague sense of “calcified forms failing” into a more specific one.)

Earlier Shaw, A Polarized Society Leads to Polarized Journalism. (Oct. 24, 2004)

Linda Seebach, editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News, e-mails with this observation:

One of the oddest things in Shaw’s comments is this:

“When I was a reporter, I worked hard - and, I think, successfully - to keep my opinions from unfairly influencing what I wrote. When the facts led to a conclusion that was different from my opinion, I printed the facts, not my opinion.”

I don’t know about him, but when I have observed that the facts lead to a conclusion that is different from my opinion, I CHANGE MY OPINION! Isn’t that why facts and opinions are different?

Another by-product of The Contraption is the whole bias discourse. See Matt Welch in Reason, Biased about Bias. How “the hunt for ideology becomes an ideology.”

Related: PressThink, Journalism Is Itself a Religion (Special Essay on Launch of The Revealer.)

Jeff Sharlet, editor of The Revealer: Killing Religion Journalism.

Not the official story, not the perfunctory justifications: The fabric of belief.

That’s what religion writing has to offer every other aspect of journalism: The focus on belief. That’s missing even from most religion writing. The “faith pages” languish while news stories revolving around real, actual belief, causing events in the world, occupy the front page.

An activity, but not a profession?… Glenn Reynolds writes at MSNBC: “Ed Driscoll thinks that the Internet is well on the way to becoming the most important source of news for most Americans. I think he’s right — but I also think that many, many more Americans are going to be involved in the reporting of news. Journalism isn’t a profession, but an activity. And it’s an activity that technology is putting within the reach of many more Americans. That’s bad news if you’re Dan Rather, but it’s good news for the rest of us.”

Blogger Patterico, a frequent critic of liberal bias at the LA Times, responds to this post:

I admit that it is not entirely clear to me what Jay is proposing. Is he saying that the existing networks should become more liberal, to compete with Fox’s conservatism? If so, I question the premise. There already exist several liberal news networks competing with Fox. Their coverage is just as far to the left as Fox’s is to the right. They just don’t admit their leftist bias. But then, neither does Fox admit its conservative bias.

Watching Scott McLellan brief the press at the White House, blogger Dano writes: what if they gave a press briefing and nobody came?

Rosen wrote something in one of his PressThink posts… about, if one wants a more effective political media, the representatives of the media should take a stand in response to how the White House shuts them out. Like refusing to even participate in these little travesties of transparency. I think the example he used was the press corps, en masse, pulling out of Iraq. I thought he was maybe exaggerating for effect, but now I see it a little bit differently. What little the White House is willing to dole out to the press is worse than nothing, and covering such content-free “briefings” as this one lends the administration a thin veneer of transparency.

I like that paradoxical image: a “veneer” of transparency. What I wrote was: “The Bush crowd has completely changed the game on journalists, knowing that journalists are unlikely to respond with action nearly as bold. For example, would the press ever pull out of Iraq as a signal to the Bush White House? Never, and this is why it is seen as weak.”

Advisory to Users: A number of people told me they print out PressThink and read it on paper. I added a special “print” feature. Just click on LINK or on this title in the RECENT ENTRIES column. The “print” button will appear in the upper right, near the headline. Check for it.

Posted by Jay Rosen at November 17, 2004 4:48 PM   Print


Nice post, both you and Matt.

One point - Fox doesn't allow itself to be categorized as biased, so what makes Shaw think that anyone at any network would ever allow themselves to put that target on their network's back? Does his egoism go so deep that he thinks he can shake that admission out of practised flaks who eat print types like him for breakfast? (Has he never read Variety?) Does he really think that XYZ-TV will run promos touting "unjust and lopsided"? If any cable news net goes oppo, it'll be a "bold new look with bold new faces" or "evenhanded insight" or ....

And the decision to do so will be a cold, hard look at the numbers. If Olberman lifts MS/NBC's ratings off the floor, look out. They've all seen Air America do ratings, so somewhere at both NBC and TW there's an over-worked MBA doing projections up the wazzoo for a re-launch.

As I've mentioned before, and not to say it was a perfect world, but I do miss what I saw as the objectivity of a portion of the mid-century press - maybe I was just too young to see it as The Contraption, but it was comforting to be able to trust something in black-and-white. When Izzy and others would rant, they would use published facts as a base, or show how they developed the facts - not just rant that some "MSM" was filling their head with lies which must be wrong just 'cause they say so.

Posted by: fatbear at November 17, 2004 5:42 PM | Permalink

My immediate reaction to reading the title, "Are We Headed for an Opposition Press?" was an Albertian, "Yes!" But I also shared some of Shaw's misgivings. You don't need to be a liberal to see the mendacity in the Bush Administration, and by framing the issue in terms of Bush/Fox/Sinclair on the Right, and CNN or MSNBC on the Left, you are setting up a polarized null system, which would wipe out much of the medium in which reliable information breeds. One of the lessons of 2004, whether it is learned or not, is that to succeed, a radicalized Administration need only wage the battle for media coverage to a draw to enable it to move its agenda forward. The Administration, with its penchant for message discipline and stagecraft, is only be too happy to fill a vacuum.

But a left-leaning network would serve to put Fox/Sinclair in sharper relief, and would also provide a handy illustration for the Great Undecideds, of what a liberal press really would mean, as opposed to the caricature promoted by Bush/Fox/Sinclair. What Bush/Fox/Sinclair colored as the liberal media, was really a right-of-center, soft, pliable, over-taxed, market-hectored news-mob, trailing weakly after the Administration's lead. This whipped puppy, rolling over in the submissive position, was recast by the Right as a faux opposition press. Opposition apparently meant not standing up and barking as loudly in agreement as Fox. Almost all of the play was on the right side of the board, which served to present a grossly lopsided picture of reality.

Whenever the Press doesn't parrot, it will be attacked and dismissed as liberal, so it makes sense for at least one network to actually deliver some liberality. A strong liberal outpost could also become a conduit for pre-stories, and a sounding board or sharpening wheel for opposition argument. The Right, with its always-on cast of televised True Believers, endlessly scrimmages and fine tunes its attacks in conservative media outlets. Often, major offensives start as small skirmishes on the fringes. If they are non-starters, the breathless audience won't mind, but if there is an opportunity for an outbreak into a news-cycle-eating "mainstream" story, the early appearance on or in some right-wing media outlet provides a kind of self-citing reference point, and "legitimacy" can begin to be accreted through a citing loop. So a strong liberal media presence would also provide a strong platform for counter-propaganda. This pragmatic political utility may cause some churning of the journalistic stomach acids, but we should by now recognize that part of the successful Fox business model was and is that it it made itself a useful tool of the Ruling Party, and not by mere coincidence or serendipity.

If some Network will claim that liberal ground, the center will open up and allow for a desperately needed general correction. Because the gyroscope is broke. US Grant had a fair amount of success against the over-rated Lee, by repeatedly banging away from Lee's right, for virtually the entire closing campaign of the Civil War. Grant kept swinging south and wheeling right into Lee's flank. This did not make Lee a Liberal.

Posted by: Mark J. McPherson at November 17, 2004 6:13 PM | Permalink

I get the nagging feeling that some of these questions result in poor answers. The questions are "wrong" only because they are bound to be ineffective -- They don't help us find useful answers. So let's work to blaze a more fruitful approach.

Journalism is measured after the fact -- by how well it distills the salient parts of events, how it orders them, and how well it relates the experiences to other experiences and to the readers' own life.

Whether one is liberal, conservative means little beforehand. What counts is how the work itself stands up to scrutiny.

Posted by: sbw at November 17, 2004 9:30 PM | Permalink

"Whether one is liberal, conservative means little beforehand."

I grant you that, Stephen. If it's true, then whether one is objective beforehand means little, as well, and smart people should stop saying it means everything.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 17, 2004 9:32 PM | Permalink

Follow the money ...

The questions ARE "wrong".

Liberal and conservative are abstract terms that serve in great part to mask the reality of; have vs. have not.

If one wants their journalistic work to stand up to scrutiny they will have to communicate in these less abstract terms of have vs. have not and not liberal and conservative.

Who then will fund this more realistic (liberal) journalism espousing the viewpoints of the have nots?

Certainly not the haves, as it would undermine their wealth and status; and of course not the have nots, as they simply can not afford it. And that is why a liberal media (press, cable news,etc.) does not exist -- the haves will never fund it. It is also why a lot of journalists with great integrity leave the main stream media. I always get pissed when I hear Rush Limbaugh say a liberal (code for have not) media will never make it because their ideas are not sound when he knows full well that no conservative (have ) would ever fund it.

If you want honest to God viewpoints free of the constraints of the haves -- who pay the bills and really control the content in all mainstream media -- then you will have to look on the internet, a media the Shaws of the world would rather you stayed away from (probably a factor in why he never linked to your essay).

Good post!

Posted by: Warren Celli at November 17, 2004 11:15 PM | Permalink

Haves vs Have nots?

You've got to get well beyond that overlysimplistic, and static way of looking at the world if you want conclusions other than college Marxist club blather.

The idea of a liberal media has the problem that the MSM already trends liberal. It's like Radio America. When the market is full of liberal news, the market for liberal labelled product is zip.

The idea of an opposition media tends to imply opposition to the reigning party in government. But that changes periodically. Do we have an opposition media tearing apart Democrats for 4 years, and then tearing apart Republicans for the next 4.

The world doesn't work this way.

Posted by: John Moore at November 18, 2004 12:53 AM | Permalink

Provocative Questions Provoke Interesting Debate

Of course no mainstream TV network will come out as liberal. The economic side of the objectivity equation requires the appearance of objectivity. Witness: The Fox News "fair and balanced" moniker and Bill O'Reilly's "no spin zone."

Conservatives think anything that presents the other side of how they "believe" on issues is already considered "liberal," as in open minded. Liberal is still a bad word in American politics, in spite of the movement led by Michael Moore, Al Franken and the Deaniacs who even got John Kerry to say at one point, "We're not going to take it anymore." Did he fight for a recount?

Next, may I suggest at some point a discussion on plagiarism?

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 18, 2004 1:35 AM | Permalink

"The world doesn't work this way."

Thanks John! I always enjoy it when a product of Rush Limbaugh's "School For Advance Conservative Studies" struts his stuff, implies that I am a blathering college club marxist, and tells me how the world works.

Posted by: Warren Celli at November 18, 2004 8:40 AM | Permalink

Shaw may be right in questioning whether we need a partisan press but at the same time why should we be afraid of it. Journalism has a grand history of newspapers with a distinct point of view so why not a television station.

At the same time, it would be nice to see less discussion of a "partisan" press and more discussion of a press that does its job. How exactly did reporters find themselves being backed into a corner where they fear being attacked as partisan if they merely question statements made by officialdom.

Someone - I know not who - once said that the difference between a reporter and a recorder is that a reporter adds context.

If a government official makes a statement that is deceptive on some level, pointing that out does not make a reporter partisan.

Posted by: Colin Miner at November 18, 2004 9:42 AM | Permalink

Jay, how or why does "the contraption" establish virtual boundaries of "objectivity" that help delineate "MSM"?

It rings true that "the press" already exists across a continuous spectrum of opinion/ideology. The "opposition" press exists already on the right/left and in-between, as you point out in your list of truthtellers and in "opinion" shows that express a voice on a channel practicing news according to "the contraption". What seems to be different is the admission/advocacy of the mid-to-late 19th century to the admonition/denial of same in the mid-to-late 20th century.

You are absolutely on track to ask, "What are journalists for?" in the mid-to-late 21st century based on trends and anomalies today.

It isn't as much that there needs to be an opposition press to the Bush administration, or whichever political party holds office, as there needs to be a diversity of news commentary - and all news is commentary - that has been artificially constrained/restrained by a religious devotion to the contraption.

Posted by: Tim at November 18, 2004 11:38 AM | Permalink

Mark McPherson and Warren Celli: Excellent posts.

I would just like to raise a very pragmatic issue that underlines why the "liberal" media notion is so out of touch--for much of the twentieth century, anti-communist counter-revolution was the order of the day. Press "objectivity" was surely instituted in significant part because for long periods of time anti-capitalist speech was criminalized. Anti-capitalism was equated with anti-American, etc. The "objective" label, like academic "tenure," was a tiny scrap of protective clothing in the winter of counter-revolution.

Where are we today? On the one hand, the Cold War is over outside of Korea. The Chinese communist party is clearly a totalitarian aristocracy at this point.

On the other hand, Bushite Republicanism revels in casting opposition as treason--hence the propensity for their opponents to see proto-fascist tendencies in them. Hell, Ann Coulter proudly rehabilitates Joe McCarthy as a model for us all. In her case, perhaps proto-fascism is simply accuracy in labeling.

I was born in 1960. In my forty-four years of life in the US, the year 2002 came the closest to recovering McCarthyite lockdown of public opinion, of reframing criticism as treason (at least since COINTELPRO, which was a little before my time). From where I sit, we are seemingly just one domestic terrorist attack away from full-blown lockdown of public discourse.

Liberal paranoia stems from authoritarian intimidation and demagoaguery by the one party state and its media affiliates. It has an identifiable cause.

The Republican state has now taken up legal enforcement of the culture wars with the massive and punitive decency fines recently instituted.

Jay is no doubt right that the view from nowhere makes for bad journalism. I would add that the Trotskyite strategy of neo-conservatism has blown up what little political cover the "objective" tag may once have provided to escape the criminalization of free speech US counterrevolution has so often demanded.

Don't we also need to consider at the same time alternative strategies for protecting free speech in the face of increasing efforts to criminalize opposition as indecent or as incipient "terrorism"?

Financial and political intimidation are at the heart of the matter. How do they figure in this equation?

Jay and others have made the case that there is money to be made from the 48% of American news consumers who rarely see their views ADVOCATED in media coverage, i.e. Kerry voters (they may be passively reflected at times). That would ease the financial side of the equation.

How about the political aspect after another domestic terror attack occurs as it assuredly will? How is the demagoguery of the right effectively challenged and displaced in that circumstance? How might we restrain the proto-fascist tendencies of the one party state so that they remain at the "proto-" stage?

Mark McPherson's "whipped puppy" is a perfect icon for the "liberal" media. Ultimately media in large part frame the conditions that determine whether or not one party state intimidation will be effective. The whipped puppy needs to pull its tail out from between its legs and grow a spine.

The Republican thesis is that the whipped puppy is out of control and has to be put in check. Pardon my amusement at the thought that the political destiny of our nation is imperiled by this quivering, skittish, and mangy mutt's totalitarian control of popular opinion. Somebody, get a muzzle on that beast!

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 18, 2004 12:13 PM | Permalink

All the discussion of the SCLM is good. The fact that the "haves" won't fund a "have not" press is cogent.

Maybe we really need what we had for a brief shining moment: a populist press. One that had journalists who worked their way up and did not enter the profession via journalism school. Technique and fervor are sometimes alien to each other. A populist press ees itself as responsive and responsil\ble to the populace.

So that leaves the internet, where more and more people are geting a lot of their news and views. An issue here: once a blogger/standalone journalist becomes co-opted by a printed publication, the blog tends to lose the "edge" and political acuity it once had. Why is that?

Posted by: Carol at November 18, 2004 1:28 PM | Permalink

"Dano" only tells part of the story concerning WH briefings. I dare anyone reading this to read the transcript from a WH news briefing and not come away with the feeling that these are a colossal waste of time for all concerned. Sure, McClellan doesn't give up much, but look at the inane questions posed to him by our "elite" press. Many are from the " when did you stop beating your wife" school of journalism. These reporters do not represent me, and do not ask the questions I want asked. The WH press seems annoyed that McClellan doesn't give up the dirt on his boss, but think----did Nixon's press secretary say, "sure we obstructed justice--want to make something out it?" Did McCurry say, sure Bill's getting blow jobs in the Oval Office---so what? It seems the WH press is more interested in getting invitations to A List parties than engaging in actual reporting. My opinion is that there should be more turnover in the WH press corps. Most are fat and happy and only want to report on Inside the Beltway Buzz. Remember, it was Drudge who brought Monica to the public, it was Woodstein, who were not part of WH press, who uncovered Watergate. I think the WH press should be disbanded---they are worse than useless, they hurt our country every bit as much as Crossfire.

Posted by: paladin at November 18, 2004 1:28 PM | Permalink


Much of this conversation is focused on "national" MSM (urban news organizations read nationally), but "the contraption" extends across local news as well:

Does Ownership Matter in Local Television News?: "Ownership type made no apparent difference in terms of the diversity of people depicted in the news, one of the characteristics of newscasts the FCC has expressed interest in. Ownership type also made little difference when it came to the range of topics a station covered. In general, there is striking uniformity across the country in what local television stations define as news. (emphasis mine)

Posted by: Tim at November 18, 2004 1:38 PM | Permalink

I am conflicted about this.

I do see some value in media organizations' striving for the goal of "objectivity" -- even if they (and we) know it's unattainable. It probably keeps them more honest than they would be otherwise. When you at least have to pay lip service to a goal, it makes it tougher to actively work against that goal.

At the same time, there is value to knowing the perspective of those behind the news. If nothing else, it allows news consumers to apply the principle that statements made against one's interest are more trustworthy than self-serving statements.

For example, I don't trust something I see on NewsMax until I see it in the mainstream media -- unless it favors a leftist position, in which case it is almost certainly true (or else why would even NewsMax concede the point?). Similarly, I don't always accept mainstream media positions that favor the left -- but if the mainstream media concedes a point favoring the conservative viewpoint, it's a good bet that it's true.

One could argue that the various biases of these organizations are known, and so they need not be more explicit about their own biases. To a degree that's true. But the biases are not clear to everyone. The less familiarity you have with news media, the less prepared you will be to know how a particular outlet is likely to slant a story. Many news consumers (especially less sophisticated ones) are probably fooled a lot by stories in media outlets whose biases are not known to those consumers.

Even those of us who are very aware of media bias are often too trusting of stories in major media outlets -- and I say this as a *relatively* sophisticated consumer of news. It's just such an ingrained response to think: "I saw in the paper so it must be true." It's surprisingly easy to forget all the times that the paper printed something that turned out to be false.

If that reaction is not uncommon for *me*, I worry very much about the members of the general public, many of whom may be less aware than I am of the biases in the media. (I don't mean to sound elitist -- there are many who are far more sophisticated news consumers than I am -- but the fact is that there are also many who spend far less time than I do following the news.) So I think it would be valuable for media outlets to be more forthright about their biases -- perhaps by providing more biographical information on the reporters and editors involved -- while still seeking (however imperfectly) the ideal of true objectivity.

Posted by: Patterico at November 18, 2004 2:13 PM | Permalink

I’m here to outspokenly suggest that a left-wing televisions station – not print medium – would be a welcome addition to the fray.

The first impulse is to model it after Fox. I think that’s misguided. The left needs a different kind of animal, something more abashedly liberal to coax Fox and friends out of the “unbiased” thicket. Even if Fox persists in projecting that “Fair and Balanced” image, the inevitable comparisons to the lefty station will be impacting.

An unashamed left perspective would help create a dialogue between the left and right, elucidating the areas of disagreement. Meanwhile the “unbiased press” would have more credibility when fact-checking, while suffering as inadequacies grappling with the difference between unbiased and centrist are exposed.

I sympathize with papers reticent to expose the political leanings of it’s staff (not that all persons can be divided neatly into red or blue) for their intent, to report independent of those leaning, will be questioned even more vociferously than it is now. A left wing television news outfit will elucidate the difference between a lefty trying to persuade and one trying to report fairly. Neither objective requires fact torture.

What happened with Air America is an interesting case study for anyone trying to start a liberal media outlet. The conservative media went after the profitability of the venture, mocking it and prophesizing no one would watch. The mainstream media also lambasted Air America out of Shavian (the L.A. times fellow) jealousy and territorialism. A liberal television outlet would be subject to extreme criticism on all fronts, especially the “unbiased” media trying to prove its fairness, and be a worthy edition to our national dialogue.

Posted by: Mavis Beacon at November 18, 2004 3:20 PM | Permalink

When conservatives are mentioned, it is often followed by "McCarthyism": Ben Franklin imagines that leftist press was long illegal in the US.


Even the Communist Party, controlled by the KGB, was able to publish an overt newspaper.

McCarthy (whom I don't defend - Coulter was selling books by that) only went after government employees. The civilian world felt no bite from him. HUAC went after Hollywood some years earlier, and sure enough there were Soviet agents of influence hard at work there (including a relative of mine, who wasn't caught). That congress had a right to expose them is clear. That Hollywood could blacklist them is also clear, but not effective because most were not discovered.

McCarthy was the best thing that ever happened to leftist publishing. Even though inaccurate, charges of McCarthyism were enough to emasculate any opponent. HUAC was 2nd best, and most people think the two are the same thing.

As to modern charges of treason, I am aware of only one, against John Kerry in 1970-1972. Treason requires working with the enemy, not just saying naughty things. Kerry did both. It is possible he engaged in treason, and it is possible that the form of interaction he had with the enemy, and his intent, were not treasonous.

As far as I know, there were no significant charges of treason made against Kerry this year.

So what is this Bushite characterizing opponents of treason?

Posted by: John Moore at November 18, 2004 5:13 PM | Permalink

No totalitarianism on the right? McCarthy? Hitler? George Wallace? George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove?

As we speak, Judith Miller is on CNN talking about the First Amendment being under attack by government prosecutors. In spite of what the Slate critic says, we must have the trust of anonymous sources and be able to get the truth in the news. The Bush administration would love nothing better than to stop all leaks about what the government is doing. Dangerous.

The Washington Post, that great so-attacked "liberal newspaper" which supported the Iraq war for the most part on the editorial page, canceled Ted Rall's left-leaning political cartoon today because it "drew a significant amount of negative comment from . . . users," according to Washington Post Executive Editor Doug Feaver.

Washington Post Drops Ted Rall's Cartoons

As usual, critics on the right go with ideology and talking points. Not well researched facts. But they pound it until news management gives in. This is what the left is now trying to fight in politics and the media. WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 18, 2004 6:57 PM | Permalink

Glynn, that is one of the most incorrect knee-jerk responses I have seen.

Of your list, only Hitler was a totalitarian, and he was both a rightist and a leftist, with many socialist aspects of his government (NAZI - National SOCIALIST Party).

Perhaps you should review the definition of the term totalitarian.

Even McCarthy was not a totalitarian. Neither was FDR although he imprisoned indefinitely many of our population in concentration camps. Abraham Lincoln was not a totalitarian even though he suspended the right of habeas corpus.

Stopping all leaks is not totalitarian. Furthermore, it doesn't bother me. Nowhere does the Constitution guarantee a right to leak. It will not be possible, however, to stop leaks.

The rest of your post is pathetically insulting. Critics on the right go with "ideology and talking points." We couldn't possibly have brains of our own, or check facts, could we? There are many on the left here, but few have as simpleminded and unnuanced a view of their right wing opposition.

As far as Ted Rall, I have seen things from him that are not just left wing, they are disgusting. I am glad to see him dropped. If he were merely left wing, I wouldn't care one way or the other.

Oh, and dropping him has nothing to do with totalitarianism. It has to do with the fact that lots of people found his work offensive.

Posted by: John Moore at November 18, 2004 7:52 PM | Permalink

You are technically right that leftist speech was supposed to be legal according to the letter of the law. Sadly, someone forgot to tell the FBI.



"COINTELPRO" was the FBI's secret program to undermine the popular upsurge which swept the country during the 1960s. Though the name stands for "Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies. The FBI set out to eliminate "radical" political opposition inside the US. When traditional modes of repression (exposure, blatant harassment, and prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency, and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally- protected political activity. Its methods ranged far beyond surveillance, and amounted to a domestic version of the covert action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout the world.


COINTELPRO was discovered in March, 1971, when secret files were removed from an FBI office and released to news media. Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits, and former agents' public confessions deepened the exposure until a major scandal loomed. To control the damage and re-establish government legitimacy in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, Congress and the courts compelled the FBI to reveal part of what it had done and to promise it would not do it again. Much of what has been learned, and copies of some of the actual documents, can be found in the readings listed at the back of this pamphlet.


The FBI secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes to "misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize "specific individuals and groups. Close coordination with local police and prosecutors was encouraged. Final authority rested with top FBI officials in Washington, who demanded assurance that "there is no possibility of embarrassment to the Bureau." More than 2000 individual actions were officially approved. The documents reveal three types of methods:
# 1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main function was to discredit and disrupt. Various means to this end are analyzed below.
# 2. Other forms of deception: The FBI and police also waged psychological warfare from the outside--through bogus publications, forged correspondence, anonymous letters and telephone calls, and similar forms of deceit.
# 3. Harassment, intimidation and violence: Eviction, job loss, break-ins, vandalism, grand jury subpoenas, false arrests, frame- ups, and physical violence were threatened, instigated or directly employed, in an effort to frighten activists and disrupt their movements. Government agents either concealed their involvement or fabricated a legal pretext. In the case of the Black and Native American movements, these assaults--including outright political assassinations--were so extensive and vicious that they amounted to terrorism on the part of the government.


The most intense operations were directed against the Black movement, particularly the Black Panther Party. This resulted from FBI and police racism, the Black community's lack of material resources for fighting back, and the tendency of the media--and whites in general--to ignore or tolerate attacks on Black groups. It also reflected government and corporate fear of the Black movement because of its militance, its broad domestic base and international support, and its historic role in galvanizing the entire Sixties' upsurge. Many other activists who organized against US intervention abroad or for racial, gender or class justice at home also came under covert attack. The targets were in no way limited to those who used physical force or took up arms. Martin Luther King, David Dellinger, Phillip Berrigan and other leading pacifists were high on the list, as were projects directly protected by the Bill of Rights, such as alternative newspapers.

The Black Panthers came under attack at a time when their work featured free food and health care and community control of schools and police, and when they carried guns only for deterrent and symbolic purposes. It was the terrorism of the FBI and police that eventually provoked the Panthers to retaliate with the armed actions that later were cited to justify their repression.

Ultimately the FBI disclosed six official counterintelligence programs: Communist Party-USA (1956-71); "Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto Rico" (1960-71); Socialist Workers Party (1961-71); "White Hate Groups" (1964-71); "Black Nationalist Hate Groups" (1967-71); and "New Left" (1968- 71).The latter operations hit anti-war, student, and feminist groups. The "Black Nationalist" caption actually encompassed Martin Luther King and most of the civil rights and Black Power movements. The "white hate" program functioned mainly as a cover for covert aid to the KKK and similar right-wing vigilantes, who were given funds and information, so long as they confined their attacks to COINTELPRO targets. FBI documents also reveal covert action against Native American, Chicano, Philippine, Arab- American, and other activists, apparently without formal Counterintelligence programs.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 18, 2004 8:38 PM | Permalink

Why is it that if there is a conservative leaning to a media outlet, they are suspect? Current events, read: Rather's fawning over fake documents, to historical, read: ignoring the evidence of communists in our government by the so-called unbiased press isn't on its face, suspect?

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 18, 2004 8:39 PM | Permalink

Maybe it has something to do with the right breaking the law? I guess that means you SUPPORT authoritarian gangsterism by our government...

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 18, 2004 8:45 PM | Permalink


Damn those right-wing proto-fascists: JFK and LBJ.


Posted by: Tim at November 18, 2004 8:55 PM | Permalink

Actually, we need a Right biased News org, to show what real bias would look like.
While Fox may be a bit on the right, it's far closer to the Center than CNN, MSNBC, BBC, etc.
Maybe Sinclair will be able to do this -- but their caving in to Leftist censorship pressure on the Stolen Honor documentary shows that they aren't Right, yet. (as documented here on Jay's PressThink)

Funny how Leftists, when they successfully censor something they don't want shown, refuse to accept that they're practicing censorship.

Objectivity is good. But bias posing as objectivity is very bad.
Honest bias is not so bad.

Why aren't there more actual debates on TV? I mean, it seems Crossfire type shows are more about gotcha moments and overshouting, rather than looking at the good and bad consequenses of alternative policies.

Two people can look at the same facts and label it differently, and draw different likely scenarios. Was the second week of Iraq fighting a "quagmire" -- pretty hard to maintain that fiction.
Is the current insurgency a quagmire? Meaning the insurgents will keep fighting, and killing, until America goes home (and lets the insurgents establish a Killing Fields based terror government). I don't think it's a quagmire, yet -- and in fact claim nobody can know until, at the earliest, after the Jan elections, or upon their cancellation.
Any talk of "obvious mess" (ie quagmire by different words) is, therefore, premature.

What seems to be lacking around many facts is the context of meaning for these facts. If you already have some belief about what the facts mean, they are usually analyzed to support that belief. This is the bad bias which the Leftist press is doing now.

If "objectivity" is real, it can be measured. Journalists seem unwilling to discuss concrete measures of objectivity, and then measure themselves.

I don't want the "objective" news I thought I was getting when growing up watching Viet body bags at dinner time. I want a set of "published facts" that both Pro and Anti Administration agree on, and then I want to see both stories of what these facts mean. Optimistic and Pessimistic estimates of the future. But maybe most stories aren't worth the effort?

[Jay remains objectively biased in failing to call for Kerry to sign Form 180]

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 18, 2004 9:26 PM | Permalink

BF that's BS

How do I know? Because the treatment of the Black Panthers is so hilariously wrong.

COINTELPRO was real. There were other related counter-intelligence programs by other agencies - I knew a guy who did it for the Army.

Every group you mention had demonstrated the capacity and tendency to violence. If they were around today, I'd want the FBI watching them. Disruption by the FBI is one way to reduce the danger, although I think some of COINTELPRO was illegal.

Other than that, your screed sounds like it came out of some doctrinaire leftist textbook. If that's the sort of stuff you are reading, no wonder you sound like an echo of the early '70s.

If you want to get a picture of the black panthers, read David Horowitz's work. He was a Jewish member of the Oakland Black Panthers (the central group). They were a bunch of gangsters from start to finish.

"Guns only for deterrent and symbolic purposes."


You only have to see one of these howlers to know you are reading propaganda. The other clue in this one is the over-emphasis on racism.

Do you have any idea why the FBI was doing this?

But thank you for a fine example of leftist propaganda. It's a lot less common these days.

Posted by: John Moore at November 18, 2004 9:30 PM | Permalink

If you are saying that Dan Rather and his fellow CBS Traveller's broke the law when they knowingly aired a false story, centering on bogus documents, I would agree. Please, let's not go to the left's favorite retort-- always something to do with a slippery slope. Besides, you really should examine the gansterism of the left-- affirmative action and political correctness.

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 18, 2004 9:55 PM | Permalink

There's Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence

Posted by: Tim at November 18, 2004 10:44 PM | Permalink

If you all can hit the pause button on the clichés for a moment, I'd like to recommend sides 5 and 6 of David Denby's Great Books -- In which he went back to Columbia to revisit the standard literary canon. I listened to it again on the way to NYC for a meeting on Friday. (If I were home, I'd haul out the print version and extract quotes.) In the session he does on Nietzsche he speaks not of objectivity, but of the pursuit of it. The desire. The intent.

Then he describes those who traipse along with the tribe -- whichever tribe of groupthink is at hand. Do commenters ever look in a mirror? They seem so convinced that they would deflate if someone else successfully made a point.

When I get home I'll dig 'em out, but it will be a few days.

Posted by: sbw at November 18, 2004 11:14 PM | Permalink

So John,

Show us a fact or a story you've read or a book or a link to something intelligent online, something besides this knee-jerk name calling. Who pays you to spend time online attacking journalists?

You might want to read some of my columns. My name below is a link to my Web site. You see I publish my thoughts where they can be judged. I don't waste my time attacking people of different persuasions in other people's comment sections on blogs.

The Yale historian C. Vann Woodard, who I met and interviewed in 1982, wrote that George Wallace's Alabama was a totalitarian state. I studied totalitarianism under college professors who got their graduate degrees studying under Kissinger and Brzezinski. In fact, I would put my education up against Condi Rice any day. And she's from my home town.

Speaking of Condi, here's an interesting story I just posted for Friday.

Bush Team Uses Orwellian Intel Theory: 'Perception Management'

Where do you get your information? From Fox News?

I think ad homonym attacks should be banned from any intelligent reader comments section. It does not lead to a productive discussion of the issues.

As for Ted Rall, he is a professional who has a right to speak. The Post has a right not to publish him, but dropping his column is a prime example of what I've been talking about since I started posting to Jay's site. Watch to see how the mainstream press continues its march on bended knee to the right in the face of the right-wing criticism and war and the mischaracterized "values votes."

Here's a cartoon page you might like. I contracted for these depictions of the press in response to one of the most important theoretical articles in an academic journal describing the models of the press as watchdog for the public, guard dog for the status quo, or lapdog to the rich and powerful.

I will leave it for readers to judge whether the press in America in the run up to war in Iraq and the coverage of this presidential falls into the later category.

Press Depictions in Editorial Cartoons

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 19, 2004 2:30 AM | Permalink

The literal meaning of political correctness is "How dare you suggest my actions should be guided by morality, ethics, or law!" I can see why you would be so disgusted by gangsterish notions like morality, ethics, and law.

Amen. Don't forget J. Edgar.

You scare me.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 2:30 AM | Permalink

If you actually read Nietzsche himself, you will be hard-pressed to find a single page of his work where he is in pursuit of objectivity. He spends most of his energy trying to explode the idea of objectivity as understood by Spencer and Kant. For Nietzsche, "objectivity" was the definition of group-think.

If the pursuit of objectivity is YOUR goal, I suggest you might have better luck elsewhere.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 2:39 AM | Permalink

Warren Celli, supported by Ben and Carol: Who then will fund this more realistic (liberal) journalism espousing the viewpoints of the have nots?

Please look at this cartoon, B. C. by Johnny Hart.

Warren Celli: Certainly not the haves, as it would undermine their wealth and status; and of course not the have nots, as they simply can not afford it.

The first assumption is that publishers who want a credible publication do this. The second assumption is that the gambit would work. The third assumption is that simple distinctions as have/have not are the distinctions that need to be made. The fourth assumption is that have nots have no coverage. The fifth assumption is that they can't get it.

We attempted the question this assumption into the dustbin of history and, each time questions shot it down, it kept mutating. As the cartoon demonstrates, people are unwilling to face up to "the truth" -- which, going back to my reference earlier to David Denby's Great Books, isn't scientific truth, but a metaphysical truth which is more like a plausible, useful probability. [BTW Ben, I didn't demand ultimate "objectivity", I encouraged continuous improvement.]

To sum up: As a publisher, I don't tell may newsroom from which point of view (POV:"the haves") to write -- the staff would walk and the readers would walk. Commenters metamorphosed to suggest that the publisher didn't HAVE to suggest, but silently intimidate and the staff would fear losing their jobs. Further pursued, commenters intimated the publisher didn't even have to intimidate, because the staff would presume an atmosphere that demanded a lemming-like obedience to write from the POV. Denby, shredded this view using the example of academic job-seekers at a Columbia conference on Nietzsche.

Colin Miner sensibly suggested questions that have more traction: it would be nice to see less discussion of a "partisan" press and more discussion of a press that does its job.

The world is welcome to media with a point of view as a luxury no different from supermarket tabloids and gossip columnists. What the world cannot afford is graduating students who cannot think for themselves and who cannot recognize that luxury for what it is. Fortunately, the kidneystone teachers -- the rudderless, "Me" generation of teachers who taught simply to escape serving in Vietnam -- are retiring, leaving us with a better generation of teachers armed with better metaphors and better reasons for defending themselves against media claptrap.

Posted by: sbw at November 19, 2004 7:35 AM | Permalink

Boehlert: Do you think the attack on the press is a way to eliminate a national point of reference on facts?

Suskind: Absolutely! That's the whole idea, to somehow sweep away the community of honest brokers in America -- both Republicans and Democrats and members of the mainstream press -- sweep them away so we'll be left with a culture and public dialogue based on assertion rather than authenticity, on claim rather than fact. Because when you arrive at that place, then all you have to rely on is perception. And perception as the handmaiden of forceful executed power is the great combination that we're seeing now in the American polity.

So what are you left with? Perception and, increasingly, faith. Think about faith. Try to anchor that in the traditional public dialogue of informed consent in America, which has in large measure at least been based on discernible reality and on facts that can be proven -- not only facts coming out of the government but facts people feel in their own lives.

--From Eric Boehlert's Salon interview with Ron Suskind

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 8:27 AM | Permalink

Jay, if you want to defend society against the misues of rhetoric (either as alleged by Suskind or contained in Suskind) do you approach changing media or changing education?

I am again reminded of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" where Brian implores the crowd following him to "Think for yourselves!" -- after which the crowd grabs the cliché and chants, "Think for ourselves! Think for ourselves!"

Posted by: sbw at November 19, 2004 8:53 AM | Permalink

The disdain for the consumer, and the paternalistic view of the audience. Hmmm. I can think of two "professions" that have had to deal with losing those attitudes. One is medicine, the other personal finance. Interestingly, both were brought into sharper focus for consumers by media, who helped by publishing pages upon pages of useful, important, empowering information that regular people could use.

I can now think of two other groups of "professionals" that eschew that kind of transparency and want to hold onto the "us about them" stance, and treat consumers are people who need to be kept at arm's length:

Teachers and journalists

Funny that both education and journalism are under attack for being calcified, unable to reform, etc.

Posted by: JennyD at November 19, 2004 9:07 AM | Permalink

And perception as the handmaiden of forceful executed power is the great combination that we're seeing now in the American polity.

Now? Not just now. Politics is the art of perception, otherwise what is being persuaded?

"informed consent", "discernible reality" are perceptions.

"facts that can be proven" - facts need to be proven? Verified? Validated? Empirical repeatability as a check on press objectivity?

Posted by: Tim at November 19, 2004 10:04 AM | Permalink

I didn't say "ultimate objectivity", I said, if you are interested in the "pursuit of objectivity," you'll do better looking elsewhere.
That was not Nietzsche's pursuit.

Leo Strauss and his students and their students (including Wolfowitz) learned important lessons from Nietzsche along this line. The pursuit of objectivity was not one of those lessons.

Such as the idea that institutionalizing and funding a point of view can ultimately be every bit as important as whether it is correct or not. Without the funding, the latter is ultimately irrelevant because no one will know about it. Without the institutionalizing, it will never be put into practice. The pretense of objectivity no doubt matters. As a marketing tool, more often than not.

You clearly have deep, unbiased insight into the culture wars with cracks like "the rudderless 'Me' generation who taught simply to avoid serving in Vietnam." You stand with the Straussian Alan Bloom that the 60s are the root of all present day evil in education and hence society and imagine you are impartial! LOL LMAO

"Thanks for the memories," as Bob Hope would say.

I would say the "Me" generation was more accurately represented by Wall Street Brokers led by chicken hawk leaders who act AS IF they served in Vietnam because they are such cheerleaders for Vietnam and revisionism about what happened there, but whose privileged family wealth kept them in school for five deferments or until children were magically conceived days after other deferments expired (read Dick Cheney) and who waited until Vietnam was safely avoided before starting their careers as chicken hawk class warriors.

With attitudes like yours, do you really think your journalists need any more explicit guidance about where you "objectively" stand on the culture war or party loyalty? To put it kindly, you are absolutely dreaming if you think your employees don't know whose side you're on. All the evidence I've seen so far suggests the problem is YOUR education. And taking a pseudo-intellectual stand-up comic like Alan Bloom seriously.

To connect more directly with Jay's argument for taking a stand AND telling the truth, it isn't your claim that it is a pursuit of objectivity to promote Alan Bloom's version of the culture wars that makes you wrong. It is the fact that you and Alan Bloom are WRONG, that makes you wrong.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 10:45 AM | Permalink

Aha! Faith

Now we're getting somewhere.

Knowledge based on faith, otherwise defined as tenacity, may be the oldest "way of knowing." Red state America wants us all headed back there.

Forget logic, empiricism, science, objective knowledge . . . Let's base what we know about the world on a what a preacher says is the literal interpretation of a 2,000 year-old book of myths. Now that's a way to create a better heaven, uh, earth.

A Faustian Bargain and The Day Liberty Perished

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 19, 2004 10:49 AM | Permalink

Ben and Others:

Please give me your considered opinion of the Los Angeles Police Department?

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 19, 2004 11:04 AM | Permalink

Why do you ask?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 11:13 AM | Permalink

Or do you?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 11:14 AM | Permalink

It's like two great machines racing across the horizon. I think the Bush machine, with its support from the powers of the executive, is a machine that's hard to beat. Having said that, I think the Kerry machine is certainly the most forceful, energetic and well-running machine the Democrats have ever created. (emphasis mine)

Interesting to read that again after Newsweek's post-election article: "Viewed close in, the Kerry campaign was even more unwieldy and clumsy than it appeared in plain view."


The "faith-based" versus "reality-based" is a false narrative. It seems to be a meme that sells well, so I expect it will become CW and internalized. Too bad.

Here's where Suskind could have, and should have, developed as his thesis: "Every president, [Roger Porter] says, wants his administration to stay on message. The difference here is that other presidents have allowed top officials, experts, men who run parts of the government to be involved in writing the song sheet. This president decided very early on that this was not going to happen. [But if] the president does not hear a wide array of alternatives, that can create significant dangers and bad outcomes."

This is where Suskind needed more facts. More facts about the debates and disagreements that took place. Supposedly, Bush encourages such adversarial discussions and then expects loyalty once a decision is made. It is not a course based on pre-conceived, or pre-ordained, decisions. If anything, the Bush administration is accused of not flitting fast enough from one discernible reality to the next in accordance with the 24/7 news cycle. Rather than following in the wake of reality, the Bush administration stubbornly works to thrash reality in an effort to persevere in creating a different one - based on what Suskind pessimistically, and dismissively, calls faith and Glynn calls, oddly, tenacity.

It will be interesting to see who the Democrats nominate base on thier "belief", their "faith" in that candidate's "electability" or other some such "reality-based" characteristic.

Posted by: Tim at November 19, 2004 12:50 PM | Permalink

Misues of rhetoric by Suskind, sbw?

I think you don't want to grapple with the consequences of what he says, so you have persuaded yourself that his article can be dismissed. I haven't found any of the reasons you have given in other threads convincing at all, but maybe you have other reasons that do make more sense.

If I were in the White House, it's the one article from campaign 2004 I would be worried about, because if it's accurate, its truths will only enlarge themselves as time moves on.

In it, Suskind is primarily making a factual case, not a rhetorical manuever. He's saying: this is what people who supported the war have been telling me: the force exerted on policy by the reality principle has changed under Bush.

And though very few Republicans or Bush supporters seem to realize it, (including all who comment here) it's a case that other W.H. supporters, particularly in the military, are trying to bring to the attention of friends of Bush, by becoming sources for Suskind's article. This is Bush team to Bush team communication that takes place "through" the New York Times.

But the effects of that article have been limited because the sources were not on the record. What has to worry the W.H. people is whether that will change.

Just so you know where I am coming from, I believe that the famous paragraph about "you journalists in the the reality-based community," which lends itself effortlessly to parody and slack-jawed disbelief, is essentially on target. The Bush adviser who was speaking off-the-record was reflecting a view prevalent in the White House and consistent with other moves that White House has made.

But I also recognize that the situation is complicated because the Bush crowd is full of idealists, people with a vision of a changed world, who are political innovators. They want to shift the horizon. Naturally, they are not going to accept certain "realities" as givens, as "hard" facts because they want to change those facts; and they recognize, properly, that every entrenched interest in history thought it's way was the only way that's in accord with "reality." This is what I learned from Tim. Thanks for the insight.

And I further believe--not that I can prove it, that's the beauty of the whole thing--that it's just this complication that rationalizes and coats over the disturbing changes Suskind tried to document. It was a great try-- the one heroic act by the press in 2004. He did the best he could. Ultimately, however, I believe his article will fail, and reality-based advice will continue to be downgraded under Bush. The people who give it will be seen as threats, unless their counsel is harmless to the project, in which case they are pets.

But I am willing to submit my guesswork (that's all it is, really) to a test. If I am right about the Suskind article, then at some point in the next two years open warfare will break out, in the military and elsewhere, between those who, sharing the mission's goals, essentially stand as the reality-based community within the Bush coalition itself, the "journalists," if you will, within the war effort, within the Republican party, locked in conflict with others in the coalition, sharing the same goals, who find it far easier to bend and adjust their sense of the real to meet the mission as it curves upward from "idea" to new reality.

The pole of conflict, then, will not be between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat or hawk and dove... but between "hard" views of reality--what the facts on the ground say-- and "soft" views, where there are more options available to policy makers than recognizing the real.

Needless to say, the same imperatives that make it necessary to discredit and attack the liberal media will be visited on the reality-based Republicans, if they dare to emerge. To me the wild card is the military, and the thinking soldiers and soldiering intellectuals connected to it. This conflict is heading straight at them like a train.

Of course if I am wrong--and you obviously think I am, Stephen--then there's nothing to worry about. So tell me again, sbw, what is the fatal flaw in Suskind's article that makes you so certain that it's wrong and we can forget about it? Because to be perfectly real about it, I am astonished that you can be so sure it's bunk.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 1:25 PM | Permalink

This is what I learned from Tim. Thanks for the insight.

I'm honored, I think. This will be my last post at PressThink.

I've learned more than I've offered. That alone has been an important lesson.

Thank you for having, and keeping, a comment section Jay.

Posted by: Tim at November 19, 2004 2:55 PM | Permalink

Don't you think it is odd that the "reality-based community" championed by Suskind is based on a quote by an "unnamed source"? Who is this source? How do we know his/her quote hasn't been Dowdified? Would the "unnamed source" defend or define his/her quote if allowed? How do we know that Suskind hasn't just made up this quote? We don't. Isn't it ironic that the "reality-based community" is based on a quote by an "unnamed source"?

Posted by: paladin at November 19, 2004 3:29 PM | Permalink

Sure, it's odd-- ironic, we might say. But then every time someone calls the Bush crowd "conservative," it's ironic.

How do we know Suskind didn't make it up? We don't know, paladin. That's why I said: "But the effects of that article have been limited because the sources were not on the record."

I believe the source exists; and that he said what he said. I believe what he said is a true reflection of thinking in the Bush White House. You might even say I have "faith" in the story. Odd, huh?

Suskind did the best he could. Did he "nail" it? No, he didn't. That's just one reason I believe the reality-based Republicans and warriors will lose.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 3:41 PM | Permalink


Since it means so much to you, my information sources are detailed in the comments section on the previous.

And apparently you didn't bother to check and find that my blog is linked on all of my comments.

Tim, you will be missed.

This reality based vs the white house is a darned silly way to look at things, and as a model leads to incorrect, but pleasantly arrogant conclusions. I'm sure, given enough time,people can construct edifices of fantasy on this theory and then turn them into books that some poor students will have to swallow and regurgitate.

As far as a liberal news network, you already have several. NPR, for example, is a paragon of leftist bias. The big networks are less pure in it, but the reflex is always there. Then we have... what is it.... the ironically named Air America.

Posted by: John Moore at November 19, 2004 3:45 PM | Permalink

As much as we have aggravated one another over the last year, I have learned from you as well. I hope the feeling was mutual. Here's wishing you the best.

I grant the point that Republicans trying to change the world must naturally reject the status quo. But do we really want to call a policy that has variously justified torture, hidden prisoners, rationalized "renditions" of prisoners to foreign governments for torture, commited a war of aggression classified as a crime against humanity when perpetrated by Germany and Japan, and most lately, set up rules of engagement in Faloujah that include "weapons-free zones" where troops are under orders to shoot anything that moves--do we really want to call a policy that requires these kinds of acts for its implementation idealistic?

The Project for a New American Century avoids any mention of universal human rights.
In Straussian fashion, these are now the unique possession of the West we are duty bound to impose on the rest of the world, by force if necessary. Thus the Weekly Standard's deep nostalgia for British Empire through the late 90s and early 2000s (and like so much Bush Republican foreign policy it again requires the active forgetting of colonial atrocities).
Their highest goal is unchallenged US strategic supremacy. That is a Hobbesian goal, not an idealistic goal. In this context, "democracy" becomes a mantra that allows Bush Republicans (and you rightly emphasize there are many other kinds) to imagine colonial slaughter, plunder, and abuse is a selfless humanitarian act.

Liberation by colonial occupation is an oxymoron. It should be recognized as such. Doesn't conceding idealism as the root of the foreign policy for an administration that so actively jumps through hoops to rationalize war crimes confuse more that it clarifies?

By this standard, Emperor Hirohito and Ishiwara Kanji were idealists in Manchukuo. Lyndon Johnson and General Westmoreland were idealists in Vietnam. They all sought "national liberation" by colonial occupation. And all of these people shared a problem with Wolfowitz, the small detail that at no point does this "ideal" have traction with any of the forces that could conceivably make it a reality: the Manchurians, the Vietnamese, or the Iraqis.

The difference between idealism and psychosis is the reality principle. Let's try to hang on to it in our discussions of foreign policy.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 3:56 PM | Permalink

Tim: Sometimes people return after they leave for good. I myself have done that online. But if you are leaving as a commentator here, then allow me a moment to thank you for all the thought, argument, and linkage you have poured into this site's discussion threads. It has enriched the blog many times over.

Jay Rosen

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 4:02 PM | Permalink

Blind Two-Sidedness

Journalists should learn to think more like scientists. In many ways, they already do.

Journalists (at least some of them) are skeptical, and know that truth is always tentative. They are open to alternative explanations, and know that replication is good. This is most often manifest in documenting stories and corroborating sources.

They know that they are more solid ground relying on empirical, testable results rather than tenacity, faith or folklore, although the truth is more relative than absolute.

Journalists also naturally operate on the basis of parsimony, preferring simpler explanations. Scientists too say the best theory explains the most with the least.

Philip Meyer and The New Precision Journalism marks a milestone in this thinking, but it is preceded by several works including the Field Guide for Science Writers, a result of studies by the so-called Rutgers Group and the National Association of Science Writers, as well as Victor Cohn's News and Numbers, and several works in the area of risk communication. It is preceded by works like Reporting on Risks by Jim Willis, and others.

Cohn simply explains what statistics teachers try and teach, that there are six basic concepts that apply to all science and all knowledge.

To learn more, here's the entire essay and list.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 19, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink

Tim -

Gee, I hope my comments re O&Os didn't make you leave. While I wholeheartedly disagree with most of your opinions, I will miss the sharpness of your wit. Keep those students hopping.


Posted by: fatbear at November 19, 2004 4:18 PM | Permalink

Pictures of Fallujah your media apparently doesn't want you to see:

Why have we had a near total US media blackout on photographic or video coverage of fighting in Iraq? The briefest trip to any other country on earth presents a dramatically different, horrifically ugly war that Americans almost NEVER see. Glimpses of the carnage occasionally find their way into foreign-produced PBS specials or Free Speech Network coverage on satellite.

Who made this policy? Why is it universally conformed to by major US media? Is it tacit or explicit? Anybody know?

It IS clearly everything the administration hoped for. Why is NOT delivering the visual news of Iraq effective throughout the US's major media system? We know it's not a question of capability because the media systems of every other nation on earth are broadcasting these pictures. Have the US media confused supporting the administration with fighting terror? Are they patriots? Spineless cowards? Cynical corporations that don't want controversy and Republican complaints of bias for reporting the consequences of the Bush administration's actions?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 4:36 PM | Permalink

Ben: I think it's the Right that has had to teach the Left that idealists can be very dangerous.

John Moore: Apparently you quarrel with Suskind's article. If you're right, and it's all bunk--a conclusion you arrived at deductively, I believe--there's nothing to worry about. We have here just a crazy confabulation by a professor, although I have to say I am touched by your concern for NYU students, who might have to endure my beating them over the head with crackpot theories (nay, liberal crackpot theories) that are really no better than fairy tells for explaining the world.

But I don't think you get it, yet. Bush and his believers won. Your side got its W. It's not about the press, or the Democratic party, or liberal intellectuals or anyone on the "other side" anymore. All that opposition is impotent, confused and irrelevant to the execution of the Bush agenda, at least for the next two years. There may be opposition coming, but it will not be from those sorry and defeated forces.

Sure, you gotta keep hammering "the liberals" because the Culture War plays well on the radio and keeps the direct mail funds coming, but no one--including you--sees liberals as a serious impediment to Bush.

(I just turned down an invitation to go on Paula Zahn with David Horowitz: the topic, "liberal bias" on university faculties. Like I said, the Culture War must go on. Looks like my institution is next.)

There are three sources of meaningful political opposition: 1.) agonies and conflicts within Bush himself, but he's no Hamlet so I wouldn't count on that; 2.) dissaffected forces in the Republican Party and pro-war coalition ; or 3.) reality bites back.

Suskind's article is about the possibility of eliminating that third opponent, and going faith-based. I think it's basically working, and that is why I focus on 2.) those within the Bush coaltion who may object.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 4:40 PM | Permalink

I believe you would find that it isn't "good taste." The same reason given for not showing the beheadings of Americans and others. Why the rest of the world can tolerate it and we can't is a mystery.

Posted by: John Moore at November 19, 2004 4:43 PM | Permalink


Obviiously, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH," to quote Jack Nicholson : )

That's what we're trying to deal with here.

BTW: Your link doesn't work, sorry.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 19, 2004 4:49 PM | Permalink


I'm sorry you turned down the invitation. It would have been interesting.

There has been dissent within conservatives over Bush's actions. Some paleo-cons were against Iraq. No doubt they will continue to grumle.

I do expect liberal opposition to be significant. When Supreme Court nominees are named, I fully expect ranting and viciousness along the lines we saw with Bork and Thomas, and that can be effective. While conservatives more or less control the government, the left controls almost all other opinion forming parts of society, from public schools through the humanities departments of universities (the later is the heart of Horowitz's crusade).

The liberals have the biggest megaphone: the MSM.

As far as the "pro war" coalition, it is conditional. Iraq was thought to be a danger, and according to Daniel Kay, was in fact a danger, although in a different form from what was expected. Afghanistan was a no brainer - did anyone oppose that one?

The Bush view is not a pro-war view. It is a view that the most critical threat to us is terrorists with WMDs, especially a nuclear explosive WND.

That view comes from logical extrapolation of existing actions by terrorists (and their statements). The old model of terrorism was that they had political goals best met by a high publicity, low casualty event. Al Qaeda showed that to not be true when they tried to kill everyone in the WTC towers in 1993, a warning that was ignored until 9-11.

This forces a strategic shift from the pleasant time of the '90s where there were no huge foreign policy challenges, and we could even use our troops for Kosovo, not a critical US interest.

Because it is not practical to put an impermeable nuclear weapons screen around the US, the only hope of stopping this kind of terrorist attack is by pre-emption - of the terrorists, and of potential suppliers of the technology. War may not be required to achieve pre-emption, but it may be required. Obviously the neocon idea is democratization. Hopefully it will work.

As far as I know, that is where the thoughts of war come from in the Bush administration. Would we like to liberate Iran? Sure. Are we able to do so without a gigantic mess? Who knows... it would appear to be quite tricky.

As for Iraq, I am pretty confident that it will settle down and we won't have to stay there forever.

You mention Culture War. That is a real concern of mine and other folks. The Pentagon decision on the Boy Scouts was a loss in that, one that is not going down well. While you imply that Culture War is a fund raising trick, it's very real, and the number of people concerned about it is very large. It is a complex struggle, but it has been going on a long time and will even longer.

I would like to see more agreement on foreign policy. It seems like the Vietnam War has left us forever split. I still have trouble understanding why the leftists would have preferred that we left a vicious, fascist regime, which would have been proliferating WMDs, in Iraq.

There are terrible threats that still face us. Most people don't realize that our and Russian nuclear forces are on the same state of alert that they maintained at the peak of the cold war, and that in the '90s, Yeltsin had the football with only 3 minutes to decide whether to launch a nuclear war.

There are a number of countries proliferating nuclear weapons technology - especially China which has give out complete blueprints (literally) of nuclear devices. One of our victories since 9-11 was to break up the A Q Khan network, which was the conduit for this information. But the fact that China is proliferating should tell us that they are dangerous, and we cannot attack them because they already have nuclear deterrence.

Then there's the impact of Muslim immigration on Europe, and how it may drive them away from us.

This is the stuff I look at. The great big dangers, and the possible ways of ending those. The Bush administration is also looking at this, and trying to figure out how to deal with.

Posted by: John Moore at November 19, 2004 5:13 PM | Permalink


Link should work now.

Posted by: John Moore at November 19, 2004 5:14 PM | Permalink

I guess I'm left of the liberal left since I wasn't impressed with the humanitarian aspects of "nation-building" under Clinton (or Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter).
My critique of US "idealism" would probably start with the Indian Wars. We have foreign colonization as liberation already with the Philippine-American War.

And similarly, much opposition to "idealistic" colonization seems to come from racist sources. The Democrats said we should forget about the Philippines because they could never become a full-fledged state of the union with similar political institutions. But Teddy Roosevelt and the Republicans were "idealists" so we had to fight a fourteen year guerilla war against the Filipinos for their "liberation." US forces called that an "insurgency" also. I highly recommend Mark Twain's "A Defence of General Funston" and "To a Person Sitting in Darkness" for a little clarity on this sort of Republican idealism.

Much of the pessmism on Iraq coming from realists in the Pentagon you just referenced is reportedly grounded in Samuel Huntington's racist theories of insuperable religious and civilizational difference between the West and Islam which figures importantly at the war colleges. It's depressing how little things change in 105 years.

Wars generally aren't in good taste. That is one of their foremost drawbacks. The fact is, the rest of the world can't handle it either. That's why 80-90% of the population of every other country on earth opposes our brutal, unilateral Iraq policy (a little lower in Britain, 59%). Surely this is yet another opening for a US media institution that wished to take a position and tell the truth at the same time. How long until that might happen, I wonder?

Britain doesn't have the same blackout we do, but I have the impression they don't see many pictures either.

Support for Iraq war falling in Britain

LONDON: Opposition to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Iraq policy has risen among British voters, with almost half — 48 percent — now believing that the war was unjustified, according to a poll published on Tuesday. Support for the conflict among Britons fell from 53 percent in January to 41 percent, said the ICM survey for the left-wing Guardian newspaper. After the bloodiest month of fighting in Iraq since last year’s invasion by the US-led coalition, more than two-thirds of Britons had little or no confidence in the United States’ handling of the deteriorating security situation. —AFP

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 5:32 PM | Permalink

Does this mean you concede that the hundreds of billions we've spent on missile defense since Reagan have been poured down a rathole called the defense industry? Or simply that such a system (which still can't meet the most rudimentary benchmarks and will be deployed in spite of testing that says it doesn't work) won't be impermeable?

Why wouldn't this be yet another example of how Bush's foreign policy strategy is grounded in faith rather than reality? Or is it grounded in contractor-based economic and political reality at the expense of military reality? How do you read this one?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 19, 2004 5:44 PM | Permalink

Democracy Teeters on See-Saw

OK John,

Looked at your site now that the link works.

Freedom to publish it sweet under the First Amendment, no?

But from a journalist and academic point of view, it is only "obvious" that the MSM tried to unseat Bush if you are so far to the right that a few minor stabs at objectivity constitute liberalism.

We call this cognitive dissonance.

The conservative public has turned to Fox because what constitutes the center is so far to the right of what it used to be.

Can you see the entire press care jump to the right and give the Heil Hitler every time you slam them? Here's to slamming back, trying to keep the see-saw of American democracy balanced somewhere near the center before it teeters off a cliff.

Cheers to all on this Thanksgiving weekend. I hear the sun is shining on the golden leaves in New York. Here's, it's November rain.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 19, 2004 6:11 PM | Permalink

For those who may want to review it: Here is Ron Suskind's article, Without a Doubt.

You still don't get it, John. Bush can handle opposition of the "we disagree with your policy" kind. That some isolationists may object to the mission in Iraq is meaningless; and not what I meant.

By opposition I meant opposition from within the coalition not to Bush policy but to Bush reality. Try to wrap your mind around that, John. So "opposition" in the sense I mean is when the White House says we have trained and certified as good to go 250,000 Iraqi policemen and soldiers... but an officer responsible for the training itself speaks up and says: it's 20,000 at most. (I made this example up.)

Where is reality, then? What is duty to country, then?

Again, maybe I am completely wrong, but I see many moments like that ahead for the people who support Bush, and who support the mission in Iraq. I am extremely surprised that, being ex-military, John, you aren't more concerned, or just curious about what will happen when these tensions burst open-- among "friends," as it were.

In any event, you don't get it yet because you're used to the easy game of discrediting the liberal this, and discrediting the liberal that... Wake up, John. It's your own people that are going to be next in that derby. Meanwhile, Horowitz and some incautious professor are going to be arguing on TV so we can have our culture war.

My advice: keep your eye on cracks in the coalition over this strange issue of reality recognition. I wonder what the faculty at a place like the Army War College thinks about the Suskind article. And I may try to find out. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 19, 2004 6:11 PM | Permalink

You and I do agree-- the self censoring by the media, not showing graphic images from Iraq, the Twin Towers crumbling, the dead child on a street corner makes the violence tolerable. Too many of our citizens believe what they read, see and hear at the movies, novels, or talk radio. The Street is too real and as journalists we are failing them.

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 19, 2004 9:56 PM | Permalink

"An issue here: once a blogger/standalone journalist becomes co-opted by a printed publication, the blog tends to lose the "edge" and political acuity it once had. Why is that?"

Carol: an interesting question and one that is central to the discussion about whether or not funding affects one's viewpoints. Short answer; it is similar to a big company buying a smaller company to control/eliminate competition (differing viewpoint in the case of a blog). Dynamic: Once you sell out and 'buy the big house' you have to keep making those mortage payments to support the new lifestyle and prestige that goes along with it -- makes the seller a little more pliable and less on the "edge". A rung up on the big American ladder of crumbs is often followed by a proportional viewpoint change:-)

Look for a lot more of this in the near future -- see this Wired article;,1284,65748,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_3

Jay, like you I thought the military might be a wild card in the illusion vs. reality debates, but no longer see it happening. The illusion has gone on too long and we are now faced with a tremendous 'legacy of ignorance' problem. The name of the game is -- and has been -- divide and conquer. The just past election was what I call Duopoly Theatre and no different than wrestling. I marvel at how the fans were so docile and accepting of the Kerry rollover.
One has to actually go to a WWF wrestling match -- sit in the cheap seats and observe carefully the sincerity of the belief of the older women patrons -- to actually grasp the depth of the head f----d condition of the American psyche today. Then think; NASCAR, baby Jesus, football, Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, etc. -- sheesh -- frightening! Summary: We are no longer capable of mounting a Vietnam era type "reality" protest in the streets (those that were/are intellectually and emotionally capable are still struggling from lowered IQs' from Miami, Seattle, etc.).

Nor will rational discourse with the disaffected Bush conservatives be able to stem the tide of this faith based illusion (your number 2 above), they have long ago missed their window of opportunity. Bush is right now consolidating his neocon, empire bent, group of gangsters, and the media just keeps on nodding and drooling.

The '"reality" -- and you are correct, the reality does not match the illusions they have created -- for America this time I am afraid will come from without. Notice the 'coalitions' being made in OPPOSITION to US policy, especially the unheard lovefest of Russia, China and India.
Yes its scary, I hope I am wrong.

Interesting thread, thanks!

Posted by: Warren Celli at November 19, 2004 11:40 PM | Permalink

Those of us Vietnam veterans trying to get out anti-Kerry messages ran front-on into the ABB media iron curtain. It is an objective fact that the MSM mishandled the first Swifty press conference, when you consider that the Swifties, whom nobody had hear of, went on to be a major factor. It is a fact that the MSM characterized the SBB as part of a Republican political machine.

Here is a challenge: explain why the following is not indicative of strong ABB bias in the MSM:
1) 1992 - War hero George HW Bush ran against drraft dodger Clinton.Very little press coverage of Clinton's dodging and less of Bush's war exploits.
2) 1996 - War hero Dole runs against same draft dodger. Litte interest.
3) 2000 - Vietnam Vet Gore vs. National Guard Bush. Some flapping about the TANG service.
4) 2004 - Vietnam Vet Kerry vs TANG pilot Bush. A howling mob of reporters goes after every detail of Bush's service, in the process allowing false negative stories about Bush to spread. And yet
no investigation of Kerry's past except Michael Kranish, the same "reality based' Globe reporter who published, and didn't correct the falsehood that Kerry got an Honorable Dischargge in 1970. Charges by 60 co-combatants of Kerry that he fraudulently obtained medals were ignored until it was no longer possible, and then they were pronounced false by changing standards favorable to Kerry. No demand that Kerry sign the form 180 that would have released the paperwork, and no reporting that he had refused to do so when other veterans ask.

That is one example of extreme MSM ABB bias.

It isn't imagination or the ravings of the far right. I won't give the the more eggregious examples, because Jay has seen them already.

Your use of Heil Hitler is gratuitous and insulting. Surely by now you know that appealing to Nazi themes is a long standing internet characteristic of losing arguments.

I came here to try to understand how this profession thought (or at least theorized) and how it could have a consistent liberal bias. I have learned a lot.

If I am far right, then so is half of the country, which makes your concept of far right decalibrated. I have been a conservative a long time. I remember when Limbaugh first appeared, and what a breath of fresh air he was. Before that, I was watching the MSM get the stories wrong on almost all of Reagan's foreign policies.

Jay, perhaps I don't get it - seriously . All this talk of reality is a bit weird, since I don't know of anyone but abstract theorists who are not dealing with reality as their inputs provide it.

I expect various little grumbles in the coalition. Hardly a surprise. But what is new here? What administration has not had those? What is different about the Bush administration other than its laudable shortage of leaks?

So far, the administration seems to be more connected to reality than the MSM, although it will be interesting now that the MSM doesn't have an election to try and force.

You ask: what is duty to country. That one is easy if unsatiisfying: it is following lawful orders of your superiors. That's how our civilian controlled military works.

Now if some whistelblowing needs to be done, so be it. Big systems like this grow large and small tumors - one of the things that keeps journalists in business.

A question I have is whether it is necessary for the MSM to be so hostile to the Bush Administration and its policies. Is it organizational genetics? Is it the MSM's natural bias against conservativves? It seem to go beyond any normal watchdog function.

I hope the case of the Marine who shot an unarmed combatant in Fallujah doesn't become a giant media show.

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 12:11 AM | Permalink

I agree with you. I think being protected from graphic images of reality presents a false reality - at least a false emotional reality to out public.

We need to see what we are up against. Contrary to the video footage, the people that fell from the WTC really did hit the ground. Why don't we see that? There are many other examples.

I have a reason for wanting folks to see that: reality shock. If someone is making our citizens jump 1000 feet, we should show our public the final outcome of that.

As for feeding violent prurient interests, I don't think that's an issue because I suspect that every bit of that video is available on the internet for the use of the sickos.

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 12:15 AM | Permalink


The missile defense system was never meant to be impermeable. In a mutual assured destruction situation, a partly effective missile defense is stabiliziing, because it makes the results of a first strike unreliable.

The system now being deployed was essentially a Clinton cave-in to the complaint that we didn't have one. Other countries take it's probability of success quite seriously and hence objected to it.

Against a Korean attack, if they didn't have good decoy technology (and they probably won't), it is likely to work after some more tuning. The best modification would be to put the neutron bombs (ERW) back on it like we had in the '70s. Then it could be impermeable to the Koreans, but not China.

The Russians have an operational nuclear tipped ABM system around Moscow, and have had it for ages.

As far as tests, a test may be a success even if there is a miss. It depends on what they are testing. I think that without nuke warheads, the system will never be a reliable defense.

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 12:29 AM | Permalink

Jay, what is the reality, today, of Iraq elections in Jan. 2005?
There IS no reality, no "facts". But some event is very likely to occur in Jan., in Iraq -- and what actually occurs THEN, is partially based on what people BELIEVE, today, will occur THEN.

How well an election the Sunnis actually do have is partly based on the "reality" of today, 250 k or 20 k of good Iraqi forces. (An excellent example, I think, of what you mean.)

I think the "reality based" liberal folk are in big trouble. The facts of 5.4 or 5.5 unemployment are pretty good, as compared to other G-8 countries.
The fact of the Afghan election is very good.
The fact of Afghan poppy production increases shows how "productive" peace" can be, including the negative issues of an increase in drug production.

The fact that the Red Cross says that "both sides" are being terrible in Falluja, and therefore implies they are morally equivalent, is a bad fact. If democracy is to succeed, we need to have some standards, and the Leftist critique of Bush has unfair standards.

The Red Cross is supporting terrorists, in fact, despite claiming to want to "bring them to justice". Because justice enforcement is not free, is done by fallible humans, and any human system WILL have mistakes, like Abu Ghraib, or innocent Iraqis killed. Unreal Perfection is not an option; not really.

But a Bush pushed democratization of the Mid East could be successful, could become a reality. I hope so.

Is your purpose to help Bush's good goals? To warn him so as to reduce costs? Or to oppose him, and to support his enemies so that the costs are higher -- so high, in future fact, that he fails?
(His failure thus proving his critics right, and condemning the ME people to more dictatorship and oppression.) I'm really, really, annoyed at the lack of constructive criticism, at a "loyal opposition", by the Left.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 20, 2004 1:05 AM | Permalink

Now we're getting somewhere:

But some event is very likely to occur in Jan., in Iraq -- and what actually occurs THEN, is partially based on what people BELIEVE, today, will occur THEN.

I agree with you completely, Tom. And I think this is one step along the road to where the Bush crowd has gone with its more flexible sense of the real. After all, it does suggest that believers in bringing off a successful election should attend to what people today believe about the chances for success. If enough believe it, it will happen... right?

If you simply say...250,000 Iraqi's are trained and ready to defend their country so that it can vote, one reason for the President saying it (when there are only 20,000 at best) would be precisely to create the belief that would later create the fact, and this is what Suskind means by a "faith-based presidency."

If that's the strategy, it is easy to rationalize not telling the President it's closer to 20,000. It's easier to find someone who can stretch and twist and pound and coax the definition of "ready" far enough to kinda, sorta get somewhere near the 250,000 number, making a case that can't withstand 60 seconds of research by a competent reporter or Congressional staff person, but easily sustains the White House in an argument on television or at a press briefing.

And what happens to skeptics, people on the team, in the military, who want the mission to succeed, who know the real numbers? I find it impossible to believe there aren't people in the military or its civilian circles who are extremely worried about this, for all the reasons that are in Suskind's article.

I'm telling you, for Bush supporters, it's no longer about the liberals anymore. After laughing all the way through Suskind's piece, you may discover there's a reality-based community inside the Bush coalition, and that it's being ignored and marginalized, or when necessary discredited. You may discover you're part of it.

Hang on to that Suskind url.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 20, 2004 1:41 AM | Permalink

A Breath of Fresh Air

I hate to add anything more to get John going again, but using the cliche a "breath of fresh air" in describing Rush Limbaugh is like saying carbon dioxide is good for the planet. Like it makes plants grow faster, which on its face is true, but ignores a lot of other truth about the damage.

Someone earlier used the "meme" word: A bad idea in the form of a framed message spreading like a virus.

Limbaugh is a blowhard who failed speech 101 and melted down and lost his TV show when he fell apart in live C-SPAN in front of GO-PAC a few years ago, then almost lost his air time completely when it was revealed he had a serious Oxycontin addiction, another hypocrite of the right revealed.

Even my hardcore Republican former military friends around here don't listen to him anymore. He's strictly a capitalist propagandist, not educated enough to be a serious participant in the debate we're having here in the "reality-based community."

I still don't see this forum as a listserv to debate the right wing nuts verses serious thinkers on the media. Sorry John. I don't think you are having much of an impact here.

Blog on.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 20, 2004 2:33 AM | Permalink


Be serious. You knew I would reply.

Limbaugh has a function. He is a very skilled radio guy and not a bad political analyst. Have you ever done radio? Limbaugh is a clear master of it. His success speaks for itself, and makes your criticisms seem a bit weak. Yes, he was a breath of fresh air. Compared to the boring miasma of uniform liberalism from the MSM, many people were delighted to find an alternative, thus relieving their cognitive dissonance.

You do yourself a disservice by saying "he failed speech 101." Frankly, the guy has very strong talents, regardless of what you think of his message. That you feel a need to attack everything about him reveals both ignorance and an inability to separate your anti-conservative emotions from observations. In other words, you are showing how you see a badly distorted reality due to your own biases.

In today's debates, he is still operating at the more general levels. And there is a need for that. I rarely listen to him, but plenty do. His special talent is his sense of humor. His biggest weakness is in the area of science, where he speaks with great confidence about things he knows nothing about - just like a national TV erporter.

As to his Oxycontin addiction, it would be hypocritical if he was a drug warrior, which he is not. Even so, he should have sought help before being pulled into the illegal drug world.

For that matter, the National Review, perhaps the most significant conservative magazine, is against the drug war.

Go put that in your reality distorter and give the wheel a couple of spins.

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 3:03 AM | Permalink

Red State Happy TV: This is Journalism?

Related to an earlier point and column about the so-called journalism that fuels the red state fire, I just posted a couple of headlines I'm sure the New York journalism community will find amusing, and hopefully, educational.

Newscaster Asks: How Do You Get To Heaven?

(Unfortunately, the links to parts 3 and 4 do not work. I e-mailed the Web team. Maybe they will fix it, maybe not. I don't think anyone around here takes the Web seriously, judging by the carelessness of their layout).

Football Fans Take Loyalty To the Grave

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 20, 2004 3:08 AM | Permalink

No, John, its true. He really failed Speech 101. Ask him.

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 20, 2004 3:15 AM | Permalink

Glynn, you don't get it. He is a success. What he did in school is utterly irrelevant. Not all respect or success revolves around educational achievment. If it did, it would form an unnecessarily static system of analysis.

In other words, a reality based assessment would look at his audience sizes, the money he makes, and the respect many conservatives have for his pionering work. The result is that he is a successful man.

You choose to pick up other things about his history, which have failed to stop his unprecedented success, are irrelevant, and hence support only a fantasy based model.

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink

An example of a story I covered from a chopper. A bank robbery suspect leads police of a two hour, 100 mile pursuit over Los Angeles freeways. When he ran of of gas, he got out of his car and pointed a gun (later determined to be a starter pistol) at police. Hewas shot and killed by numerous police officers. When show the deadly confrontation LIVE, but I anticipated what would happen and we had a medium wide shot up. Orders from our producers--pull back wide, all the way-- go wide now. What the viewers didn't see from our second chopper which was flying lower and closer, was the frantic effort by police officers to save the suspects life as his blood trickled down the freeway. Too graphic I was told-- would upset viewers, invade the dead man's privacy. I argued, the public should see what police officers have to do, the dangers they face. In this case, the suspect put a lot of people as risk, he brought a play gun to a real gunfight, the officers who shot him, then without a moments hesitation, tried to save his life. But the public never got to see this drama because our camera was wide, very wide.
Finally, does anybody not recall, "Remember Pearl Harbor," or can they ever forget the U.S.S. Arizona blowing up instantly killing 2000 sailors?

John do you think the real reason the media is reluctant in showing the result of violence, is that the gatekeeps just want every thing to be ok; you know, intention is the solution, not the fact.

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 20, 2004 7:05 PM | Permalink

I think directly consulting the war colleges for their perspective on the Iraq War is a brilliant idea. You're dead on target that for the next four years any interference with the neo-con new world order, aside from reality, will have to come from inside types who refuse to carry on the cynical game. It will have to come from former true believers, the contemporary versions of Daniel Ellsberg and Chalmers Johnson, two tried and true Cold Warriors who realized that their own project in E. Asia was blowing up disastrously and no one seemed to care. They couldn't take it that US leaders just made shit up for years on end because reality didn't fit the rhetoric they created in large part by refusing to listen to the counsel of those that actually study military strategy.

Clearly Porter Goss's purge of the CIA brings the Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes to the government's own messengers of reality. Once again, our way or the highway. That kind of one party intellectual cleansing should be tougher in the military services and it should be harder to pull off when Rumsfeld and company have pissed off so many in the services, top to bottom. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 20, 2004 7:06 PM | Permalink


I think the local TV tries to avoid too much gore, due to criticisms they have received. It is "bad taste." I suspect that was the case in your example, and I find it unfortunate.

I found it unusual that when a pair of armored bank robbers, armed with fully automatic weapons, took on the cops, the TV showed everything - the one gunman being hit in the head, the other being hit in the leg (and bleeding to death due to lack of care). This also was in LA.

I don't think they have an incentive for everything to be okay. They have anough bad things that they cover. Here in Phoenix there is constant coverage, with helicopter shots, of children who drown or almost drown in back yard swimming pools. Those stories are certainly not "okay" - they are as sad as they predictable.

Jay - tell me if my plain English interpretation of your White House characterization is accurate.

The White House is setting up an information flow such that incoming information will be shaped to please the president even when that is incorrect. Hence the president will not be operating with real information, but rather that produced by syncophants or others to whom the rules have percolated.

Is that correct?

Posted by: John Moore at November 20, 2004 7:38 PM | Permalink

Check out "On Iraqifying the Quagmire," a superb new piece by Tom Engelhardt that goes straight to the reality-based disconnect between official rhetoric and the Iraq War:

He argues that the US press has utterly failed to think through what it means that the US has engaged in aerial bombing of Iraqi cities for over a year and continues to cover it on an ad hoc basis. He points out that Iraq is producing an urban version of 60s counterinsurgency tactics with similarly catastrophic results. In Falluja they've literally created a swamp in the course of "draining the swamp."


Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post quotes a "Special Forces veteran, who speaks Arabic" as summing up the situation this way: "Across Baghdad, Latifiyah, Mahmudiyah, Salman Pak, Baqubah, Balad, Taji, Baiji, Ramadi and just about everywhere else you can name, the people absolutely hate us. . . . The Iraqi people have not bought into what the Americans are selling, and no amount of military activity is going to change this fact."

Simon Jenkins writes this:

"No statement about Iraq is more absurd than that 'we must stay to finish the job.' What job? A dozen more Fallujahs? The thesis that leaving Iraq would plunge it into anarchy and warlordism defies the facts on the ground. Iraq south of Kurdistan is in a state of anarchy already, a land of suicide bombings, kidnapping, hijackings and gangland mayhem. There is no law or order, no public administration or police or proper banking. Its streets are Wild West. The occupying force is entombed in bases it can barely defend or supply. Occasional patrols are target practice for terrorists. Iraq is a desert in which the Americans and British rule nothing but their forts, like the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara."

But perhaps the simplest way to sum up where matters may rest in Iraq today I ran across in the final lines of a recent long New York Times piece by Edward Wong and James Glanz (Rebels Attack in Central Iraq and the North): "[T]he violence [in Mosul] had calmed since then, and children could be seen playing in some parks. At one playground, Amin Muhammad, 10, and his friends raced around with plastic guns. 'We divide ourselves into two teams,' he said, 'the mujahedeen versus the American forces.' And in their battles, he said, the mujahedeen always win."

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 20, 2004 7:44 PM | Permalink

New Republic editorial, posted Nov. 18:

There are signs--especially the recent firing of high-ranking officials and the departure of several others--that the administration wants to impose new restraints on the CIA, rendering its critics there impotent.

Much of the press still fails to wrap its mind around this agenda. Even after the Iraq war, journalists imagine that circumstances will force the Bush administration to trim its sails and follow a more modest international course. But there is a lesson to be learned from the first term: This president should be taken at his word. The radical foreign policy he outlines isn't merely rhetorical. He really does believe that his electoral victory proves he has made no mistakes.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 20, 2004 9:06 PM | Permalink

President Bush's has made mistakes? What is your source. President Bush made the hard decision to do something about terrorism-- kill terrorists. Unlike President Clinton who was content to launch several million dollars of missiles and hope for the best.
This really isn't anything new. When confronted by danger fight it. Running from it (fight or flight) just isn't an option. For all our liberal friends, you are also infidels and targets no matter how much you want to understand our enemy.

Posted by: Rod Bernsen at November 20, 2004 9:20 PM | Permalink

John: The statement you offer is part of it, but only one part. There's no question, I think, that Bush is not often told the truth by his own people when the facts as known conflict with his beliefs or prior statements. There is no one in the cabinet who can or will say, "Mr. President, that's just not correct."

Plus: "No mistakes-- ever" is Administration policy, known in advance, not just for Bush but for everyone. That in itself is a giant reality distortion field.

But in the sense I'm talking about, reality is in far deeper trouble than subordinates not wanting to give the boss bad news, which happens everywhere.

You have to put yourself in the position of the person who has first-hand factual knowledge at odds with the Bush Administration's position or project. But you're supposed to be on the same team, reckoning with the same conditions. That is why I gave you a simple example. It's a hypothetical. I want to stress that. It exists only to get you thinking...

The White House says there are 250,000 Iraqi police and soldiers trained, tested and ready to make sure this country can survive a vote. You are there, in Iraq, working for the United States. You are training Iraqis as fast as you can and you know the number is 20,000 at most.

Therefore you think there must be a problem. And this is where our trip into the possible begins.

Someone doesn't have the correct information, you think. Now the people who agree with that ".., well, the President can say whatever he wants, but if the vote were held today he's off by 230,000 trained Iraqis..." these people have something in common, and this is why they are properly called a "community."

Thus: the reality-based community. It has nothing to do with journalism or liberalism. It's anyone who thinks Bush is off by 230,000 trained Iraqis and that's gonna cause problems.

In a different way of thinking, Bush is not wrong to say 250,000 when the "real" number is only 20,000. Look, if Iraqis have confidence in their state, we will have the 250 K and more, and they'll have confidence if we project confidence. Bush thinks there's at least 250,000 who will join us, and when he says "ready" he means that.

But we who interpret him, and dare to describe the President, have to understand one thing about this Bush, and this White House team. They make new facts while you're still talking about the old ones they ignored.

The CIA: one scene of battle between those with a reality base and those with a Bush base. Foreign Service is another. Press officers in the military: they may have some of best views of the battle. But it's also happening between the Bush Administration and science. Anywhere the reality-based community is likely to make a stand there are attacks and fireworks and pressure.

Making any sense yet? Just keep that guy in the field in mind. He knows the number is 20,000. For he represents where we're headed with this, our trip into the new and possible politics of George Bush.

Ron Suskind's article, Without a Doubt.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 20, 2004 10:33 PM | Permalink


You know, I hardly know where to begin with your dimissive comments on Red State journalism.

(and for the record, I speak for myself, not my employer).

I'm the Managing Editor of the web site in question. We don't understand the web? I work for a company that runs 70+ web sites across the country, and my last job was doing financial news in S.F. I'd like to think I have accumulated a fair amount of journalistic expertise in the past 15 years or so that I've been a working journalist.

As for the layout, it's the same one you'll find on all 14 NBC O&O websites. While I'll agree it's not the best I've ever seen, the fact that we're in Birmingham has nothing to do with the web site. Ours looks just about the same as WNBC, WMAQ, etc.

As for the stories highlighted, I'm not sure how they qualify as some example of 'red-state' journalism. Yes, they're not "hard news." But I can show you ten other examples this week of local stories that were. Our station has two full-time investigative reporters, which is more than I can say for a lot of "blue state" TV stations.

They're sweeps pieces, and I'm sure you find similiar examples on your local station. You want to criticize that trend, fair enough. But commenting that it's "red state journalism" just shows a lack of understanding about why a particular story might air on a particular newscast.

From what I can tell, any discussion of religion is automatically "red state journalism," although that isn't stopping a number of other NBC stations from doing localized versions of this series (and yes, most of them are in "blue" state markets). I've read you other comments above, and I get it. You seem to distrust any discussion of religion and seem to think that everyone around you in the South is just one small step from being an intolerant, inbred hillbilly.

I'm as liberal as anyone here, and yes, living in Birmingham can sometimes be jarring. But it doesn't fill me with anger or hatred. Actually, I find it liberating to be somewhere I can have an impact.

Posted by: Rick Ellis at November 20, 2004 11:23 PM | Permalink

Glynn, one last thing....

I suppose I could be mean-spirited and bring up the fact that you have this mis-spelled headline on the top of your site right now:

"Baghdad Suffers Attacks, Assissinations"


Posted by: Rick Ellis at November 20, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink

I expect that Sunday I'll have a reply to what seem to me to be digressions on this thread and Jay's: Who's open to a different kind of news? To me that is the question journalists should be asking each other these days.

Meanwhile, conjectures on this comment thread remind me of the baseless representations earlier in the campaign that Bush was stupid. I'm certainly going to have to reread Suskind and highlight the facts. Wasn't it substantially commentary on unsubstantiated hearsay?

Posted by: sbw at November 20, 2004 11:50 PM | Permalink

New Marine Report on Falluja shoots down any potential Iraqification or progress toward demobilization had for reality-based status. Escalation is closer to the truth.

THIS IS THE MARINES TALKING. We need to listen to the Marines if we want to be clued in to the strategic situation in the Iraq of THIS WORLD, as opposed to the Iraq of BUSHWORLD.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 21, 2004 12:07 AM | Permalink

sbw: "Commentary on unsubstantiated hearsay?" You sound like Scott McLellan when he switches on his auto-minimizer. Anyway, I said his key sources were off-the-record, and that his attempt to document this strange feature of the Bush presidency would fail. And it has failed, so far. Just as it will probably--although one cannot be sure--fail to persuade you, sbw.

I was concerned with a different question: whether Suskind's story is basically true in the sense that it describes something actually happening.

As to the discussion going off on a tangent or getting lost somehow, not so at all. When I wrote about an "opposition press" I didn't mean a press that would oppose Bush's policies. (That's how it gets interpreted, of course.) I primarily meant a press that opposes the Bush Adminstration's attempt to play by the new rules of faith-based factuality.

Ben: Thanks for the encouragement.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 21, 2004 12:44 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the explanation. I think I know where you are coming from.

Oddly, conservative mags (I read almost all) have not mentioned this issue, yet some of them could be expected to.

But, hey, that's the fog of Washington.

As it turns out, I had read the Suskind article a while back - but didn't know that was the one mentioned here.

As a matter of irrelevant perception, if one pages through the article, it appears to have a picture on each page of Bush using a urinal. I thought that was really an odd picture to choose.

Here's another unrelated topic: there are some very big issues (in terms of consequences) that I never hear about. Is this because it is not new?

The first (which actually has been mentioned lately) is the idea that the single greatest security threat to the US is a terrorist delivered nuclear weaapon. The entire war on terror has to be seen as primarily concerned with this (and secondarily, a contagious biological weapon).

The second, never heard, is that the US and Russia still have their strategic nuclear forces at hair trigger alert. In that sense, we really are no less at risk of global thermonuclear war than we were in, say, the Reagan years. Personally, I find this to be a serious long term danger, and an unnecessary posture. Is this the sort of thing that news just isn't interested in? Because it isn't new?

Anyway, just off the cuff thoughts.

Posted by: John Moore at November 21, 2004 1:05 AM | Permalink

Rick Ellis:

For more read my Sunday column. My only question is, did you fix the links yet?

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 21, 2004 1:25 AM | Permalink


Seems to me your questions are good ones, and Suskind's analysis is provocative and on target.

I wonder and hope that MSM news managers are paying attention to the discussion.

It also seems to me these are some interesting examples and related if tangential to the main discussion.

Should the press work harder to bring the mass public into the "reality-based community?"

Or will they simply continue moving to the right to capitalize on the perception that the "values-voters" are not only a majority at the polls, but a huge part of the marketplace - there to be exploited during "sweeps."

At the risk of offending Mr. Ellis again, here's my take on the local situation. Your readers may not be interested in all of this, so I'll just post the link for those who are.

How Do You Get to Heaven, Anyway?

Posted by: Glynn Wilson at November 21, 2004 6:15 PM | Permalink

Jay: Misuses of rhetoric by Suskind, sbw? I think you don't want to grapple with the consequences of what he says, so you have persuaded yourself that his article can be dismissed. ... So tell me again, sbw, what is the fatal flaw in Suskind's article that makes you so certain that it's wrong and we can forget about it? Because to be perfectly real about it, I am astonished that you can be so sure it's bunk.

Jay: I was concerned with a different question: whether Ron Suskind's story is basically true in the sense that it describes something actually happening.

Jay, consider how willing you are to believe Ron Suskind -- with what you admit is the paucity of evidence to check. Then consider how unwilling you are to believe a critique of Suskind's work with the evidence of the article's rhetoric that can be checked.

To continue reading my response, see... Reality-based reporting.

Posted by: sbw at November 21, 2004 7:11 PM | Permalink

  • As a nation, we face seeming insoluble problems.
  • Loud competing, seemingly incompatible narratives claim to be "true".
  • From all sides, seemingly aggrieved parties presume to know how those narratives should be reported. Journalism itself has been replaced by the politics of journalism.
  • Decades spent marketing branded news erroneously as "objective" have been undercut by more direct and diverse sources of information the internet provides.
  • If truth seems unreachable, Jay Rosen wonders, if we should offer a "different kind of news" and let the marketplace decide.
Hold on. Not a chance. There is no "different" kind of news. People simply misunderstood the old one, had misplaced expectations for it, and stood by while others bludgeoned it for their own selfish purposes. There is a different way to pull all this together. To make the point, let's use David Denby, who retook two Columbia courses in the "Great Books" of Western civilization, and his reexamination of the 125-year-old writings of Friedrich Neitzsche. We can telescope the current problem with news, Denby's examination of the assault on the Western canon of literature a decade ago, and Neitzsche's examination of the academic philosophy of his time.

To read the rest, see... "Reclaiming news".

Posted by: sbw at November 21, 2004 7:14 PM | Permalink

In a different way of thinking, Bush is not wrong to say 250,000 when the "real" number is only 20,000. Look, if Iraqis have confidence in their state, we will have the 250 K and more, and they'll have confidence if we project confidence. Bush thinks there's at least 250,000 who will join us, and when he says "ready" he means that.

If "reality" is going to bite Bush, it means the election in Iraq fails. Or, it could have meant that the assault on Falluja fails (reality - "not enough troops") -- but it has already been a fairly huge success. (More American folks died on the highways in NYC than in Falluja over the same time period, no?)

What I find REEALLY interesting, Jay, is the idea that Bush will "in reality" fail in the future -- but in every objective test has succeeded. Toppled Saddam. Created an Iraqi legal framework for a temporary Iraqi Gov't, turned over control to Alawi's gov't, that was recognized as sovereign by the UN in June (before schedule, to surprize the killers). Ran successful Afghan elections.

Perhaps this is how "messiahs" create disciples -- by having actual results that defy the "reality based" predictions?

I don't believe Bush is any messiah -- but I DO see him leading Western Civilization back to Christian virtues, helping America to be good, and then great, too.

It's quite likely there are some 250 000 Iraqis, with names in a database, that are purportedly pro-Iraqi gov't. DB lists are fairly objective. It's also quite possible that only 20 000 are fully trained, but that judgment is highly subjective -- and likely to be biased based on one's perceptions of Bush.

How much training does it take to stand with a gun near a polling place while nobody else is supposed to have guns? Maybe the vast majority of the 250 000 have sufficient training.

How much training does it take to assault Falluja? Prolly less than 20 000 Iraqis have THAT level of training and equipment.

I believe Bush will be shown correct, again -- and Iraq will have enough IP. And please remember -- only Iraqis can win in Iraq, the US cannot win. The US job is to help the pro-democracy Iraqis win.

Similary, the purpose of being "reality based" is to accurately predict the future. The anti-Bush macro predictions have been pretty wrong, pretty consistently.

I'll know I'm wrong if Iraq elections fail. How will you know if you're wrong? (Jay?) A theory without falsifiability is NOT really "reality based".

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 22, 2004 6:43 PM | Permalink

Excellent reply, Tom. I already gave you my test. If there we do not see in the coming 25 months more and more open conflict between the Bush White House and members of the Bush coalition who are in the reality-based community themselves, then my view is wrongly founded.

I urge everyone to read and contemplate the two Stephen Waters posts, Reclaiming News, which makes interesting use of David Denby's re-learning memoir, Great Books; and Reality-based Reporting, which takes issue with my Suskind speculations. "Meanwhile, Jay, you and other journalism professionals have better work to do. For decades the concept of news has been at risk. Now it is under concerted attack. and needs your defense."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 22, 2004 11:51 PM | Permalink

The Znet link seems nearly worthless -- the opinions of Bush haters who want the US forces to leave immediately.
Instead of a ceasefire, they attack Fallujah. Are they sure that the aftermath will not be bloodier than Fallujah? The martial law is one of the nails in the coffin of this regime. The last pretext for democracy here is now buried. Their declaration of martial law is a declaration of political bankruptcy.
Znet folk wanted the pro-democracy forces to leave Falluja alone, let them keep making bombs and having their own, local "martial law".

*I* am fairly sure that the aftermath of Falluja will be less violence, but primarily after the elections. The Sunnis are losing power, and will lose it democratically, and it's understandable that they are upset. Too many Sunnis seem, not unlike the US Left, culturally unwilling to offer constructive criticism.

Jay, there's a sad issue you don't quite note. Assume two groups of 100 patients each, with similar difficult operations coming, with about a 50/50 chance of living. One group is told that they'll prolly survive, but it will be tough, and there is a real chance they'll die -- but that the doctors believe they'll die.
The second group is told that it's really a coin toss, they should be prepared to die and have their affairs in order.

After the operations, 60 live of the "prolly survive" group, but only 45 live from the "coin toss" group. The Power of Positive Thinking is a fairly objectively known fact--NOT stopping all deaths, but giving better results than non-positive thinking.

I think there are many situations like this. What is "reality based" information? When current beliefs shape the future outcome, in "reality", what should the current beliefs be like? In my example, if I or my wife are in such a situation, I want to be told the belief that is most likely to lead to better outcome.

This borders on, or crosses over into, justification for propaganda. But the alternative is to accept reality-doubts, and accept more deaths.

I find an interaction with my increasingly strong pro-Christian beliefs, because I think such beliefs most support a better future.

I note that few "reality folk" accept that their style of analysis, when applied after 1968 to the US in Vietnam, led to a US withdrawal, and a SE Asian genocide.

The World "liberal" press, since Tet in 1968, has pretty much supported genocide -- because fighting evil can not be done without killing innocents, which violates the Unreal Perfection standard.

Sudan, for instance, is unlikely to avoid continued genocide, as long as the anti-Bush "realists" have such media dominance.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 23, 2004 5:39 AM | Permalink

Tom: "It's also quite possible that only 20 000 are fully trained, but that judgment is highly subjective -- and likely to be biased based on one's perceptions of Bush."

You said it perfectly. I couldn't have captured the dynamics of the faith-based approach any better.

Meanwhile, today's New York Times contains a news story about a report commissioned by the Department of Education, showing that charter schools under-perform compared to regular schools.

After I read the first few paragraphs I said to myself, "Here's a case where the Administration seems to have at least some respect for the reality-based approach. It released this report that conflicts with Bush doctrine."

But reading a little further we discover that the report was completed by a private contractor in June, and released only after the New York Times filed a Freedom of Information request for it. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman, said the department had released the report "as fast as we could."

So we are asked to believe it takes almost five months to write a press release. We are asked to believe that if the report had good news for the Administration, it would still have taken five months to write that press release.

Admitedly, a small example. I wouldn't say it shakes the foundations of the Republic. On the contrary, it's just a normal day in the faith-based presidency.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at November 23, 2004 9:26 AM | Permalink

Good to find you, Jay (through "Lying in Ponds")

The term I use for what you describe (don't care to denigrate "objectivity" just yet) is "pathological neutrality". It is not so much that journalists must give their opinion to create a "truthful" portrait of someone or something. The facts will often suffice. The way I see it, the mainstream press goes out of its way to present what can be seen as exactly equal weight to competing views. That's not journalism in my book, especially if one view is demonstrably wrong.

Posted by: steve at November 23, 2004 3:29 PM | Permalink

Tom Grey,
The Vietnam War itself was a S.E. Asian genocide. We killed millions of Vietnamese civilians. You can't lament the dire consequences of leaving without recognizing the dire costs of staying. If we had stayed in Vietnam longer, there is every reason to believe we would have continued to kill more Vietnames civilians than all of the later genocides combined, just like we did while we were there.

Falluja means the Sunnis are out as far as elections go. That means zero legitimacy for the new puppet government. That is the opposite of success.

Do you have anything to base your opinions about Iraq on outside of whether they reflect a sufficient adulation for Bush and your faith? If Iraqis shared your faith, your thinking might relate to real world outcomes beyond domestic US politics. They don't share your faith, and consequently neither does your thinking relate to real world outcomes.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 23, 2004 3:44 PM | Permalink

Tom Grey,
"What I find REEALLY interesting, Jay, is the idea that Bush will "in reality" fail in the future -- but in every objective test has succeeded. Toppled Saddam. Created an Iraqi legal framework for a temporary Iraqi Gov't, turned over control to Alawi's gov't, that was recognized as sovereign by the UN in June (before schedule, to surprize the killers). Ran successful Afghan elections."

You haven't cited a single objective success here. In reality, every situation you refer to is a disaster. Bush managed to install an occupation government and a puppet regime that the citizens of Iraq almost universally consider to have brought an even worse quality of life. How bad do you have to screw up to look worse than one of the 20th C.'s most hated tyrants?

They wrote a legal framework for a government transition controlled by Americans. They continue to militarily occupy the country and Allawi makes speeches written for him by US Republicans. "Turned over control" my ass. Allawi has control in Iraq like Emperor Pu Yi had control in Manchukuo. LOL

Recognized as sovereign by the UN! Aren't you supposed to be disgusted with the UN's lack of moral principle? This is Exhibit A. That was throwing a bone to a belligerent US, not a recognition of anything in Iraq. Their recognition of the US puppet government means they're sovereign? Allawi was selected by the US because he would never tell the US to get out. That's how sovereign Iraq is. I'm sure the fourteen permanent US bases will also further enhance Iraqi sovereignty.

Ran successful elections that every opposition party boycotted the results of! With success like this, who needs failure?! Please find a reality based argument. Wishful thinking is neither strategy nor policy, it is simply catastrophe when instituted by force of arms.

Election success is defined by legitimacy and stability, not the voting process (Hey, we could use some of that here!). By that criterion, we are down to about a 3% chance of successful elections in Iraq. In other words, everything points toward Bush keeping his streak of "success" going.

Bush will have to actually have one real world success before it can start to challenge predictions of his failure. Earth to Bushworld, breaker...

Posted by: Ben Franklin at November 23, 2004 4:03 PM | Permalink

From the Intro