This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

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

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

March 21, 2005

From Meet the Press to Be the Press

The Economist just said it: the "the traditional notion that the media play a special role in informing people is breaking down." Rising up: government as a "purely neutral" news provider, credible where a sinking press corps is not.

I see (via that The Economist is now on the case I have been calling de-certification of the press. This, I think, is a significant development.

Video news releases are more of an issue today because government-provided news is more of a reality, the article says. (It’s subscribers only.) The Economist agrees, and so do I, that TV news directors are the ones primarily responsible if government-issue “news” gets through the filter and on the air. But it then goes on to describe what is happening to the press under Bush, and the new attitude the President has wrought:

So is the Bush administration in the clear? Not really. It is on record as saying that there is nothing special about the press: it is just another interest group. As Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, has put it, the administration does not think that the press has “a check-and-balance function”. This is a fundamental change of attitude compared with previous administrations and makes this one’s use of fake news different.

I agree: a fundamental change is afoot, and we have to try to understand it. The Economist zeroes in on why the “special interest” charge matters. Listen carefully— they’re catching on:

If there is nothing special about the press, then there is nothing special about what it does. News can be anything—including dressed-up government video footage. And anyone can provide it, including the White House, which, through local networks, can become a news distributor in its own right. Given the proliferation of media outlets and the eroding of boundaries between news, comment and punditry, someone will use government-provided information as news.

“In short,” says the magazine, “the traditional notion that the media play a special role in informing people is breaking down.” It’s true. And that is the development I am calling de-certification, because the traditional idea is not breaking down by itself. It has assistance and intervention from above. The Economist brings it home:

Behind all this lies a shift in the balance of power in the news business. Power is moving away from old-fashioned networks and newspapers; it is swinging towards, on the one hand, smaller news providers (in the case of blogs, towards individuals) and, on the other, to the institutions of government, which have got into the business of providing news more or less directly. Eventually, perhaps, the new world of blogs will provide as much public scrutiny as newspapers and broadcasters once did. But for the moment the shifting balance of power is helping the government behemoth.

And for the moment the government behemoth is helping itself to a status that is increasingly being denied to the press: that of a neutral, disinterested, just-the-facts style information provider. It is quite a switch.

De-certification, as I have called it, has these two faces. One is about putting journalists in a diminished place, as in: Don’t answer their questions, it only encourages the askers to think they’re legitimate interlocutors, proxies for the public. And they’re not, in the White House view. (That’s what the briefing room struggle is all about. Getting that “not” across.)

But there’s the other side of it: what the Bush Administration does to “inform the public” is described as purely factual, a noble service, while the traditional press is dismissed as inherently biased, unrepresentative, unable to serve the general interest Americans have in informing themselves. These rising and falling motions are deeply connected. Discrediting traditional journalism helps in accrediting government as a more reliable news provider.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post explained part of it in a Sunday column (March 20). “In the past,” he wrote, “the key to winning in politics was to control the information. Now, when information has no controls, the key is making your information credible and casting doubt on other information — such as that found in the mainstream press.”

We can observe this happening in the recent action around video news releases. (For background and key documents see Media Citizen. Also see Salon’s Eric Boehlert.) In January, the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the accountability arm of Congress, issued another opinion declaring illegal the Administration’s use of video news releases “that failed to disclose to the viewing audience that they had been produced and distributed by a government agency.” It had been requested by Democrats in the House.

The GAO opinion grew out of the Karen Ryan case, in which a fake reporter, hired by the government, read from a script that made it seem like she was engaged in real news-gathering.

On March 11, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a counter-memo advising government agencies to ignore the GAO opinion. Justice said the Comptroller General of the U.S. is wrong, and common sense is wrong too, for in fact “it is legal for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government’s role in producing them,” as the Washington Post story put it.

When I examined the Administration’s counter-memo explaining why it’s okay to distribute deliberately deceptive material, purporting to be the results of an independent inquiry by professional journalists, one thing jumped out at me: The memo is at its most aggressive when it refers to “purely informational VNRs.”

That phrase, “purely informational,” is used to describe the kind of video news releases the Bush Administration makes. These aren’t the selective highlighting of facts the client wants to play up (so the client pays up) which is what VNR’s are universally understood to be in the industry that makes them. Legitimate advocacy providing legitimate news.

No, a Federal VNR, though produced by the same pros who work in the industry, is a “purer” product, a lot more like what we once thought was straight news. The Office of Legal Counsel boasts of the “purely informational nature” of the government’s PR message, different from “undisclosed advocacy,” even though the undisclosed part may be true. It includes this remarkable passage:

OLC does not agree with GAO that the “covert propaganda” prohibition applies simply because an agency’s role in producing and disseminating information is undisclosed or “covert,” regardless of whether the content of the message is “propaganda.” Our view is that the prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency.

Read carefully, that says it’s okay for the government’s hidden hand to operate in the television news Americans see because the Bush Adminstration, through its Office of Legal Counsel, has determined that the Bush Administration, when it undertakes to provide the public with news, has motives and methods that do not, in any way, include advocacy. There is no “particular viewpoint” in the fake news spots, no message like: Bush Administration on the case.

According to the government, the government’s aims are purely informational— like the reporting in mainstream journalism was ideally supposed to be, back when it was supposed to inform the public, and offer an independent check on government’s tendency to tell tales. Back when “meet the press” was part of governing the country. Before “be the press” occurred to anyone in the Executive Branch.

The Administration says that it is easily capable of the kind of strict separation of advocacy and information that the press, renamed the Liberal Media, is mostly incapable of today, according to some in the Administration, according to many who are allies, according to all who are involved on that front in the Culture War where the “MSM” is seen as a discredited force (yet still in need of toppling.)

Journalists have an agenda. Government information officers just deal in facts. The same argument was heard during Attorney General John Ashcroft’s early bird de-certification special in 2003. Ashcroft, as you’ll recall, banned print reporters from questioning him during his speaking tour on behalf of the Patriot Act. (Todd Gitlin and I wrote about it.)

Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock says her boss, with few exceptions, is only granting short interviews to local TV stations as a way of “explaining key facts directly to the American people and not having as much of a filter from people who are already invested in having a different view of it.”

The journalists have a slanted view of it. The Attorney General is just trying to explain key facts. His purposes are informational. Who’s the better journalist, Ashcroft or the press?

While today ninety-nine percent of the clients who pay for the production of a video news release about their work want it to highlight the great work being done, in Bushland there is, we’re told, none of that stuff. No spin allowed, guys and gals. Just the facts, Uncle Sam.

Now according to the Public Relations Society of America, voice of the industry that makes VNR’s (and that created the need for Karen Ryan) members should not impersonate journalists. “PRSA recommends that organizations that prepare VNRs should not use the word ‘reporting’ if the narrator is not a reporter.”

Thus the Justice Department recommends a lower standard of transparency for the government than the PR industry recommends for itself. The message to government departments is “keep impersonating the press on camera, it’s legal and it’s fine.” In the public relations industry, the standard is now mention in the script who produced this “news.” The Bush Administration says: not needed.

Why is this happening?

The Economist glimpsed it: the “the traditional notion that the media play a special role in informing people is breaking down.” Getting built up are the credentials of the Federal government as a credible and substitute news provider. Informing the public is what the government does quite well on its own, without interference from Congress and from special interests like the press.

“Purely informational.” To me it has a menacing sound. I suppose it applies also to the doubling of the PR budget under George W. Bush. (According to this House report.) Twice as much neutral information was needed, apparently.

As Frank Rich wrote in his column for this week, “The brakes are off, and before long, the government could have a larger budget for fake news than actual television news divisions have for real news.” (For more, see this report from the activist group freepress.)

In its front-page investigation of video news releases—a very welcome sight, published March 13—the New York Times noted that Federal agencies are careful to tell distributors of its news releases that the government is the producer of the simulated news therein. (Which is the entire legitimation method making it “okay” to make believe you’re a journalist.) The production itself is then free to “hide” the Federal hand, because under the rules of the game it’s disclosed— once.

The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the “reporters” are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.

The Times resists the Bush Adminstration’s description of its methods as “purely informational.” By such means a resistance movement may yet emerge. I would call this moment in the press room another sign of resistance. (Bush is asked: “Does it raise ethical questions about the use of government money to produce stories about the government that wind up being aired with no disclosure that they were produced by the government?”)

The Comptroller General, David Walker, is fighting back. Even if it’s legal to hide the government’s hand in news reporting, he says, is that the ethical standard Americans want from their government?

Walker represents opposition from Congress, which might be expected to resist an expansion of Executive power by acquisition of assets surrendered by the Fourth Estate when it ceased credibly to exist, according to the White House. Ultimately that’s what the clash of opinions—GAO vs. Justice—is about: not the Adminstration’s right to “manage” the news (old think), but to substitute itself for the increasingly discredited news media (new).

With the press being ground down, we don’t know who is the presidency’s legitimate interlocutor. The role seems to have gone missing. Within the Bush Bubble—and the “town meetings” on Social Security are a sad, infuriating example of this—it is understood that only safely screened supporters may rise to request a public explanation from the President. (Learn how extreme this is from the Post’s Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker.)

Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Briefing column for the Washington Post, says “the White House would appear to have established these bubble trips as standard operating procedure whenever the president wants to make his case to the American people.” Wow.

And that’s the standard that may replace “meet the press.” When Be the Press is fully established the new interlocutor of the Executive Branch will be the Executive Branch itself.

It was nice of The Economist to hope that individual actors in “the new world of blogs will provide as much public scrutiny as newspapers and broadcasters once did.” I don’t think that’s realistic right now, do you? Yet neither is the current course on which the White House press is set. There’s a routine, but there is no realism in that routine.

I see the Bush Team and Bush himself, acting through his counselor Karl Rove, as political innovators, first and last. (Not conservatives.) They are big picture people. They attempt what previous regimes would not. What all experience hath shewn does not impress or depress them. They have new wisdom to offer the world. They will gamble and go for the long gainer. They tend to change the game on you.

And, as journalists have told us, they’re disciplined, loyal, relentlessly on the same page— a true cadre. The Bush press policy, dumping the Fourth Estate and “news management” imagery, is a political innovation and shows the acumen of this Administration.

The innovation is in the coherence and totality of the approach, from the special interest argument, and the grinding newslessness of the briefings, to the fake news forms encouraged at the Department level, and how it all fits with the Bush Bubble, plus other simulations of the very things being lost— or being destroyed.

Here’s how I tried to describe it on the day after the ‘04 election:

The Bush White House has the national press in a box. (A “hammerlock,” says this account.) As with so many other situations, they have changed the world and allowed the language of the old world to keep running while exploring unchallenged the fact of the new. The old world was the Fourth Estate, and the watchdog role of the press, the magic of the White House press conference. It was a feeling that, though locked in struggle much of the time, journalists and presidents needed each other. Although it was never put this way, they glamourized Washington politics together, and this helped both.

We’re in the twilight of that world. During its days of influence the citizens of the United States were represented twice when the President met the press for questions and answers. The President represented the people, the press represented the public.

Why two reps, why these two words? Because the same Americans who believe in popular sovereignty (election to office) believe too in public opinion (government by discussion.) The people elect the President. It’s the public’s job to continue the disscussion, and keep the light of public scrutiny on. The press does not represent the people— at all. It can represent the public’s stake in reliable information and vigorous debate.

During Bush’s first term he took a memorable swipe at reporters: “You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.” He might have been simply reminding journalists: you were not elected, and I was. Or he might have been saying something bolder and new: The American people don’t need to be twice represented anymore. Once is enough, and we are going to show you that.

Maybe it’s all coincidence, maybe not, but according to a report in the Washington Times, plans are underway to renovate the White House briefing room and press area, which would temporarily displace reporters to the Old Executive Office Building.

“It’s going to be like a house renovation,” said White House Correspondents Association President Ron Hutcheson. “The bottom line is this is necessary and could be a real benefit to the press corps. But my main concern is I want to make sure it’s not part of an effort to reduce our space or push us out of the West Wing.”

My main concern is a little different. This summer, the White House correspondents—in dialogue with colleagues, bosses, the public, and with history itself—need to renovate their ideas while the official press quarters are re-built. For them I have a hard question: why go back there at all? There may be good answers to that, but they can’t be the same answers, given what The Economist called a “fundamental change of attitude compared with previous administrations.”

The show is still running, but we’re no longer in the world of Meet the Press. Beat the press is more accurate. And be the press is an idea on the way.

After Matter: Notes, reaction & links…

Dan Froomkin at White House Briefing on how the emptiness of Bush’s Social Security road show is coming through in the local press coverage:

Ever since his State of the Union address, Bush has been riding Air Force One to and fro, holding campaign-style “conversations” on Social Security during which he typically says nothing new and provides no details of his proposal.

Up until now, not just local reporters but even the national ones as well have typically bent over backward to treat what Bush says at these events like news.

But today’s stories capture not so much what Bush says but what is most remarkable about these events: the stagecraft that goes into them and the exclusion of the general public in favor of screened supporters.

Hey, political reporters: How long before there is unrest in the Republican coalition over the Bush Bubble? Jacob Weisberg of Slate explains why the President’s supporters should be alarmed. The bubble, which appears to be the safe way, actually increases the risks to Bush:

The self-enclosed world of conservative spin increases the risk to the president by insulating him from the truth about how his plan is going over. Meeting only with handpicked audiences in rehearsed “town hall” meetings, Bush not only encounters little substantive challenge to his views but also avoids getting any realistic sense of how little traction his plan has gotten. In this way, the propaganda president risks becoming the real victim of his administration’s own fake news.

Special thanks and blogger’s hat tip to Ron Brynaert for information he kindly dug up and sent me. And also to Jeff Jarvis and several people who helped me with the Economist article.

Blogger, newspaper publisher and PressThink reader Stephen Waters has an idea: the White House should turn the briefing into a blog:

Looking back, the gaggle wasn’t our idea, it came from the major media. It gave you a daily feed to highlight network news and serve as a springboard for you to launch your own message, anyway. You’ll still be able to do that. Nothing much will change. On our website we will release video clips chosen to represent the news we feel the public needs to know. You can work those clips into your stand-ups. Bullet points of what we want to communicate are also on the website, not that you have to use them. Absence of news clips hasn’t stopped you in the past from filling up dead air with projection and conjecture from your stable of talking heads.

“Create our own discourse.” Digby suggests a fateful choice:

There is no partisan left wing media that can pound away at the stories that are damaging to Republicans thereby keeping the mainstream media focused and aware of the drumbeat. Indeed that is why many of us are advocating that we create such a thing. It’s been clear for more than a decade that the mainstream media responds almost unthinkingly to the deafening sounds of the right wing noise machine and now seems paralyzed by the power the Republican establishment exerts over it. They simply are incapable of speaking truth to power and employing the kind of skepticism that is required if this body politic is to be healthy.

…It’s a risky and frightening thing to do and I honestly don’t know where it will lead. But I think we have no choice but to enter this fray and just hope that we can keep things straight in our own minds.

I missed this the first time. Command Post on Fishbowl DC’s Garrett Graff being called the “first blogger” to be credentialed to the White House (via the day press he obtained.) Fishbowl DC is part of the Media Bistro empire.

Calling this Graff person a blogger is like calling the pimply kid who brings Brit Hume doughnuts a broadcaster.

A blogger pays his own bills. A blogger has comments, if at all possible. A blogger does his own writing or chooses a few friends to help. A blogger has trackbacks. A blogger links to other REAL bloggers, not the mainstream dorks Graff links to.

A blogger is not an “editor.” A blogger does not receive a salary, unless it’s from a corporation he himself formed as a result of making money from a genuine blog. A blogger does not have interns. A blogger—most importantly—has NO ONE to answer to.

Let’s see what happens to little Garrett if he ever goes against the people who pay his bills. Same thing that would happen to Wankette. A quick elevator ride to the sidewalk, and a hastily-chosen successor; probably a receptionist or a janitor with an English degree. New “blogger,” same “blog.” If you’re not essential to your blog’s identity, you are not a blogger. You are what is known in the trade as “a copywriter.”

By Command Post’s standards, BTC News (brainchild of PressThink reader and contributor Weldon Berger) was the “first” blogger in the White House press room.

Here’s an interesting advance in citizens journalism and the personal media revolution. Here’s another with great potential.

Favorite Filters: You should, in these times, be reading Cursor, even if it’s just to keep up with what the other guy is snorting and steaming about. It’s one of the best media & politics filters out there. Also check in with the more idiosyncratic Metafilter, another fine net, letting good stuff through. Real Clear Politics is also indispensible, if you don’t use it now. And I am getting more and more impressed with the Daou Report for sampling blogdom.

John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard, October 2004, during the Dan Rather, Air National Guard mess:

This is a moment that’s been a very long time coming. For four decades now, conservatives have been convinced, with supreme justification, that the institutional, ideological, and cultural biases of the mainstream media represented a danger to the causes in which they believe and the ideas they hold dear. What has happened over the past weeks isn’t the beginning of a transformation. It’s the culmination of a 40-year-long indictment that has, at long last, led to a slam-dunk conviction.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 21, 2005 8:05 PM   Print


I don't know Jay, I've always thought you're on to something here. It's an observable phenomenon in real time. Like the rest of the issues these days the country, and in many ways the world, is run by an intrusive polit bureau. Big government? You bet your bisquits we have it now.

Question is, who CAN challenge it?

Posted by: Jonas at March 21, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink

There's an interesting parallel phenomenon going on with the opposition. Remember Henry Waxman? He's doing investigative journalism. So are other Democrats in the house, and Senate. The immense frustration of the opposition in not being able to be represented by the fourth estate may soon force a similarly radical shift among Democrats.

There is a decertification going on from above - but there is a way out. If you report on the genuinely radical nature of politics, you become instantly useful. That's why the NYT story on fake news was so important, it's a step in that direction. It's also why the reporting to date on Terry Schiavo and baseball is not. Nothing to see here, folks, just lots of hypocrisy all around.

Posted by: Matt Stoller [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 21, 2005 10:28 PM | Permalink

Let me see if I have this straight. The press doles out propaganda and the administration bureaucrats, facts.

Up is down baby!

Posted by: Iccarus at March 21, 2005 10:33 PM | Permalink

And isn't it interesting that a (normally) astute observor of the American press, David Shaw of the L.A. Times, didn't get it ... yet the British journalist , looking in from the outside, immediately grasped what is going on and how the balance of influence is shifting ?
The old saw that "the fish doesn't know that it is wet" comes to mind. Although in this case we would have to amend it to "the fish doesn't even know that it's being reeled in."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 21, 2005 10:57 PM | Permalink

From Scott Rosenberg a while back -

"The value journalists continue to provide in a 'disintermediated,' Net-enabled world -- when they are doing their jobs right, of course -- is to continue to ask public figures the uncomfortable questions that they won't choose to answer on their own."

And decertifying the press means you'll never have to answer a question you don't like.

Posted by: Anna at March 21, 2005 11:32 PM | Permalink

This whole argument assumes that the people are, as Lovelady puts it revealing something about himself perhaps he wouldn't rather, "fish." I suppose that since the paladins of the press see themselves as noble truth-seekers and the government as a corrupt house of fools leading a nation of ignoramuses the paladins' despair makes sense. But what if the press are not paladins and the people are not a lot of mindless fish? In this scenario, the people are as a mass capable of discernment and decision-making and the press a regular, fallible, self-interested lot that would be much improved by getting over themselves. In this era of massively powerful information technology: the press really needs to make the case why it deserves to continue to play information middleman, especially considering the rather poor job it's been doing to date. VNRs are just the latest distraction from the grim reality (grim for the press, that is) that the press needs to make this case and is not succeeding.

Posted by: Lee Kane at March 21, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink

PS. My remarks might make more sense if you read "press" to mean "establishment press" or the MSM or, as I have also seen it put (perhaps sarcastically), the Liberal Media--the group that considers itself represented by the likes of, say, the CJR.

Posted by: Lee Kane at March 21, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink

a (normally) astute observor of the American press...didn't get it...

That sounds like the Status Quo bias (from Rhetorica in here) -
"The news media believe 'the system works.' During the 'fiasco in Florida,' recall that the news media were compelled to remind us that the Constitution was safe, the process was working, and all would be well..."

Posted by: Anna at March 21, 2005 11:51 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Jay. This is really radical, but it's kind of the logical consequence of movement conservatism.

Posted by: praktike at March 21, 2005 11:53 PM | Permalink

I'd like to pick up on Lee Kane's remarks for a second and ask how the press avoids anti-propaganda crusading as an elitist practice in much the same way that Cline describes "Anti-bias crusading as an elitist practice".

What [the press doesn't] say, however, is that their mistrust of the [government] is also a mistrust of the people. Those who complain most about [government propaganda] would see themselves as able to identify it and resist it. They get upset about it because they question whether the average American is able to do the same. If the average American can identify it and resist it, then there is little need to get upset about [propaganda].
I would think that the press should be aware and sensitive to this aspect of the discussion for their own credibility in representing the public rather than the people:
The people elect the President. It's the public's job to continue the disscussion, and keep the light of public scrutiny on. The press does not represent the people-- at all. It can represent the public's stake in reliable information and vigorous debate.

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 22, 2005 1:35 AM | Permalink

This concept of "be the press" is quite scary to those of us who understand the danger of being told what is what with no filter by Big Brother.

But to some on the right, and on the right side of the Blogosphere, it's what they've been working toward.

In an interview I posted at my blog a month ago (link) with Mike Krempasky (of and, more famously, and also the recent eason blog as well) regarding Talon News/GOPUSA Mike had this to say about my distaste for their propagandistic plagiarism:

"As far as rewriting materials or information - while that might *seem* a little suspect, consider this - some people WANT their news slanted, and if some folks out in Nowhere, USA really want to know exactly what the WH said and don't really care what Helen Thomas said - is that any worse than the same person really only interested in the Democratic Radio address every week?"

And this comes from a blogger who helped take down two big players in the third estate. This goes beyond de-certification...this is akin to what Putin said the other week about Bush firing reporters.

It's true.

Incredible work again, Jay, and all the jokes in the article kept me from screaming in anger and scaring my neighbors.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at March 22, 2005 2:15 AM | Permalink

Hi, Jay. Thanks for the link.

I think the institutional press are getting desperate. You mentioned Dan Froomkin's Post columns and chat in your previous piece; the guy is practically begging for someone to help the national political press out from the corner they've boxed themselves into. A brief exchange with another national reporter last week revealed the same sense of desperation there, too, although not as overt and not as dismissive of bloggers.

I've got as much probably unwarranted ego as the next guy, but I don't want to think of myself as an individual actor in this play. (For one thing, I'm not: there wouldn't be any White House dispatches on the site absent Eric Brewer, the BTC News contributor who lives in the area.) What I would prefer is to be at the leading edge of an effort to co-opt the press; not to oppose or undermine it, as the White House does and as the (once far) right has spent forty years and hundreds of millions of dollars in a successful effort to do, but to add an additional dimension to it that provides the the institutional press an excuse to go beyond the limits they've largely imposed upon themselves and that they're clearly becoming aware of in increasing numbers. Hang out at Romenesko's letters page for a couple of weeks and you'll see what I mean.

Obviously I approach this from a political perspective as well as from the perspective of a reader who is tired, tired of an institutional press who manage to screw up straightforward stories so consistently that it keeps Steve Lovelady and his posse in business and overworked. (And I'll offer up Steve as an example of an institutional press guy who has undergone a profound transformation after a year or more of looking at the business from the critic's perspective.)

That latter is an area in which bloggers of any stripe who operate in good faith can help, by providing journalists with the broader context of stories and an opportunity to revisit stories that warrant a second look. They needn't limit themselves to noticing bloggers only when some of us whip up a shitstorm.

From a leftist political standpoint, bloggers can provide a safety valve for the pressures imposed on journalists by the right. Some liberals, most recently Digby, have suggested that the left needs to create a media machine the equal of the right's. I don't think so. For one, we haven't 40 years to spare, and for another we don't need to because the right is right: The press are inherently liberal, and it's because Americans are inherently liberal. What liberal bloggers as journalists can do is create opportunities, an infrastructure, through which the press can reflect that national bias and, by golly, make money at it too. Sort of a field of dreams thing: if you build it, they will come.

What "it" is, is a press that doesn't leave viewers and readers feeling cheated. CJR Daily has an interview up with recently retired CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton, whose book, Bad News, describes a network news system that is so flawed as to be not just useless but actively destructive, and he makes clear that the principals, the anchors and high-profile reporters, know it. They know they're cheating their audiences by delivering a bad product, but the only people they won't spill their guts about it to are the people they're cheating. They need help lancing the boil. The print press are a little more up front about it; not enough, yet, to do any real good, but there's a tipping point, in terms of an opportunity to push the press in the right direction, approaching if not already passing underneath us.

Dear Press: you need us. We will be your sponsors. Take a deep breath and start on your twelve step journey to redemption.


The only thing I have to say about the Shiavo case and Teri's Law is that soon enough it'll be topped by Tom's Law, where Tom DeLay's supporters argue that his political career has a right to life and Congress should invalidate whatever the courts eventually do to it, and him. I'm looking forward to the coverage.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 22, 2005 2:18 AM | Permalink

P.S. - If he can spare a moment to wipe Rather's blood off his chin and spit out those chunks of ankle, Podhoretz may want to ask himself why, after forty years and those hundreds of millions invested in undermining what he sees as the opposition press, there's still only one issue—national security—on which the right consistently get higher marks from the electorate than do moderates and liberals.

Posted by: weldon berger at March 22, 2005 2:27 AM | Permalink

Superb piece. As praktike so eloquently put it, you are essentially taking movement conservatism at its word and drawing the logical consequences. It's not a pretty picture.

To be a movement conservative means being able to say with a straight face, "Yes, I trust the Bush administration to be a better journalist than the journalists. Whereas it is inconceivable that the press would be capable of it, the Bush administration can quite easily distinguish fact from spin and deliver nothing but the facts to me in their fake video news releases."

How much more clearly can movement conservatism tell us they want the Republican facts and nothing but the Republican facts. This means not just one party government, but a one party public. NO THANK YOU.

Even given absolute faith in the truth of the movement conservatism line, could the resident Bush supporters for this blog please explain how exactly passing off Bush administration self-representations as independent, objective, press-generated observations of the Bush administration, how MISREPRESENTATION of administration actions INCREASES THE CREDIBILITY of the administration? How does that work?

Don't Republican citizens also prefer to know when they are hearing from their government and when they are hearing from the press? Do you really PREFER not to know the source of the news, not to be able to distinguish PR from news, as long as it comes from your party? Do you really believe the objectivity you think impossible for the press in principle magically acrues to any spinmaster in the press office of a Republican administration (or any spinmaster in the expensive PR agencies they hire to outsource production of the "strictly factual" propaganda pieces)?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at March 22, 2005 2:37 AM | Permalink

One more logical conclusion: In what world can a media that collaborates with the Bush administration in presenting Bush PR as news--even giving production advice and requesting custom, local tags--in what world are these documented facts compatible with the liberal media bias thesis?

It is the media that conceals the connection to the administration from their viewers to suggest the work of the administration is their own work. The media are active collaborators in this. This story includes hundreds of broadcast outlets. It certainly establishes that the media does not currently view representing the public as job #1. This is a media corruption story that puts paid to the liberal media bias nonsense.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at March 22, 2005 4:20 AM | Permalink

The press is not being decertified, it is decertifying itself. The public is doing it. They do not believe that the press is able to challenge the WH with any kind of integrity.

For example, the press is not representing the public when months of coverage about women at Augusta takes place and no one shows up to protest.

For this type of non-representation how does the public "punish" the press? They stop listening to it, they stop talking to it.

Until the press does a better job of representing the public, they will not be able escape the box they have put themselves in.

Posted by: Tim at March 22, 2005 8:41 AM | Permalink

The irony is that by presenting government propaganda as "news", the corporate media its destroying its credibility on its own volition. Its one thing for government propaganda to exist----it always has and always will exist. Its another thing for the corporate media to present that propaganda as if it isn't propaganda.

More important however is the nature of government propaganda. The key phrase in Jay's piece, IMHO, is

Ultimately that's what the clash of opinions--GAO vs. Justice--is about: not the Adminstration's right to "manage" the news (old think), but to substitute itself for the increasingly discredited news media (new).

In past administrations, news "management" meant getting the administration's perspective on the facts presented in the most favorable light. This administration isn't just "substituting itself" as a source of factual information, it is literally redefining people's perception of reality by consistently presenting lies as facts.

The expectation of the American public is that the mainstream media will tell us when politicians are lying --- and when the mainstream media fails to do so, it is the credibility of the messenger that is damaged. People expect politicians to be politician, and expect the media to cut through the BS. It is the consistency with which the Bush regime is lying that has overwhelmed the corporate media's ability to perform its traditional function of informing the public.

In the past, the corporate media operated under the assumption that although politicians would "spin" the facts to their advantage, there were usually limits to that spin. The media could assume that, by relating the government's position, it was at the very least providing an approximation of the facts. And when people lied on issues of substance, the corporate media was able to hold them to account because those kinds of lies were fairly infrequent.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, is willing to engage in extensive disinformation campaigns on issues of the most vital importance to the American people. There may have been some excuse for telling the American people that Iraq had WMDs --- it was 'conventional wisdom'. But there was no excuse for the campaign to convince people of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda---that was a pure and unequivocal disinformation campaign aimed at exploiting the trauma of 9-11.

And when it became clear, well prior to the invasion of Iraq, that there was no al Qaeda connection, the mainstream media did report it. In the past, such reporting would have resulted in an administration's retreat from these kinds of assertions---the Bush regime did not retreat, and the mainstream media did not know what to do about it, because they work under the assumption of the essential honesty of American leaders, and that the only reason that the Bush regime would not retreat was if it knew more than it could talk about publicly.

When we talk about "de-certifying the press", we aren't just talking about finding ways around the mainstream media, or attacking it for being "biased" or using Karen Ryan and Armstrong Williams to get the administration's message out. We are talking about destroying the credibility of the mainstream media by using it to spread disinformation. Jayson Blair and "Memogate" are virtually irrelevant to the question of whether people consider the media to be credible because Blair's fabrications and CBS's mistakes were not of any real consequence. But when people find out that the media is not a reliable source of factual information on issues that are of vital importance to them, everything that comes through the mainstream media is viewed with suspicion.

People have been suspicious of politicians since Vietnam and Watergate, and have relied upon the mainstream media to tell them the truth. When politicians lie, and the media does not make it crystal clear that lies are being told, it is the reputation of the media that suffers the most.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 22, 2005 9:10 AM | Permalink

Mark, they want to go to Disneyland. Of course all the people means the half the population who voted against the current regime. You know, those minus the 120,000 that elected Bush, so who represents them and fields their questions about policy and process? Shouldn't one-party polit bureau rules be challenged on their behalf?

How do these defenders of the the great wise populace respond to the Bus locking up public records at an unprecedented rate? Bush IS Putin indeed. We know by his actions, not opinion or innuendo. I expect a twisted answer spinning like the web of a black widow in the wind.

Posted by: Iccarus at March 22, 2005 11:05 AM | Permalink

Lee Kane entirely misses my point.
He presumes (how, I don't know) that my analogy -- "The fish doesn't know that it is wet" -- refers to the public.
To the contrary, in this case, the fish is a reference to the press itself -- and specifically to the apparently-oblivious David Shaw.
Try to pay more attention, Lee.
There could be a test afterwards.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 22, 2005 12:02 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady:

And isn't it interesting that a (normally) astute observor of the American press, David Shaw of the L.A. Times, didn't get it ... yet the British journalist , looking in from the outside, immediately grasped what is going on and how the balance of influence is shifting?

This part interests me a good deal. Rather than make statements about Shaw himself, I would propose that for Big J journalists as a group-- those who have reached the sort of stature where they work for a big and nationally known news organization--problems of frame recognition, involving "professional self-awareness" (the fish trying to realize what water is) can get very severe.

Consider, for example, the fact that the press can be acted upon, politically--discredited as part of a strategy--but it cannot act in return because that would be seen as "too political." After a while the absurdity of the situation becomes normal if you are in it, and one's ideas of the possible adjust accordingly.

But you may have built a distorting factor in. You have normalized your weakness. Who says there's no way to act, and retain credibility? Who says "opposition press" has to mean "Democratic press," party press, ideologically-inflected news? Maybe it doesn't.

Here's a screwball term for you. The loyal opposition press. Who can say we don't need one?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2005 12:37 PM | Permalink

I agree that Rosen et al miss the pretty obvious point that whatever Bush's policy is regarding the press, it has no chance in hell of succeeding unless the public doesn't care or actively agrees that it's sound policy. Instead of focusing on that salient point we get much yammering about the "Bush Bubble" and similar asinine rhetoric and talk of "decertifying" the press as if this is simply an executive branch prerogative and no one had thought of it before.

Not even Nixon! And by the way, there was a bunker administration, far more hostile to outsiders than any of its successors. Oh, but I forgot, it's the "totality" of the Bush Bubble that matters, historical precedents don't matter blah blah unsubtle robot conservative mind just can't grasp the beautiful logic of Rosen's ideas.

Anyway, as fun as it is to read Rosen restating the same points over and over again with little embellishment, how about widening the perspective so we can see WHY Bush has been successful in his stance toward the press...if anyone is interested.

Posted by: Brian at March 22, 2005 1:19 PM | Permalink

Nixon hated the press but didn't have an alternative. In the three decades since his fall, the idea of a systematic liberal media bias has been actively promoted and reinforced by conservative interests. That effort successfully plowed the ground for decertification.

Decertification requires many things to succeed, and it's quite possible that Bush et al have bitten off more than they can chew. I certainly hope so. But to contend that Rosen et al have failed to consider the role of public perception in this idea is to miss the point on a rather grand scale.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 22, 2005 2:10 PM | Permalink

One can begin to understand the dominant media's denial of liberal bias, after reflecting on PressThink comments such as the following:

"But there is a difference between an "ideological" bias, and a "fact-based" bias." - P.Lukasiak, March 4, 2005.
"Facts have a liberal bias." - David Ehrenstein, March 14, 2005.
"The press are inherently liberal, and it's because Americans are inherently liberal." - Weldon Berger, March 22, 2005.

These may be representative of what some of our liberal media friends truly believe. Their beliefs are so strongly held with an almost religious fervor, to the exclusion of any other considerations, that they have become zealots. They're ensconced so firmly in their liberal cocoon that, to them, the liberal view is the only view.

However, I'm not so sure that all (or even most) of the dominant media are that kind of true believer. Many are instead only garden-varienty lefty ideologues, capable of understanding but who just haven't yet made a deep, broad-minded examination of issues (perhaps due to lack of exposure to alternate views).

No, it's more likely the dominant media's denial of liberal bias is an artifice, cynically maintained to fortify the audience's presumption of press objectivity and consequent credibility, which our liberal media friends find so useful when trying to influence others.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 22, 2005 2:18 PM | Permalink

I would say that a press that is three times more likely to be negative toward Bush than Kerry is a DNC mouthpiece. You can call it a "loyal opposition press" if you can keep a straight face. Of course, those who say "Bush IS Putin, indeed", "Jayson Blair and 'Memogate' are virtually irrelevant to the question of whether people consider the media to be credible", "Bush regime is lying", "this is akin to what Putin said the other week about Bush firing reporters. It's true", will never be convinced that Bush is not the problem here. Are these supposed to be intellectual arguments supporting "de-certification"? It's interesting to see that some have moved beyond the Bush=Hitler meme to Bush=Stalin/Putin. Sorry, people, but outside your echo chamber, you just sound silly.

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 22, 2005 2:27 PM | Permalink

"I would say that a press that is three times more likely to be negative toward Bush than Kerry is a DNC mouthpiece"

I would call this is a false cause and an irrelavant conclusion, as are the other to examples based on validity and merit. Exceptions are always inflated to support bias and false conclusions. They have to be.

Bush's actions support the comparison. This has nothing to do with personalities. It's about delberate acts.

Posted by: Iccarus at March 22, 2005 3:05 PM | Permalink

De-certification is a move against a press in weakened condition-- not strongly trusted by the public, reeling from its own lapses, on uncertain economic ground, behind the curve technologically, unable to reason well about its political situation, including the ideological coloring of its own people, because professional journalism bought its own hype about not being "political."

These are often invisible subjects in your typical newsroom, where there is too much orthodoxy generally, including liberal orthodoxy. (There are many other forms.)

It is certainly the case that "movement" conservatives and people who could understand movement conservatives, or even knew any, personally, were few and far between in American news enviornments. From the Reagan years on this was a problem; it became a big problem. But I don't think anyone in the profession ever defined it that way (a mistake.)

In fact, "diversity" in the newsroom--which news executives did think about, a lot--got automatically cast using the left's catgeories of race and gender. This was a victory for liberal orthodoxy, in my view, even though the kind of hiring gains the minority groups wanted were not, in fact, made.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2005 3:07 PM | Permalink

It's too bad that the conservatives that have been coming here today to attack don't get it that it's not just the liberal press that has been de-certified.

It's the conservative press, too.

The Bush Administration can't be happy about the daily attacks on their immigration policy (and proposed immigration policy).

As for the attacks on the people who have used the word "liberal" to describe the news. For one, that has been discussed previously on this Website, just last week.

As hard as this is to grasp, all art...all inherently liberal.

Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

Now, of course, the ideology of the writer shapes the writing. So a William F. Buckley, while engaging in a liberal artform which seeks to open up a debate about any particular topic, applies his conservative beliefs to what he writes.

Nothing wrong of that, of course.

But the truth is...all the conservative pundits and right leaning bloggers are more LIBERAL than they think.

The definition of a close-minded intolerant conservative press would be just what Jay is talking about...what the Bush Administration appears to favor. This is a threat to both sides and all American, and practically everyone else in the world.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at March 22, 2005 3:29 PM | Permalink

As a good friend said recently, "The New York Times is liberally biased, and if you can't agree to that then I'm not even going to talk to you."

"Liberal Media Bias" is an article of faith with some people, as evidenced above. Why? Because, well, gee, we've got a study that shows that the press was three times more likely to be negative towards Bush than Kerry. It's a nice, simple stat, like those stats that show that reporters voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.

Point out other perspectives, other studies, other interpretations, other surveys... or, heaven forbid, examine what their studies actually say ... and you're just trying to change the subject... or you're just trying to confuse matters... or you're just ... well, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A LIBERAL? (irony alert: these same people tend to be the ones nitpicking global climate science)

The liberal media bias meme is many things, but it is in many ways a cultural backlash against the arrogance of my profession. To this point it has been triumphant, succeeding to the extent that reporters (myself included) tend to worry incessantly about trying to be inclusive of conservative voices.

But experience teaches that it just doesn't matter: The sin is to be a mainstream journalist, and once you're that, nothing you can do mitigates the scorn of the LMB critics.

Read the decertification articles carefully. They explain what's going on. If you need a better orientation to systematic bias analysis, try Rhetorica. And finally, do what I do: read the Media Research Center's CyberAlert and the Media Matters for America home page every day. Do an honest comparison over time. One is trivial; the other is substantial.

Otherwise you can just continue to stomp around in circles shouting "bias, bias, BIAS!" The backlash against your excesses is already underway.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 22, 2005 3:32 PM | Permalink

You bring up a good point, Ron Brynaert: where are the voices of the conservative press? This is who Jay serves up to "prove" his point: Dana Milbank, Eric Boehlert, Frank Rich, New York Times, Dan Froomkin.Not a conservative among them, and most of them have in-your-face anti-Bush bias. This is why the de-certification argument lacks legitimacy in my view. Only the anti-Bush voices are included and considered valid. If this is truly about de-certification of the press, and not just partisan politics, the conservative press would be up in arms too.

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 22, 2005 4:24 PM | Permalink

Daniel Conover,

Media Matters is laughable, one suspects the sole motivation of Brock and co. is to produce so many complaints of counter-bias that people stop paying attention to *any* claims of bias (or as Rosen tellingly calls it, "noise"). Saying it lacks credibility would be putting it mildly.

By the way, how are Bush's moves different from Kerry's refusal to take questions for weeks during a presidential campaign? I know, I know, it's just different when Bush does it, just like vetting the crowd is different when a Republican does it vs. a Democrat.

I see Rosen links to Weisberg's deplorable and poorly argued Slate piece; I guess he'll take comfort where he can find it. Weisberg's article is predicated on the notion that Bush will have no concept how to handle his "defeat" on Social Security because his first term was so successful, and Weisberg's political judgement is so nakedly partisan that it renders his thoughts totally insight-free. It's typical Weisberg, fatuous and glib in equal measure. He spends half the article advancing a specious argument and the other half making CYA speculation in case Bush does the unexpected (i.e. triangulates on Social Security). Weisberg by the way is the incisive mind behind the Bushisms, which as often as not are deliberate attempts to misconstrue Bush statements--a typical bit of snotty giggling that is part of the reason why the mainstream media is held in such low regard.

Posted by: Brian at March 22, 2005 4:32 PM | Permalink


If they write it...they will come. I have no doubt that Jay will add voices on the other side who see the danger of this phenomenom.

William Safire wrote eloquently (he always writes eloquently even when he lies) about the dangers of the consolidation of the Media.

As for the New York Times. Give it a rest. I don't even bother blogging about conservative bias in the conservative press. I mostly blog about conservative bias in the New York Times.

And that Columbia study that everyone keeps referring to that "proved" Bush was treated worse than Kerry last year is bullshit. I wrote an article the other week (link) about how 90 percent of the study took place before the full frontal swift boat veterans attack that infested the Media on August 5th.

Most of the dates in the study were in the beginning of the year before the race had even really started. A proper study would have compared Bush in 2004 to Clinton in 1996...since any incumbent president is going to be challenged more on what they've accomplished (or haven't) then their opponent.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at March 22, 2005 5:01 PM | Permalink

Jay writes,
"It is certainly the case that 'movement' conservatives and people who could understand movement conservatives, or even knew any, personally, were few and far between in American news enviornments."

Jay, you ignore the family factor. In a conservative country -- and that's what it is right now, with a conservative White House, a conservative Congress, a conservative Supreme Court, a majority of conservative State Houses and, most important, a conservative electorate-- it's highly likely that most liberals (including liberal journalists) are going to be woefully outnumbered at neighborhood gatherings, family reunions or holiday get-togethers.
I'm not joking here -- although the classic Thanksgiving dinner where the mildly left-of-center journalist is surrounded by 16 frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing relatives is indeed a running and rueful joke among liberally-inclined reporters and editors.
Maureen Dowd has written funny columns and moving columns about the phenomenon-- and last November even turned her column space for one day over to her rabidly conservative brother, who, being a Dowd, was quite articulate.
Her experience isn't the exception, it's the rule.
So I wouldn't worry too much about journalists not having much experience with "movement" conservatives.
If they don't get it at the dinner table, they get it on the job; the reporting experience alone, if it is a full one, exposes them to far more varieties of political belief and experience than most conservative commentators will encounter in a lifetime.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 22, 2005 5:41 PM | Permalink

The de-certification is real, continuing -- and necessary. That is, the MSM Liberally Biased press is being de-certified, from below, and deserves it.

What to do? "nothing you can do mitigates the scorn of the LMB critics" -- how about being more critical of the Dems -- what IS their plan?

On MORAL issues, some 26 million voted for Bush, only 4 million for Kerry (see Pew, or my 3-d analysis) -- but newsrooms have essentially blacklisted anybody who supports Bush morals.

Bias-deniers, like Ron Brynaert, fail to address the news story of the form-that-must-not-be-named. The one Kerry may, finally sign (says Kaus) -- and we'll find out either 1) nothing there, he was stupid to not sign it before, or 2) whoops, that first PH really was kinda questionable; zero days in hospital; most of the Swiftie Claims are established or the official reports don't fully contradict them.

Harry Potter #4 has a character, Rita Skeeter, whose goal is to write biased articles against the Ministry of Magic, then For Harry, then against Harry's friends, and against him. It's a great set of clearly biased reports. A lot like MSM.

The NYT or Liberal Press takes a white house speech, interprets it and twists its meaning. But the speech itself is there on the web; one can read what Bush actually DID say -- and it's not what the Biased Press wants to claim he said. In this way, the press is decertifying itself.

Jay, thanks (again) for a great, important idea. But, again, you're wrong: the problem is NOT Bush -- it's too many secularist, anti-Christian Leftists in the newsrooms. And in the Universities. How is it possible that genetics CAN force some to be homosexual, but can NOT influence more men to be gifted physicists than women? Only in a PC theology, where facts don't matter as much as intentions.

PC la la land, where any good results of Bush policies you oppose are explained away, and any bad results of policies you support are ignored. But the bad results of Bush policies, no matter how small, are relentlessly "reported" and "analyzed", much like a Jehovah's Witness person is willing to talk and talk and talk.

The reason the gov't is moving in on providing info, and the MAIN reason (not only), is that the Dem Party faithful whose jobs are in reporting "news" are unable to get their facts straight, when the facts disagree with their passionately held beliefs.

Chimp-Bush the idiot -- Genius Bush the innovator of evil. Bah.
Jay, wake up: "the new world of blogs will provide as much public scrutiny as newspapers and broadcasters once did." -- heck, Rathergate and Easongate show that bloggers are ALREADY doing better. The question is whether the Left can come up with facts, rather than foaming at the mouth Bush hate rants (this does NOT mean here at PressThink). Real facts, not strawman twisted quotes.

The problem with you, and Kos, Krugman, Kevin Drum, is your own lying bias. Social Security is unsustainable "as is" -- either taxes go up, or benefits are cut (incl. retirement age deferred) ... or, for the same amount of money taken, the return on the forced retirement savings goes up. The lying Dems say "no crisis" (now), but refuse to disclose this means a BIGGER tax increase or benefit cut later.

Of course, that IS the future ... and there are no real facts, today, about the future. (I think I've written this here before.) Only what some folk say.

Ain't those pro-democracy protests and demonstrations popping out all over the Mid East wonderful? Might not work; might see some civil wars -- but at least the folk are learning to HOPE for freedom. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 22, 2005 5:53 PM | Permalink

How about being more critical of the Dems?

Back in my political coverage days I spread the pain around plenty good, and let me just say that Republicans and Democrats have one thing in common: Both are convinced that we went easier on the other guy.

Anyway, I think it would be great if we could get back to a country where the Democratic position was actually relevant and worthy of critique. Color me commie, but I always thought the idea of a two-party system was a pretty good one. Then again, it's hard to call the Dems a party: they're really more like a loose coalition.

Media Matters is laughable

Oh, I see: only OUR side has any claim to the truth; the other side's claims are laughable. Ha ha. In fact, they're so laughable, we're not even going to consider their points, as we demand that our points be considered. At what point do you actually put your index fingers in your ear holes?

Has it never occurred to the True Believers that the left complains about MSM bias CONSTANTLY? The LMB harpies' attitude seems to be "Hey, we were here first: You hippies go get your own schtick."

And, though it physically pains me to argue with ANYONE who goes by the incredibly cool KVJr. handle "Kilgore Trout," to say that decertification is about partisan politics is an intellectual belly flop.

We are not talking about conservative ideas on government and foreign policy and economics here, boys. The topics are power and control. And if the conservative agenda has gotten mixed up with the power agenda, as I fear that it has, then heaven help us. It's not just the press that's in danger of being decertified.

Whoops! Mistrust of federal power! A classical conservative idea! Don't tell my media buddies or they'll revoke my Liberal Media Press Card and I won't be able to get into any of those cool Moonbat parties where Hollywood stars cavort with Satan and environmental groups hand out all those big bribes.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 22, 2005 7:27 PM | Permalink

Jay, let me see if I understand your argument re: the VNRs. The Bolton memo distinguishes VNRs that are purely informational from those that advocate a policy position. Are you arguing that because VNRs are used by businesses to advocate, there is no purely informational VNR that the federal government could produce?

Are you saying the VNRs in question, produced by HHS, were not purely informational but others might be?

Or are you primarily concerned about the fact that the government as source of the VNR was not disclosed?

If it's the last point, I share that concern. If it's the first point, let's unfold that a little more please.

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 22, 2005 7:53 PM | Permalink

Jay: The loyal opposition press. Who can say we don't need one?


It presumes "We love you hard, to make you better," when it is simpler, cleaner, wiser, more responsible to work such that, "If we present you clearly, readers who see your flaws, will love you hard, to make you better."

Posted by: sbw at March 22, 2005 9:57 PM | Permalink

Robin: The Bolton memo doesn't really distinguish VNRs that are purely informational from those that advocate a policy position. It just declares the Bush Adminstration's VNR's "purely informational," and says of course "advocacy" is a no no, and it says agency heads are responsible for keeping it that way.

The OLC did not, for example, conduct an investigation itself or make a finding that the VNRs actually produced by the Government (most of which we don't know about) are "purely informational." It has no direct knowledge.

The GAO reports that are critical of VNRs argue that they constitute propaganda because the government is not identified as the source and patron of the news therein. This is my argument, too, and it is my main concern: Thus:

One of the activities banned under the publicity or propaganda prohibition involves what is referred to as covert propaganda, that is, an agency’s production and distribution of materials that do not identify the agency, or indeed the government, as their source, thereby misleading those who refer to these materials...

Findings of covert propaganda, however, are predicated upon a factual finding that the target audience cannot ascertain the correct source of agency-prepared information...

CMS [a divison of Health and Human Services] wanted news organizations to broadcast its prepackaged news stories and anchor remarks, and facilitated this by providing news organizations with ready-to-use, off the shelf news stories CMS targeted at television viewing audiences...

CMS did not indicate that its stories about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government. The critical element of covert propaganda is the concealment of the agency’s role in sponsoring the materials...

By their very nature, prepackaged news stories primarily target television-viewing audiences, not news broadcasters, and this is true of ONDCP’s [Office of Drug Control Policy] prepackaged news stories. The proof of this is that, like CMS, ONDCP designed and executed its story packages to be indistinguishable from news stories produced by private sector television news organizations...

ONDCP admitted that the news broadcasters were not its target audience, explaining that Congress “anticipates that we [ONDCP] will influence the attitudes and behaviors of our target audiences, and . . . authorizes us to use various media to effect these changes.”

...By its own records, ONDCP’s prepackaged news stories reached more than 22 million households, without disclosing to any of those viewers -- the real audience -- that the products they were watching, which “reported” on the activities of a government agency, were actually prepared by that government agency, not by a seemingly independent third party... This is the essence of the “covert propaganda” violation -- agency-created materials that are “misleading as to their origin.”

Bolton's reply was essentially: no, to be illegal under the "covert propaganda" provision, VNR's have to hide the hand of the government (that's being covert) and they have to be propaganda, and our VNRs are not propaganda, advocacy or point of view, no, never, they're "purely informational."

Get it? Therefore there is no "propaganda effect" even if, as the GAO wrote, the HHS "did not indicate that its stories about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government."

In my assessment, the one thing Bolton and the Justice Department did not want to do, under any circumstances, was actually examine the VNR's and make a determination that they were not propaganda. And they didn't. The conclusion was arrived at deductively.

Also, you'll notice that the Bolton memo is written so that the next time there is a Video News Release that causes a scandal for being so manipulative and misleading, the White House can turn to an agency head and say, "you assured us your VNRs were purely informational. Now we learn that is not the case!" Chop, chop.

My view: news stories about the government that do not indicate they were prepared by the government, but do look like broadcast quality news programs, are inherently propaganda. If the government is the concealed source, script-writer and producer, the information isn't pure.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2005 10:20 PM | Permalink

There are none so blind. Why is the MSM bleeding and dying? Read this piece and the comments and the answer is obvious.

Some day an honest journalist will arise and review the press coverage of Bush's guard service versus the non-coverage of Kerry's war and anti-war record. This honest journalist will ask about Kerry's lie about releasing his records. About Kerry's possible dishonorable discharge. He'll ask about the inclusion in Kerry's band of brothers of vets who were never on his boat as they and Kerry claimed. He'll follow up the affidavits of those who swear Kerry suborned perjury in the Winter Soldier hearings.

And on and on and on. And the honest journalist will conclude, as John O'Neil did, that the press served as propaganda artists for the Kerry campaign. For this honest journalist will learn of the reporters who refused to cover any of this and stated, flat out, that they were unwilling to run any story that would help Bush.

Grow up folks. You are aren't being shut out by Bush because you are biased. You are being shut out because you are partisan as hell. You can bury your head in the sand and refuse to examine the evidence, but it won't go away.

I'm a lawyer. I've spent years evaluating evidence from both sides. I have to be honest about the facts, pro and con, or I hurt my clients.

One of these days, one of you journalists will try honesty for a change -- and really look at the evidence of partisanship in the MSM. But most of you never will. You'll just call me names and write me off. After all, I'm just a stupid customer of yours. Or rather was. Millions of us just don't pay attention to you anymore. We figured out that we have better education and higher IQs. We can analyze the news better than the crap you've been giving us for years.

So keep on calling us knuckle-draggers and morons (it shows how mature you are). Cover your ears and avoid any possibility of hearing an opposing view. And join Dan, Peter, Tom and the boys in dinosaur land.

Posted by: stan at March 22, 2005 10:26 PM | Permalink

Anyone who wants to re-fight any portion of the Swift Boat Vets and Kerry-in-Vietnam cases can go find another blog to do at. stan: I will give you a break this time because I haven't seen you here before. And as regular readers know, there is no discussion of Form 180 allowed here. Posts in violation of this policy will be erased, and attempts to quiz me about the policy will also be erased. Take it elsewhere. Better yet, put it on your shelf and admire how right you were all along.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink

One can begin to understand the dominant media's denial of liberal bias, after reflecting on PressThink comments such as the following:

"But there is a difference between an "ideological" bias, and a "fact-based" bias." - P.Lukasiak, March 4, 2005.

perhaps nothing reflects the problems with right-wing criticism of the media better than the above example --- an ideologically neutral statement which is provided as an example of "liberal denial" of liberal bias.

The "fact" is that by the mid-nineties the "welfare system" was a mess, and needed to be reformed, and this was reflected in the reporting of welfare related issues. Just because conservatives were ideologically opposed to welfare did not mean that the press reflected a conservative ideological bias in emphasizing the problems associated with the welfare system.

Those who are not ideologically opposed to welfare, who think that the government should ensure that American citizens have a better standard of living than the residents of a Calcutta ghetto, did not insist that the press provide a "balanced" view of welfare. There was no campaign to get the press to focus on the significant successes of the welfare system --- and conservatives were not complaining that "bias" was the reason why the American people were not fully familiar with the benefits of the welfare system and thus fully supportive of the status quo.

Conservatives didn't complain because the facts supported their ideological biases. And liberals didn't complain because they recognized that the facts were facts, and represented a problem that needed to be dealt with.

That is the defining difference --- when liberals don't like the conclusions that can be drawn from an examination of all the facts, they accept those conclusions anyway. When conservatives don't like the conclusions, they complain of bias, and insist that the media is not providing sufficient coverage of the facts which are consistent with their ideological biases.

The press is losing credibility because it is responsive to the conservative critique. Conservatives want the equivalent of reporting on a foot race that focuses only on the amount of ground covered by their preferred runner, and ignore the fact that the runner is consistently losing ground to the leaders and much of the rest of the field. When the race is over, and the press has to report that the preferred runner came in 6th out of 10 runners, the public is left confused because it doesn't understand what actually happened --- and blames the press for leaving it confused.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 23, 2005 4:32 AM | Permalink

So do I take it that Bush supporters here are not really concerned about the Bush bubble and the choice to face only friendly questioners in "town meetings" meant to build support for the President's social security proposals?

Is it a problem, not a problem, it's a problem but he wouldn't have to do it if the press wasn't so biased, it's a problem but we won't give you the satisfaction of saying so... or what? Also, for anyone who has an answer, why does the Bush bubble exist? Why is it needed?

To me these are mysteries.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 7:27 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Jay. Your disagreement with the White House is clearer to me now. You feel that any release which does not identify itself as being from the government *in the release itself* (and not just in the accompanying materials given to the broadcaster) is propaganda, no matter how factual or evenhanded the content might be.

Bolton et al take a different position:

OLC does not agree with GAO that the "covert propaganda" prohibition applies simply because an agency's role in producing and disseminating information is undisclosed or "covert," regardless of whether the content of the message is "propaganda." Our view is that the prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of infomation concerning the programs
administered by an agency.
This view is supported by the legislative history, which indicates that informing the public of the facts about a federal program is not the type of evil with which Congress was concerned in enacting the "publicity or propaganda" riders.

I'm not entirely convinced by the position that you and the GAO take, but I understand the dangers. In the VNRs in question, the broadcasting outlets were informed of the source but generally did not emphasize it to the viewers. That, I think, can be laid at the feet of the broadcasters.

However - and I suspect this may be part of your worry - those same VNRs might be downloaded from the Web and otherwise circulated. Since visuals have a much greater impact on most people than words, that's a powerful way to get an idea across.

On the agency issue, the memo states:

Agencies are responsible for reviewing their VNRs to ensure that they do not cross the line between legitimate governmental information and improper government-funded advocacy. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions

It might well be that this sets the stage to cut off someone who either makes a bad call or can take the fall for the Administration. OTOH, I wonder how you'd feel if we learned that all press releases from all federal agencies had to be cleared and tweaked by the White House staff. Not a very good precedent, I think.

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 23, 2005 7:56 AM | Permalink

How about "all fake news clips from federal agencies have to identify the government as the source of the news?" That would be a good precedent, Robin. That's the standard the PR industry (after some prodding from PressThink) set-- script mention, it's called. That's what the GAO recommends. That would quiet all controversy. And that's what the Bush Administration won't do.

Even if you think the practice legal, and within the Administration's rights, one ought to ask: why do it? Is the government standing on principle here? But what principle would that be? "It's our job to hide the hand of government, and the broadcasters' job to find it and identify it to taxpayers, and if they fail tough nuggies!"

"Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution," said William A. Pierce, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, in the New York Times. "This is not our problem. We can't be held responsible for their actions."

If "informing the public of the facts about a federal program" is the honest and true aim, as the Bolton memo says, then it would seem to improve that aim to tell viewers that their government is the source of these facts. Who knows more about a federal program than the people who run it? So what practical goal is served by refusing that standard?

There is no practical goal served. There is no principle served. There is no good answer to "why do it?" The only interest served is to hide the hand of government and make fake news look real enough that TV stations will use it. The point of it was well stated by Pierce: "We can't be held responsible."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 9:12 AM | Permalink

How different are the Bush Administration's press and propaganda policies?

We know VNRs were used in the Clinton Administration, although we don't know if they were deceptive in the same way (hiding the hand of government in fake news.) If they were used the same way, that practice was insidious and wrong; and if GAO had been asked to look at it, the verdict, I have no doubt, would have been the same.

What about the Bush bubble? Here's Froomkin from the Feb. 8th White House briefing:

I'm no presidential historian -- and I welcome those of you who are to chip in with an e-mail -- but I do remember a bit about the last guy. And Bush himself invited comparison with President Clinton in his Jan. 26 press conference.

"I look forward to . . . traveling around the country discussing this issue -- similar to what President Clinton did," Bush said. "President Clinton highlighted the issue as an issue that needed to be addressed, and an issue that needed to be solved. He fully recognized, like I recognize, that it's going to require cooperation in the House and the Senate."

But Bush's approach couldn't be much more different than Clinton's. When Bush has one of his "conversations" on Social Security, it's with people prescreened to agree with him and he asks the rehearsed and leading questions. When Clinton had his "discussions" on Social Security, he intentionally brought opponents along with him, spoke before a mixed crowd, and let himself get grilled.

I ask again: why is this the Bush policy?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 9:37 AM | Permalink

I have two comments here, neither of which will be taken seriously:

It's fine to quote Froomkin about comparisons between the Clinton and Bush administrations, but he lacks credibility because of his dislike of Bush. As I mentioned above, the utter lack of ideological diversity in the Rich-Weisberg-Froomkin-Milbank axis of opinion, causes me to doubt their assertions. Show me a writer-reporter-pundit with a centrist or right tilt who backs up the Froomkins, and I'll believe there may be something to his/their charges.

A couple of days ago, there was an article in USAToday featuring Mike McCurry's comments on VNRs. The Clinton administration had spent over $100 mil on them and he strongly defended them. In McCurry's view, VNRs were needed because the press doesn't cover what the government does with tax dollars, the press only wants to cover waste, fraud and abuse. If these VNRs are so evil, why did Clinton get a pass? Where was Frank Rich's vitrol eight years ago?

I do hope no one here will try to cast McCurry as a "conservative" or "pro-Bush". I also hope no one here will try to cast me as a "conservative" or "pro-Bush", either, as both would be false.

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 23, 2005 10:32 AM | Permalink

I have questions.

I'd like to know more about how print journalism's "plagiarism" of the government press release differs from broadcast journalism's "plagiarism" of the government VNR?

I'm especially interested in the Executive branch's legal responsibilities in composing the print press release versus the VNR so that a certain threshold of editing is required by journalists that create "covert propaganda" from the government's product.

I would also like to ask if this is correct, "And that's what the Bush Administration won't do." In fact, the VNRs produced by the different departments do identify the sources outside the script and examples were given in the press of VNRs with script attribution that were editing by broadcast news journalists. So, is it accurate to say "won't do"?

Third, can we distinguish between the OMB cover memo signed by Josh Bolton and the OLC memos that Bolton has nothing to do with?

Bolton cover memo with Bradbury memo attached (LINK)
OLC July 2004 opinion memo (LINK)

Finally, this may be OT but related IMO, the Republican Schiavo memo has no provenance and has not been released by ABC or WaPo (No Transparency) and yet Mike Allen, for one, asks that we "trust" the veracity of the memo.

I don't trust Mike Allen, why should I? I don't trust "fake news". Why should the press that delivers to me plagiarized press releases and VNRs complain that I can't be trusted not to be fooled by "covert propaganda" from government, corporate media, etc.?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2005 11:08 AM | Permalink

Jay Rosen:

We know VNRs were used in the Clinton Administration, although we don't know if they were deceptive in the same way (hiding the hand of government in fake news.) If they were used the same way, that practice was insidious and wrong; and if GAO had been asked to look at it, the verdict, I have no doubt, would have been the same.
Actually, didn't GAO also find the 1999 CMS VNRs deceptive in the same way?


In response to our request for more factual information on CMS’s practice of using VNRs, CMS forwarded to us a fourth videotape. This tape contains Story Package 2 and two VNRs, each of which CMS described as a “produced story segment,” that HHS produced and distributed in 1999 under then-Secretary Donna Shalala of the Clinton Administration. Smith Letter at 2. These two story packages were designed to inform beneficiaries of the Clinton Administration’s position on prescription drug benefits and preventive health benefits. CMS pointed out similarities between the story packages in current use and the earlier ones. Much like the story packages at issue here, the earlier story packages contain footage of seniors engaging in various activities, then-HHS Secretary Donna Shalala appearing to answer questions regarding the provisions of proposed legislation for a prescription drug benefits and preventive health benefits, and a report of the Administration’s proposal. The earlier story packages end with the phrase, "Lovell Brigham, reporting."
As we noted in the background section of this decision, CMS forwarded to us a videotape including what CMS described as two story packages that HHS had produced and distributed during the Clinton Administration in October 1999. These two story packages were not brought to our attention at that time. Had we been aware of the use of story packages in this or other contexts, the principles discussed here would have been applicable. We note, however, that accounts of the government are settled by operation of law three years after the close of the fiscal year. 31 U.S.C. § 3526(c).

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2005 11:31 AM | Permalink

I had the strangest dream last night.... that the White House gaggle had been replaced...

The White House GaggleBlog

Scroll down for the comments.

Posted by: sbw at March 23, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink

If someone says, "use this, please" and you do, it is not theft. If you're saying, Tim, that reporters are being lazy and just copying the stuff, so they're responsible when the sh*t gets through to viewers... that is true.

Bradbury is correct. Bolton is wrong. My error.

Anyone can say a VNR is a video "version" of a print press release, and that is an accepted way of describing it. To me, it's basically a fradulent comparison, although I grant: common. I'm in the minority on this, but some agree with me, I hope.

A video news release has an intention to deceive built into it that incorporates what the press release did--mimic the form of a "straight" news story, without the same intention--but extends much further, into a form of public confusion-making that is not, at all, analagous to the press release you would drop in the mail.

Except that the phony comparison is critical to the production of harmlessness, without which the VNR industry would never had gotten off the ground.

The difference between the forms is the insertion of a person (in the cases we are talking about, a play-acting reporter, a Karen Ryan type) who addresses you as someone she actually is not, except she tries in every way to make you think she is, because she wants to be good at her job, and her job is to fake it... to simulate a truer version of herself.

It's okay, everyone on the set thinks, because somewhere else, on another plane of the transaction, in what amounts to a routinized location in the bureaucracy, someone in the government said to someone in the media, "this is fake, she's not really a reporter, she's us, it's the Feds... okay?" "Yeah, yeah, we got it. This one's from the Feds, Charlie."

Because of that person, looking us in the eye and faking it fully about matters of politics and government, and because this form of confusion-making involves true information but false personhood, the VNR is a different kind of human transaction, and thus a different medium, ethically, if you will. There is a different catgeory of ethical puzzle involved.

It's the difference between sending a message and being a message, and therefore it is philosophical, as well.

In normal usage, a Video News Release represents society getting used to a certain amount of deception from its government, willful because Karen Ryan is willfully impersonating and she knows the difference. It goes without saying that the same confusion-making and deception was going on in 1999.

And it's worth taking seriously what McCurry said. He's got hold of something too:

Although the Bush administration is again facing criticism for distributing "video news releases" that mimic independent TV news reports, one prominent Democrat says the media, not the president, should be taking the flak. Democratic and Republican administrations have produced the news releases, called VNRs, former White House press secretary Michael McCurry said. But he said the intent is not to mislead....

McCurry said the media have forced the government to "package" the news, and reporters should "try covering the things that the government really does and report on things that really work instead of assuming that everything is waste, fraud and abuse." Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said the government has an obligation to identify its VNRs. But she said "the burden is on newsrooms to make sure viewers know where they're getting this material."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink

Just for fun, here's a clip of the Daily Show on the VNRs controversy in case you missed it.

Posted by: Andrew Grant at March 23, 2005 2:00 PM | Permalink

Say, has anyone else ever noticed how politicians campaign for office on the grounds of ending "waste, fraud and abuse," but then complain bitterly after they start governing that "waste, fraud and abuse" are the only things reporters care about?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 23, 2005 2:05 PM | Permalink

I'll try this again: There is no Bush bubble. You're mistaking the Bush team's carefully crafted Social Security communication events, disguised as town hall discussions, with real town hall discussions - - they are not. Before you rend your clothes at such an outrageous admission, please understand the following before I explain why the foregoing is tolerable.

What our friends on the left mis-perceive to be a "bubble" around President Bush (i.e. pre-screening out protestors and political fifth-columnists at Bush events) is instead only a necessary reaction to the dominant liberal media bias.

This is because, so often, the quote, sound-bite or video clip from audience members that our dominant media highlights in their reporting (often the only one) is the one that is the most contrary to the President's message. No one wants their party to be upstaged by a turd in the punchbowl. So the Bush team tries to nip-in-the-bud any opportunity for the media to focus solely on that kind of blemish on an otherwise well-crafted communication event.

Bluntly: The Bush team wants the President's message conveyed in various news reports of the event. They do not want his message superceded by audience outbursts contrary to that message which, espicially on video, are irresistable to our liberal press friends. (We may argue about why they're irresistible.)

Now you understand the sound reasons for pre-screening. "But why the pretense of a town-hall discussion in the first place?", you ask. The Bush team knows (or believes, if you prefer for sake of argument) that it cannot count on our liberal press friends to make a fair and balanced report of the President's Social Security reform message (nor his message on most issues). The town-hall communication event is a time-tested (and campaign-tested) tactic for packaging and effectively disseminating the President's message in resulting news coverage.

Finally, this is all unworrisome to we on the center-right supportive of the President's message because we realize the reasoning behind the President's Social Security (or any other) meassage has already been discussed, debated and tested to withstand opposing views long before it ever emanates from the Bush team at a (staged) communication event. That is, there is no Bush bubble.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 23, 2005 2:46 PM | Permalink

Well, bubble or no bubble, Bush is free to manage his agenda, and the press, as he wishes.

I think it's a mistake on the Bush team's part, and that they will come to regret taking this particular path. Reporters won't like it (of course), but more to the point, the American people won't like it.

The more they find out about it, the less they like it. So is reporting on it liberal bias?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 23, 2005 2:57 PM | Permalink

I love it. That was wonderful, Auditor-- clear and to the point. The Liberal Media drove him into the bubble. The press de-certified itself, Bush is the one who recognized it. The Bush Bubble is not what it appears to be, a haven from the unpersuaded, but a superior recognition of reality. Promising!

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 3:00 PM | Permalink

T/A: "What our friends on the left mis-perceive to be a "bubble" around President Bush ... is instead only a necessary reaction to the dominant liberal media bias."

I wonder if it isn't a "necessary" (questionable, perhaps realistic would have been better) reaction to the bad news structural bias which distorts both political message and reality?

In response, the Bush communications event distorts reality (staged communication events with pre-screened participants) to deny the press the ability to distort reality?

What I find interesting about Rosen's analysis is the traditional press bias he expresses - "Sure, the press distorts based on their biases. But it was accepted by news subjects as necessary. What Bush is doing is placing a concave lens in front of the media's convex lens, and that's damaging and dangerous." Paraphrasing, of course.
What is amusing is the concepts being used by Left, Right and Rosen to describe this phenomena of political media communications.

Rosen describes it as both offense (de-certification) and defense (bubble). An innovative approach using well worn tools.

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

"What Bush is doing is placing a concave lens in front of the media's convex lens..." - Sisyphus paraphrasing Jay.

Precisely. From the Bush team perspective, to do any less means capitulation.

The damage and danger of filtering information through a distorted lens (to both the Bush communication team and the dominant liberal media) varies in direct proportion to an audience's awareness of both the distortion taking place and who's doing the distorting.

Which is why: 1) the dominant media is increasingly publicizing the staged and pre-screened nature of Bush communication events, and 2) conservatives, and an increasing number of thoughtful moderates, are so delighted our nation is nearing (or has already reached) a tipping point on public awareness of the dominant liberal media bias.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 23, 2005 4:06 PM | Permalink

Hmm. During the Nixon administration, television, in its ascendency, was elevated to the primary seats (with the exception of Helen Thomas) in the newly-renovated press briefing room over the old White House pool. I wonder if, thirty years later, we aren't witnessing the natural decay of the medium and attributing to it the decline of the White House press.

While previously popular, on-camera confrontation is a model of news that doesn't lend itself to fair and complete representation.

Posted by: sbw at March 23, 2005 4:40 PM | Permalink

I'm loving the "Bush Bubble is a justified reaction to this, that and the other thing journalism did" stuff. I find it instructive and real. More please. It's far more sufferable than "Bubble? what Bubble?"

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 5:14 PM | Permalink

The Bad News Bias Andrew Cline talks about is nigh on universal. Where do you put your attention? On the thing that's most likely to hurt you. It's what they teach you in tank gunnery: First, shoot the things that can shoot back (unless it's a ZSU 23-4, but I digress).

In fact, as you study the biases that Cline talks about, you'll find that many of them are obvious extensions of general human behavior. It's the assigning of overt/covert political motives to these factors that tends to drive people into separate corners.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 23, 2005 5:18 PM | Permalink

I've missed one significant explanation here and in your entry on Minogue for why the role of the Press (meaning the institution) seems to be marginalized:

Reporters no longer actually report what happens, but instead report what someone else says happened. Reporting what someone says requires a cheap, quick telephone call. Reporting what happened requires actually witnessing an event, which, in turn, requires a real and physical gathering of evidence by a reporter, who can't be generating column-inches on other stories while gathering said evidence.

The problem, simply put, is that journalists are viewed by their employers as writers, instead of as reporters of fact. Their output is measured in column inches or stories. Possibly even in words per minute. Not in verified happenings per deadline.

Another, related myth is that of the generalist reporter. Reporters know how to write to deadline. They also are pretty good at getting interview content from reliable sources. Collectively, however, they tend to have a weak grasp of the technical outside of their own professional realm. This is fine when they are reporting presidential antics with cigars and interns, but tends to lead to bubbleheaded oversimplifications (and resultant imprecisions) when confronted with economic policy, law, science, or technology reporting. Of course, there's no incentive toward more accurate reporting, because it would require expensive education - Law degrees - among most others - cost noticeably more than Journalism degrees in the job market.

Likewise, the supposed internal review system of editorship fails, because the editor used to be a reporter, and is unlikely to admit that s/he reported on issues beyond his/her competence as a journalist, or to admit that his/her employees do so.

If all you value is writing, all you'll get is verbiage. You won't get reported fact. And yes, Virginia, facts do exist, postmodernism to the contrary.

As long as "news gathering" organizations are driven to "maximize shareholder value" instead of report what's going on, they'll continue to take this basic shortcut, because it's so much cheaper. And we'll continue to get "he said, she said" over air and in print in the place of the newspaper and the news broadcast.

Posted by: Rad Davis at March 23, 2005 5:46 PM | Permalink

I wonder whether it would be possible to write a post called: the case for de-certification?

I would do it if I had enough arguments that were original, interesting and made sense. I already know the liberal media was so biased it lost the trust of the American people. I mean beyond that. Why was it necessary that the press be de-certified, and what makes it right and good that it's finally happening?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2005 6:05 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: I'm loving the "Bush Bubble is a justified reaction to this, that and the other thing journalism did" stuff.

If by "stuff" you are including my comments, I object to your characterization as "justified". I consider it a political (and principled) act of realism, which I thought I understood you to have previously agreed with here.

Daniel Conover: The Bad News Bias Andrew Cline talks about is nigh on universal.

That's an interesting take on Cline's bias theory. It would be interesting to get his take on your interpretation. I would ask you to comment further, using your interpretation, and Kaplan's critique:

Because he always seems to define even the most heroic institutions by their worst iniquities, his target is authority itself. Disclaimers notwithstanding, he is the soul of the left incarnate.

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2005 6:26 PM | Permalink

Jay: I wonder whether it would be possible to write a post called: the case for de-certification?

I, for one, am not looking for de-certification. On a case-by-case basis, there are candidates for replacement, but their crime is poor journalism. I'd even settle for getting them a mentor.

A reporter cannot expect the press secretary to necessarily move something political or diplomatic on or off the table simply because the reporter demands it. To require a "Yes" or "No" answer to such a question is... is... theater, not journalism.

And for you to consider the press secretary's refusal to answer such questions to be evidence of de-certification is... is... well, I don't know what it is, but it sure seems misplaced.

I'd be happier with the question if, instead of asking for the case for de-certification, you were asking for evidence of sophomoric journalism. Evidence abounds.

Posted by: sbw at March 23, 2005 7:59 PM | Permalink

I wonder whether it would be possible to write a post called: the case for de-certification?

Jay, perhaps one way to start is by looking at the earlier case for "certification". If we start with Burke's comment about the Fourth Estate as reported by Carlyle, I see three elements: the reporters able to view Parliamentary debates from the balcony (access, but open to the public as well), a printing press (means of distribution) and a willingness of others to hear.

For a very long time, access and distribution were expensive and difficult. Hence the rise of professional journalists employed by those who owned the means of distribution of information, i.e. newspapers and magazines. And since the sources of information were limited, they tended to gain a willing audience.

The rise of digital technologies changed all three factors. Access can at least in part occur remotely and asynchronously - I can download streaming video of a news story or audio from a radio broadcast and pay attention at my convenience. And of course, that video or audio can now be generated directly by, say the White House, or by a "citizen journalist" as well as by a paid reporter.

Distribution clearly has changed, as evidenced by blogs and online versions of news media. Finally, so too has the nature, extent and freedom of the willing audience, with the significant rise of broadband communications channels and inexpensive computers (at least in most industrialized countries).

There is a fourth factor not mentioned above, which may be at the heart of the debate here. And that is a claimed expertise to sift through events, choose those which are important and provide analysis and opinion about them. And there's the rub, isn't it?

When, exactly, did journalists come to see themselves as having expertise that suited them for this role? It surely wasn't prior to WWI. Did it start with the dispatches of Churchill and other well-educated members of the upper class who wrote back from their youthful adventures abroad, helping the British empire to understand the forces that were dissolving it?

However it came about, it is a role for which journalists are, arguably, ill prepared in many ways. Or is that a statement that fails to recognize the value that good journalists bring?

In other words, given that technology enables disintermediation in the gathering and distribution of information, what value do (or could, or should) journalists add that allows them to stake out an intermediary role?

I think that without addressing this deep, strong current of technical and market forces, arguments about the Fourth Estate's value for democracy will be frustrating and probably fruitless.

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 23, 2005 8:05 PM | Permalink

Re Robin's comment:
"There is a fourth factor not mentioned above, which may be at the heart of the debate here. And that is a claimed expertise to sift through events, choose those which are important and provide analysis and opinion about them. And there's the rub, isn't it? When, exactly, did journalists come to see themselves as having expertise that suited them for this role?"
My best guess as to the answer to Robin's "when" question would be this:
Along about the time of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, the journalists of their time, who did nothing if not "sift through events, choose those which are important and provide analysis and opinion about them."
As, 100 years later, did Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Jack London, Ida Tarbell, Sinclair Lewis -- the journalists of their time.
Those are big shoes to fill.
Anyone today -- including "the press," including all of us here -- who "sifts through events, chooses those which are important and provides analysis and opinion about them" is only repeating an exercise that is more than 200 years old.
The real problem is that what we produce today -- here and elsewhere -- is a pale evocation of the real thing. Or, as the late great Charlie McDowell once wrote in the Richmond News-Leader about the Virginia state legislature:
"Two hundred years ago, there strode across the floor of the Virginia State House Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason, John Adams and James Madison.
"Since then, things have thinned out somewhat."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 23, 2005 8:57 PM | Permalink

"Since then, things have thinned out somewhat."

Oh, yes. Ability to turn a phrase may be a fifth factor.

Posted by: sbw at March 23, 2005 9:13 PM | Permalink

Returning to the subhead, for a moment, Jay teases us, Rising up: government as a "purely neutral" news provider. . .

I apologize for the second post in a row, but we really can't let this slip by. No one buys into the idea that the government is purely neutral. Whatever it cloaks itself in, if American politics has a name, it is self interest.

Posted by: sbw at March 23, 2005 9:20 PM | Permalink

As long as "news gathering" organizations are driven to "maximize shareholder value" instead of report what's going on...

As long as "shareholder value" is easy to measure and "reporting what's going on" isn't...

How can we grade "news gathering organizations" ?

Posted by: Anna at March 23, 2005 9:42 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: "Why was it necessary that the press be de-certified, and what makes it right and good that it's finally happening?"

It seems to me that the question begs a natural selection argument. That's not necessarily the case I would make, but I'll make it here for the sake of argument.

If the press is weak, dysfunctional, and part of a "check and balance" "food chain", then I suppose that natural selection would "necessitate" its demise.

That would lead to a presumption of something stronger, a dominant form of press, that takes its place. Perhaps the loyal opposition press.

There are also philosophical arguments that follow about whether natural selection is "right and good".

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 12:26 AM | Permalink

I agree that this... "a claimed expertise to sift through events, choose those which are important and provide analysis and opinion about them" is closer to the nub of it. It's never been clear on what basis the press claimed the expertise to do this, except by virtue of being independent, experienced at it, the pros who have "news judgment," etc.

All the more so when the press shifted to providing "analysis" and "interpretation," but was unable to explain its grounds for choosing the analyses or interpretations it did (and journalists still can't explain those grounds, as far as I am concerned.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 3:03 AM | Permalink

Yes. However, the fact that the technology enables disintermediation makes this question more acute and pressing. Two factors interacting IMO.

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 24, 2005 8:16 AM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady, both Paine and Franklin were very active politically. Franklin, of course, represented the new government in France and elsewhere and served in other public roles.
Paine wrote extensively on behalf of the French revolution and went to France to participate in revolutionary activities.

Do you advocate a similar blurring of the journalist and political activist role today?

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 24, 2005 8:22 AM | Permalink

Tim: You're upset with the word "justified?" I don't know why; justifying things is good practice. I wrote: I'm loving the "Bush Bubble is a justified reaction to this, that and the other thing journalism did" stuff. It's not a pejorative. (Now if I said, rationalized...)

People who are really dangerous don't try to justify anything. Realism is a justification, sometimes, although it's not always as convincing as people think. De-certification is an act of political realism in the sense that it's based on a brutal assessment of the press's weakness. Here's how I explained it in my original post on the Bush press thesis:

Bush and his advisors have their own press think, which they are trying out as policy. Reporters do not represent the interests of a broader public. They aren't a pipeline to the people, because people see through the game of Gotcha. The press has forfeited, if it ever had, its quasi-official role in the checks and balances of government. Here the Bush Thesis is bold. It says: there is no such role-- official or otherwise.

Generations of journalists have been taught to believe differently. Their sentences start like this, "In our system, the press has the role of..." and then they go on to describe journalists as a check on power, which is quasi-Constitutional only because another part of the Constitution, the First Amendment, says you can't lesiglate the role of the press. The Bush Thesis takes the "quasi" part and pushes on it.

The thesis, in turn, is influencing policy: "why should we have to talk to you?" On the whole, Bush doesn't. In January, Auletta reported that Bush had held eleven solo press conferences while president. Over a comparable period, his father had done seventy one and Bill Clinton thirty eight. The White House line when these figures come up is that the president just does things differently. He'll meet reporters one on one, or answer questions in other venues. This defuses the issue. Meanwhile, a different line of argument is born. "Stiff 'em, they don't represent anyone. People are on to their game."

...Bush thinks the national news organizations don't have the influence Richard Nixon and other angry presidents saw in them. Here the Bush Thesis is like a mafia read, a Sopranos script: "You don't have that kind of muscle any more, so shut the f... up."

That's realism.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 8:48 AM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: "You're upset with the word "justified?" I don't know why; justifying things is good practice."

Upset? When did object become upset?

And do you mean justify? Or, do you mean explain?

Are we to the point of "justifying" the "Bush Thesis"? Are you? Are you saying to us, "The Bush Thesis is correct, now justify it!"

You write, "De-certification is an act of political realism in the sense that it's based on a brutal assessment of the press's weakness."

Brutal? As in brutally honest?

Why is it that if someone disagrees with you they must be offended by some perceived pejorative?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 9:23 AM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: "Along about the time of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, the journalists of their time ..."

In many of Thomas Jefferson's writings, he complains about the Porcupines. If I understand the term, one of the head Porcupines was William Cobbett.

Was Cobbett one of "the journalists of their time"?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 9:30 AM | Permalink

Okay, Tim. You're not upset, but you do object. It is now established. I apologize for misstating.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 9:31 AM | Permalink

I realize that I risk deletion for over-commenting, but I would like to ask on more question of Jay Rosen.

How does the loyal opposition press differ from The Partisan Press?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 9:36 AM | Permalink

Dan Froomkin wrote this yesterday:

So what did all those White House reporters get out of agreeing to go "on background" yesterday for a preview of today's big meeting in Texas between President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin?

Not a whole lot.

In a teleconference, two "senior administration officials" gave reporters a gigantic runaround, refusing to provide any details -- or even the name -- of the initiatives to be announced today.

To find out the real story, you had to talk to the Canadians and the Mexicans.

If reporters refused to participate in this "preview," knowing it would be newsless and meaningless (which is what they should have done) this would be a way to oppose the insidious practice of background briefings--which are intended so Administration officials can detach themselves from responsibility for their words--but it would not be a partisan way. It would be a common sense decision, a self-respect decision, a realistic decision.

(FYI: the Bush crowd did not invent background briefings; they have been around a very long time.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink

What concerns me is this idea that there is some big white line between "government information" and "government propaganda." Even the most innocuous efforts by the government to "inform" the people contains an element of "pro-government" propaganda (i.e. that the government is benevolent and interested in your welfare.)

And its difficult to imagine those who see "liberal bias" in the media accepting the idea of tax payer dollars funding the creation of VNRs promoting Clinton's accomplishments and agenda (even if they were identified as coming from the government, let alone doing so in an surreptitious manner) and not complaining about "liberal bias" if the media used those VNRs in the way that the Bush regime VNRs have been used.

VNRs, of course, are really only a very small part of the problem with the Bush regime's attempt to control the flow of information. Far more insidious is the manner in which the Bush regime uses the government to spread lies and disinformation, and restrict the dissemination of information that might impede the the accomplishment of ideological or political goals. (The cost estimates for the prescription drug bill are a perfect example. Not only did the administration distort the annual costs of the program by projecting the costs for the first five years in total when the first three years would have no 'costs', they kept the real estimates of those costs from Congress and the public.)

Someone else has pointed out that "decertifying the press" also means decertify the 'conservative press'. But the process also 'decertifies the government'. The press is in the position of constantly playing 'catch up' with the facts (e.g. reporting what the 5 year costs of a prescription drug plan will be, and then having to go back and explain that the costs will be much, much higher) which leads people to doubt not just the press, but the institution of government itself.



Their sentences start like this, "In our system, the press has the role of..." and then they go on to describe journalists as a check on power, which is quasi-Constitutional only because another part of the Constitution, the First Amendment, says you can't lesiglate the role of the press. The Bush Thesis takes the "quasi" part and pushes on it.

Its difficult to imagine why "freedom of speech, and of the press" would be protected unless those freedoms were designed to operate (at least in part) as a check on government. If there are instances in history where political censorship was used to stop people from praising those in power, I'm unaware of them. Thus, I think describing the "job of the press" as "quasi-Constitutional" rather than simply "Constitutional" confuses the issue here. (Its like saying that the power of the courts to interpret the law, and to determine what is "Constitutional" is a "quasi-Constitutional" power. ) The Constitutional role of the press is to inform and criticize those in power. And, during periods of 'one party government' the Constitutional role of the press as a critic of government becomes absolutely essential.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 24, 2005 10:32 AM | Permalink

Sisyphus: Of course Cobbett was "a journalist of his times."
He started a two-penny newspaper, the Political Register, and kept it alive for several decades, even as he kept shuttling it back and forth from England to the U.S. as his own loyalties shifted.

Robin, you ask if I advocate a similar blurring of the journalist and political activist role today?
The one does not necessarily follow from the other; even 200 years ago not every pamphleteer was active in politics nor every politician a pampleteer.
But, since you ask, I certainly wouldn't object if, say, a newspaper publisher decided to run for Congress (though his own reporters might well object.) Nor would I object if a congressman started up his own newsletter or blog.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 24, 2005 11:02 AM | Permalink

Steve, I asked because it seemed to me that your comment was holding up Paine and Franklin as examples of "big shoes to fill" WRT journalism. And in their cases the role of journalist and of political activist are deeply intertwined.

The issue isn't whether or not an editor runs for office, so much as it is whether or not a reporter adopts a stance of political advocacy that inheres in the product that journalist produces.

On a slightly different tangent, Mickey Kaus points out 2 problematic stories from ABC within days of one another. This is the sort of sloppy / tendentious reporting with which the news media are de-certifying themselves, at least in part.

Posted by: Robin Burk at March 24, 2005 11:33 AM | Permalink

The push-polling tactic employed by ABC on the Schiavo issue (e.g stipulation of "facts", selection of loaded language and question order) is not uncommon, and in fact is used to great effect with other political issues reported on by our dominant media.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 24, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink

Los Angeles Times polls would make excellent case studies.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 24, 2005 12:23 PM | Permalink

Robin, to my mind the issue is indeed whether an editor -- or, in the case of Paine and Franklin , whether a publisher -- runs for office
True, Franklin and Paine used their presses to push for political agendas -- that was the whole idea --but each was much more than a "reporter" as we use the term today. More like an owner and publisher and self-pronounced advocate and skilled wordsmith all in one.
Remember, at the time the opinion press was the only press. In that sense, Ben and Tom were acting as bloggers, 200 years early.
As for Kaus, I find the case he's making here rather tenditious itself -- not to mention hair-splitting to the nth degree. But, hey, I'm sure he doesn't lose any sleep over my opinions, nor I over his.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 24, 2005 12:24 PM | Permalink

whether a publisher -- runs for office

Let's see. My publisher great-grandfather served on the water board when they built the water system, ran for mayor and won, served as postmaster, and ran for Congress and lost. ... But, as publisher, I don't dare run for the school board because it would complicate both the school district and the newspaper.

In the FWIW department, for some reason they put a letter box right out in front of great-grandfather's house. I don't have one.

Posted by: sbw at March 24, 2005 1:04 PM | Permalink

To Steve Lovelady: It always comes down to "Who(m) Do You Trust", doesn't it?

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 24, 2005 1:40 PM | Permalink

I'm intrigued by plukasiak's suggestion that "decertification of the press" intrinsically carries the risk of "decertification of the government." I think for many such as myself, the systematic distortion/withholding of information/cooking statistics, etc. of the Bush administration takes our breath away and it is the failure to date for this to decertify the Bush administration that forces us to examine how pathologically impotent the current press must be (or alternatively, how close-minded, opposed to the Enlightenment, science, international law, his supporters already are. The PIPA studies suggest that they support a fantasy Bush administration with policies at polar extremes from their actual policies).

This issue points to the way in which decertification of the press is inextricably related to legitimizing government by disinformation. If all sources of correction to Bush disinformation are delegitimized, then maybe it isn't disinformation, maybe it's true. Thus bias discourse, press decertification, and Bush administration decertification are various sides of a single story.

Bush administration decertification of itself IS the ultimate conclusion that stares me in the face. Either way, the decertification of the press is a zero sum game tied to decertification of the administration. BECAUSE SOMEONE IS LYING ON A DAILY BASIS. Alternative ideological universes are not long sustainable.

The remarkable part of the story is that the Bush administration will tell you so and the press can't manage to connect that to news coverage. THAT fact does raise issues about whether or not the press is fit to survive in our current one party environment.

If the press can't even manage to defend or justify itself, where does that leave the rest of us who depend on them for information?

Lastly, when you have been ideologically targeted, neutrality is not an option. The status quo press policy of abject apology or denial that they are themselves both players and targets also decertifies itself by the hour. They are like victims of the Stockhold syndrome trying to make it all better. If only they just report a little more like Fox (see CNN the last three years), it will all go away...In that sense, to the degree that the media and the press have taken a stand, they have moved toward Foxification, thus embracing their own decertification. What will it take for CNN to see the where they are headed?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at March 24, 2005 1:43 PM | Permalink

"Lastly, when you have been ideologically targeted, neutrality is not an option. The status quo press policy of abject apology or denial that they are themselves both players and targets also decertifies itself by the hour."

Getting closer. I encourage our dominant liberal media friends to drop their disingenuous pretense of objectivity. The pretense, as long as it's believed by the audience, makes you more influential (via perceived credibility). But increasing public awareness of that false pretense diminishes your credibility and influence. You might as well abandon it, and confess "I'm liberal and my reporting reflects that!" - - you may find the honesty cathartic.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at March 24, 2005 1:59 PM | Permalink

Jeez! You people act like George Bush invented lying. People more than 10 years old will recall that Bill Clinton was actually convicted of perjury. Remember this quaint tableau; Bill Clinton looking us in the eye, shaking his finger, and saying he never had sex with that woman? And don't forget that Clinton said we'd be out of Kosovo in a year. Give it a rest people, you come off as partisan hacks.

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 24, 2005 2:00 PM | Permalink

I encourage our dominant liberal media friends to drop their disingenuous pretense of objectivity.

Trained Auditor's idea has a lot of supporters and some good arguments to back it up, but I think we can do better. With all the informational and feedback tools that are now at our disposal, there's an opportunity here to develop a new, transparent, objective model for certain types of communication.

The reigning media status-quo is based on an outdated set of assumptions and abilities. But to give up on objectivity as a process is to consign the country forever to dueling echo chambers.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 24, 2005 2:14 PM | Permalink

It boils down to this, dudes and dudettes: For all the exchange of bias, partisanship, de-certification, bubbles, and I-could-go-on-but-won't, you are studying the wrong dials and tugging at the wrong levers.

What is at hand is a thoroughbred feedback system that the community has yet to learn to ride. Schools absolutely do not teach feedback or its management. No wonder it seems strange. For goodness sake, don't let the animal throw you. Deal with the uncertainty and the opportunity and don't panic. A few years from now we'll look back and wonder at all the hoo-hah.

Posted by: sbw at March 24, 2005 2:51 PM | Permalink

Invented lying? Huh? What a wacky charge.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 4:20 PM | Permalink

sbw: What is at hand is a thoroughbred feedback system that the community has yet to learn to ride.

Does that feedback system include disintermediation and constructive criticism, versus the gatekeeper/destructive criticism that is de-certifying the press through waning credibility?

Jay Rosen: loyal opposition press

If I can make a request. I think that this is an interesting alternative to both a partisan press (which I see as resurgent) and whatever we call "the press" now (Corporate, Legacy, Big, MSM, SCLM, blah, blah ...)

It would be wonderful if you could write more about that and how it differs (if it does) from an opposition press (here and here)

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 4:30 PM | Permalink

Jeez,Jay, I give up. My comment was in response to Mark Anderson's subtle remark "BECAUSE SOMEONE (in the Bush Administration) IS LYING ON A DAILY BASIS." If we could just establish here that politicians of both political parties "lie" and that the press, from the NYTimes to Fox News, "lies", we can move on without having to establish that the earth is round every danged time on every thread. Who, besides Anderson, is shocked, SHOCKED that Bush, Clinton, etc. lied? Anderson and his ilk make BUSH LIED the centerpiece of their arguments so you'd think Bush invented lying. Get it? Never mind. (I'm sure someone here will say "Yes, but Bush lies MORE". Sheesh!)

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 24, 2005 6:13 PM | Permalink

I'm not sure what Jay means by "loyal oppostion" -- he may mean something based on the European model, where newspapers are not bashful about identifying their political bent.
Or he may be referring to a thought that CJR Daily first published a month ago, redefining the shopworn "MSM" and suggesting the term "loyal oppostion" for another (although sometimes overlapping) group.
In this definition you yourself (and Kilgore Trout, and any number of contributors to this comments thread) are MSM. Here is that post:

February 25, 2005
Editor's Note
A CJR Daily Glossary

It occurred to us recently that we've been remiss in adopting, without sufficient thought, certain out-of-date but widely-used terms to describe the shifting media world arrayed before us.
Mainstream News Media, a.k.a. MSM: Usually used by blogosphere zealots on the right and the left as a disparaging reference to a handful of large and supposedly influential newspapers, magazines and TV networks. (And, oddly, enough, a term adopted by those it is meant to describe -- who are fooling themselves, as we shall shortly show.)
But in an age when overall newspaper circulation has been inexorably leaking away year after year for more than 20 years now; when the major network news operations draw barely 50 percent of the nightly audience they once had; and when general interest magazines have been elbowed aside by niche publications, the tag "mainstream" to describe a bunch of bewildered guys 'n dolls who find themselves slipping daily down the razor blade of life seems not just quaint, but missing the point entirely.
We prefer the more accurate term Corporate Media, or CM, since paradoxically many of these floundering outfits are owned by monster corporations whose senior executives must wonder, as they stare at the ceiling at 3 o'clock in the morning, "What was I thinking?" (See Consolidation, Media.)
So is the very term MSM -- meant to describe dinosaurs -- a dinosaur itself?
Not at all. In a nation in which political and cultural conservatives occupy the White House, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and most statehouses, MSM strikes us as a dead-on description of a more recent phenomenon: The avidly partisan right-wing press, represented in the swelling blogosphere, the small-magazine world, radio networks such as Sinclair Broadcasting and Clear Channel, newspapers such as the Washington Times and the New York Post and, perhaps most importantly, any number of cable television outlets.
So here's our new glossary:
Corporate Media: The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Network, and any other entity owned by Dow Jones, Gannett, Scripps-Howard, Newhouse, Tribune Co., Cox Newspapers, News Corp., Knight-Ridder, Hearst, Conde Nast, Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Disney, Sinclair Broadcasting and Clear Channel. (Apologies, bigtime CEOs, if we left anyone out.)
MSM: See above. The newly triumphant, and most of them quite giddy about it at that.
Loyal Opposition: Any newspaper, blog, website, small magazine or other news/opinion outlet that tries to make its way in that increasingly embattled spectrum that ranges from slightly-to-the-right-of-center to way-left-of-center.
Obviously, there's some overlap. Fox News, for example, is both Corporate Media and the MSM -- the most potent blend of all. The Washington Post, by contrast, is both a Corporate Medium and the Loyal Opposition, a far less formidable combination.
But for the most part, the categories hold up. So we'll try to break old habits, and remain true to the glossary. Let us know when we don't.

--Steve Lovelady

Posted 02/25/05 at 10:53 AM
Go to comments

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 24, 2005 8:25 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady,

I appreciate the response. The link to your glossary is here.

I'm not sure what Jay means by "loyal oppostion" -- he may mean something based on the European model, where newspapers are not bashful about identifying their political bent.

I'm not sure if you have read Jay's essays on the "opposition press" that I linked above. I think what Jay means by loyal opposition press is different, based on his comment above, but I'm not sure:

But you may have built a distorting factor in. You have normalized your weakness. Who says there's no way to act, and retain credibility? Who says "opposition press" has to mean "Democratic press," party press, ideologically-inflected news? Maybe it doesn't.

Here's a screwball term for you. The loyal opposition press. Who can say we don't need one?
Or he may be referring to a thought that CJR Daily first published a month ago, redefining the shopworn "MSM" and suggesting the term "loyal oppostion" for another (although sometimes overlapping) group.

He might, but if he does, it is somewhat different than the impression I currently have. From another of Jay's comments above:

If reporters refused to participate in this "preview," knowing it would be newsless and meaningless (which is what they should have done) this would be a way to oppose the insidious practice of background briefings--which are intended so Administration officials can detach themselves from responsibility for their words--but it would not be a partisan way. It would be a common sense decision, a self-respect decision, a realistic decision.
To me, that says a loyal opposition press is much closer to an independent press than a politically ideological, partisan or opposition press. Fox News and Washington Post could both decide to not participate for the same reason - a journalistic reason, a professional reason.

In this definition you yourself (and Kilgore Trout, and any number of contributors to this comments thread) are MSM.

Bored now.

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2005 9:36 PM | Permalink

I do not like the term loyal opposition press because it intimates that the press is part of the governmental process. In my view the press's function in the constitution is to expose governmental processes. This function is not being very well covered by current news reporting.

It should not be loyal opposition, it should not be hidden partisianship or agendas. It should be news reporting. If this is not done effectively by current organizations, then others will appear to fill that need.

If the Bush administration is able to generate VPN's, then news reporting is not doing its job effectively. If current players feel are being squeezed out in this process, then provide quality news reporting.

Posted by: Tim at March 25, 2005 9:01 AM | Permalink

Tim, you reinforce the point I made yesterday about some believing Bush invented lying. In this case, due to how this VNR story was framed (spun?) by the press, you and many like you believe Bush invented VNRs. VNRs have been going on for 30 years. But where was our fearless watchdog, oppositional defiant, loyal truthtelling press during the Clinton years when he were spending over 100 mil on them? So you could at least say the press is doing more now covering VNRs than they were in the past. This makes a good case to always have a Republican in the WH so there will be at least some incentive for the press to do it's job.

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 25, 2005 10:53 AM | Permalink

"This makes a good case to always have a Republican in the WH so there will be at least some incentive for the press to do it's job." -- Kilgore Trout

Several White House reporters, or former White House reporters have voiced that very thought themselves.
One of the pre-election Pew polls found reporters very conflicted. In the abstract, as citizens they wanted Kerry as president. But as journalists always on the outlook for a good story, they hoped for four more years of Bush & Co., simply on the grounds that it's such a colorful cast of characters -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Rove, McClellan,
It's a real-life case of severe cognitive dissonance, but it makes perfect sense.
As Victor Navasky, publisher of The Nation, quipped to David Shaw of the L.A. Times,
"Bush is bad for the country, but good for The Nation..."

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 25, 2005 11:36 AM | Permalink

Tim, you reinforce the point I made yesterday about some believing Bush invented lying. In this case, due to how this VNR story was framed (spun?) by the press, you and many like you believe Bush invented VNRs. VNRs have been going on for 30 years.

is there anyone here who believes that the Bush regime invented VNRs?

Within a day of VNRs becoming controversial, it was pointed out that they were also produced during the Clinton administration.

The reason there is concern is that the non-partisan GAO found that VNRs that are not clearly identifiable by the television audience as coming from the government are illegal --- and the Bush regime ignoring that finding.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 25, 2005 2:51 PM | Permalink

p.lukasiak: "is there anyone here who believes that the Bush regime invented VNRs?"

I would not have thought so, until I read this:

Why do you use 'VNR' in place of 'propaganda'? Is it's introduction into current 'speak' an extension of the Administrations clever PR policy to adopt terms that either neutralize or put a positive spin on programs that are actually bad for us?

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2005 3:06 PM | Permalink

To p.lukasiak:

It was this remark by Tim on 3/25/05 @9:01 A.M. that caused me to believe that some people DO think Bush invented VNRs: "If the Bush Administration is able to generate VPN's, then news reporting is not doing its job effectively."

What would Tim say about the "watchdogs" who slept through the Clinton Administration's VNRs?

Posted by: kilgore trout at March 25, 2005 3:24 PM | Permalink

Sometimes I don't know exactly what I mean with certain phrases. "Loyal opposition press" is one of those.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 25, 2005 10:27 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: Sometimes I don't know exactly what I mean with certain phrases.

Umm, Jay, I'm going to tease you here. This is good natured stuff, ok?

Perhaps we should expect you to "justify" using that phrase because ... well ... you know ... "justifying things is good practice."

Posted by: Sisyphus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 25, 2005 10:52 PM | Permalink

What's that expression Glenn Reynolds has? Oh yes: heh.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 26, 2005 1:33 AM | Permalink


Posted by: ken at March 27, 2005 10:31 AM | Permalink

To the RH Ken:
Can you kindly provide me the address of that galaxy you described in your post? It sounds like a place I'd like to move to.
I do believe it was those on the Left in this country that denied any abuses by Stalin and his ilk. In fact, they denigrated anyone who criticized the Soviet Union.
Moreover, the NYT even hired a "certain reporter" to conveniently report on exactly the opposite of what was happening inside the Soviet Union. Lo and behold he won a Pulitzer!
I simply love the fact the Left now describes and acuses us on the Right of employing "Soviet Tactics"...
And to think I had grown accuntomed to the accusations of employing "Fascist Tactics"..
What to do! What to do!

Posted by: gobears at March 27, 2005 1:11 PM | Permalink

From the Intro