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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

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May 26, 2005

Three Questions for Kevin Drum

(Number One: Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?) "It's not clear to me what big news organizations would do if they took Drum's advice seriously and started 'fighting back.'" Plus: Matt Taibbi hits a triple.

My winner for best piece of criticism about Newsweek’s recent ordeal is Matt Taibbi in the New York Press this week (May 25-31). We, Anonymous it’s called. He’s cynical about the whole deal:

It was humorous to see how quickly Newsweek lost its cachet with Middle America. So long as it went about its usual revolting Neanderthal literary mission—wrapping 4000 words of inane speculations about the historical Jesus around breathless updates on the value of Martha Stewart stock (Pie Chart, p. 37!), and startling new insights about “the real George Washington”—no one had any problem with Newsweek.

An ethical magazine is one that uses up its news pages asking questions like Can smiling prevent cancer? and makes sure at least twice each calendar year to do a “What the fuck is wrong with our ungrateful, disobedient children?” story, so that angry suburban parents have something to read in the doctor’s office while they wait to have their bunions shaved. That—plus the occasional feature on Shrek 2 as the crowning achievement of the human creative impulse, and the odd investigation into why cell phones in restaurants are so darn annoying—is what good journalism is all about.

The real crime is not bias or secret sources. It’s fluff. It’s pseudo-sophistication. It’s a lost sense of what good journalism is all about. The real problem with investigative reporting is that it so rarely happens. The solvent for ethics in journalism is entertainment. These are Matt’s points. But his main point is that no one is troubled by confidential sources when they’re used to puff up.

Taibbi brings up a “slobbering cover profile” by Richard Wolffe in the New Republic, purporting to be about “the Bush you don’t know.” The public person you don’t (really) know is a news magazine genre piece. Whether it’s the Howard Dean or the Diane Sawyer you don’t know, the genre’s requirements are the same: two or three stereotypes are reversed in the course of the reporting, so that the author can claim to have discovered something new and surprising, which we didn’t get from all the prior profiles.

Of course the reason people said Bill Clinton was chronically late was that he was chronically late, and that is the situation with most public figures. It’s harder than you might think to pull off the “Bill Gates you don’t know” piece. But not if you have confidential sources! They make quick work of those old stereotypes. Taibbi gives this example from Wolffe:

When he wants to be, he’s a real stickler for details,” says one Republican senator. “When he calls you to talk about a bill, he knows the nitty-gritty. You don’t get the sense he’s been reading the Cliffs Notes guide to an issue.”

Think: Why does a Republican senator have to go off the record to praise his party’s president? Put yourself in the senator’s place. What kind of journalist grants you anonymity because you took the risk and said nice things about your boss?

Now here’s a corrupt and cynical practice, Matt Taibbi says. The illogic of it is not even concealed. But since the corrupt use of nameless sources for “he knows the nitty-gritty” does not involve criticism of people with power, the scandal machine is silent on it.

So you think Newsweek didn’t work hard enough to confirm the Quran-toilet story? How hard do you think Richard Wolffe worked to confirm that George Bush “knows the nitty-gritty”? I bet he burned up the phone lines working on that one.

They just throw this stuff out there week after week, and no one ever complains about it. That’s because kissing ass is not a crime in America, while questioning the government often is. At least, you better not screw it up if you try. God help you then.

Taibbi’s aims are satiric, so he doesn’t say what ought to be done about the situation. Kevin Drum, who is just as derisive, (“a small error in a 300-word blurb”) does say.

“Newsweek and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back,” he wrote at on May 23. This was the day Newsweek’s Editor-in-Chief published a contrite note to readers. “They’ve done enough apologizing,” Drum said.

Taibbi and Drum are both angry. But where Matt turns to farce Kevin sees a nightmare. “This is like watching Darkness at Noon in real life.”

Start fighting back were the words that stopped me. It does seem like a time for that. But how is the fighting done? Surely one of the problems is that the press can be warred upon as the Liberal Media, but without a change in its professional code it cannot war back or declare itself “ready to fight.” And there’s the risk of being dragged further into the warring, which to many journalists means bye-bye journalism.

It’s not clear to me what big news organizations would do if they took Drum’s advice seriously and started “fighting back.” He didn’t give any examples. Is it like this? Or more like that? Maybe this is what Drum had in mind. Or possibly that. Or even this. How about… And then there’s… Here’s one more.

The background to Drum’s exasperated call to journalists is this warning to his readers, May 18th: “Liberals should think very hard before joining the media bashing crusade too eagerly.”

Endless broad brush howling does nothing except enable the right wing’s agenda, regardless of what the howling is aimed at. If liberal bloggers were wiser, we’d spend a little more time praising our big national newspapers and a little less time shaking our fists over the fact that sometimes they aren’t on our side. Our real opposition is the right wing press destruction machine, not the press itself.

Because if big newspapers die, that’s pretty much the end of real daily reporting in this country. That would suit the right just fine, I think, but not so much the left. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that constant carping — frequently over trivial transgressions — somehow makes the press stronger. It doesn’t.

I would love to know what Kevin Drum, an articulate and informed liberal—and of course a Political Animal—thinks about the identity questions at the big newspapers that he says do the daily reporting. Let’s call them “the press” for now so we can ask him these questions:

  • Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?
  • If so, what kind of politics should it have?
  • How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

I offer these puzzlers to Kevin Drum, but I am as interested in what Hugh Hewett and Glenn Reynolds and Atrios (“Now would be a good time for reporters to push back”) plus others on the left, right or just out in the savannah have to say. And Matt Taibbi too.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

“I don’t usually blog on request, but this is interesting.” Glenn Reynolds responds at Instapundit (and he clearly understands what I was asking):

I think that the press is unavoidably political. What has bothered people (and what gets Kevin heated up about “the right wing press destruction machine”) is that until recently the politics were pretty uniformly left-leaning, to the point that the press became a well-defined political player on its own. Not for nothing does Howard Feinman write about the “Media Party.” Now that’s changing (this is the part that has Kevin heated up) and things that used to go unchallenged and unremarked are now challenged and remarked upon.

What kind of politics should it have? Non-monolithic, and transparent. If, as First Amendment theory suggests, the marketplace of ideas is a check on the political power of an unelected press, then we need diversity of perspective and a willingness of press organs to criticize each others’ reporting.

How do we know when the press has it right? When we’ve got news organs representing a diversity of perspectives. We’re making progress in that direction, but we’re a long way from getting there.

Thanks, Glenn. Most informative.

Michelle Cottle, senior editor of The New Republic, May 20:

The broader problem here is that, on some level, many journalists lack the instinct to fight for themselves. By nature, we are a hypercritical bunch, eternally nitpicking and dwelling on the negative side of humanity. (Remember: No news is good news.) But despite our collective reputation for arrogance, journalists’ harsh nature absolutely extends to endless, obsessive dissection of our own industry and work, to a degree that risks becoming self-destructive….

My suspicion is that journalists somehow believe that our high-mindedness, our self-restraint, our willingness to take all this abuse—even to dish it out—somehow will win us credibility in the eyes of the public. Most journalists, after all, like to believe that all we want from the people we cover is honesty and openness and an eagerness to admit their every sin. Shouldn’t the public then love us for our willingness to do the same?

Maybe it should, but it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Patrick Buchanan is thinking prosecute ‘em, there’s precedent over at the Human Events site. See More Nihilism at Newsweek. The likely charge: sedition.

If Newsweek’s editors sensed this was an explosive item and printed it anyway, they may fairly be charged with sabotaging U.S. war policy and compromising the cause for which American soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Only a few have urged that Newsweek’s editors be brought up on sedition charges. But what Newsweek did is worse than the antiwar activity for which labor leader Eugene Debs was given 10 years in prison during World War I.

Previously at PressThink:

The questions I asked Kevin Drum and others (Have a blog? Write a column? Then I asked you…) grow out of these lines in Psst…. The Press is a Player (My essay at, Jan. 22, 2003.)

It’s an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years… the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no clear instructions in what the press could or should be playing for. So while the press likes being a player, it does not like being asked: what are you for?

In fact, the instructions are not to think about it too much, because to know what you are playing for would be to have a kind of agenda. And by all mainstream definition the political reporter must have no kind of agenda. The Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Newsweek, the Des Moines Register, and all similar competitors, are officially (and rhetorically) committed to “no agenda” journalism, also known as the view from nowhere. So while it might be recognized that the press is a player, journalists also see an unsolvable problem if they take one more intellectual step. So they dare not.

Blogger John Cole of Balloon Juice (ex-military and a supporter of the war in Iraq) writes Doing More Damage Than Good, a warning to his own side, picking up on this post from Hugh Hewitt:

Everyone repeat after me:

Reporting on abuses that have been committed by our troops, in our name, is not anti-military. While I am not arrogant enough to attempt to divine the motives of every journalist who reports on such abuses, Hugh appears to be up to the challenge. I find his attack on the reporting of the outrageous abuses detailed at length in the NY Times to be both disturbing and disingenuous.

Apparently in the myopic worldview of Mr. Hewitt, reading and reporting the just-released documents the Army itself created is both ‘anti-military’ and ‘re-hashing’ an old story. Let’s not focus on the fact that few, if any, have been punished for these transgressions. Let’s not focus on credible reports that these incidents continue to occur. Instead, if Hewitt is to have his way, we should all focus on the ‘anti-military’ stance of the media.

What is particularly disturbing is how he and others have artificially conflated the Newsweek error and the NY Times story. This is no accident, but an act of intentional and outright propaganda.

And see Dean Esmay’s reply, which occasioned this from Cole: “I am really beginning to think many of you guys out there don’t want an independent media- you want a damned public relations firm.” Bingo.

More on the backlash… See this accusing Cole of defecting from the conservative side, and Cole’s answer: A Response to Rick.

Ernest Miller at Corante answers my questions:

  • Is journalism a political animal? “Of course it is. How could it not be? That is sort of one of the main points of the First Amendment, is it not? When one reports on political issues, it is inevitable that the reporting will become part of the political cycle.”
  • If so, what kind of politics should it have? “Almost any damn kind it pleases. Journalism isn’t a single monolithic institution. It is a cacophony of voices.”
  • How do we know if journalism has got the politics part right? “We can’t.”

Military and media blogger Tim Schmoyer (Sisyphus) also has replies:

  • Is the press a political animal? Yes, but it is not a party animal.
  • If so, what kind of politics should it have? “Transparent ones. We do not want a monolithic press.”
  • How do we know if the press has got the politics part right? “Press politics currently is the commodification of eyeballs and ears. When press politics becomes the commodification of thought and speech by the public, then they’ll have their politics right.”

Read his post.

“Write on, Brother Jay! Write on!” That’s Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler. He didn’t care at all for my appreciation of Daniel Okrent, and he wants specifically to know why I thought his public editor column calling the New York Times a “liberal newspaper” was a good thing. (I said it would prove liberating.) “We think this is no ‘liberation’ at all—and we hope that Jay will splain different,” says Somerby.

I’ll work on it.

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 26, 2005 1:13 AM   Print


The son of the richest media baron in Australia kind of replies to your three questions ;-) Online the way to go - James Packer

via Hugh Martin: We are at the end of the beginning in terms of the internet

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at May 26, 2005 6:40 AM | Permalink

I wrote on this subject a while back at Techcentralstation.
The short version is thatthe press will becomemore biased but with diversity to the bias, as in the UK newspaper market.

Posted by: Tim Worstall [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 26, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink

I almost find it ironic that you seem to say that Newsweek's reporting of single-source annonymous allegations (that the source has subsequently recanted) represent a return to "what good journalism is all about" in contrast to the reams of otherwise fluff. Perhaps I am too generous, but I believe most discerning consumers of news can separate the chaff of a fluff piece from the wheat of a legitimate hard news article. And in the latter, a higher degree of accuracy and research is rightfully expected.

If you and Newsweek want to redefine "good journalism" as simply throwing out whatever random rumor anyone with a bone to pick wishes to serve up or trumpeting book reports of completed military investigations as "investigative news" (like the NYT did with their recent article on 2002 Afghan prisoner abuse), it only serves to cheapen the trade and further errode public confidence in the value and honesty of the press.

Posted by: submandave at May 26, 2005 10:21 AM | Permalink

Journalism is politics by another name.

Posted by: ELC at May 26, 2005 10:27 AM | Permalink

* Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?
* If so, what kind of politics should it have?
* How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to reiterate the numbers from the most recent Annenberg poll:
While 80% of the 675 reporters and editors surveyed think an explicitly partisan news organ is a bad idea, only 53% of the 1,500 readers surveyed thought so.
Conversey, while only 16% of reporters and editors surveyed approved of the idea of a publication with a distincly partisan tilt, 43% of the public thought it was quite a good idea.
The readers are wayyyy out in front of the journalists on this one; they've crested the hill and are on their way down the other side. they're also way out in front of the most vociferous bias warriors that one runs into here and on other "whither journalism" sites.
Something to chew on ...

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 10:34 AM | Permalink

James Taranto: "the press is not, and should not be, a propaganda organ of the government"

Unfortunately it seems some forget the correlary, that the press should just as well not be a propaganga organ of anti-government organizations. Events like the article written on the Frist demonstration that was written by a participant only serve to reinforce the impression may already have that this correlary is regularly violated.

Posted by: submandave at May 26, 2005 11:11 AM | Permalink

"Newsweek and the rest of the media need to get up off their knees and start fighting back," - Kevin Drum, Washington, May 23, 2005, as quoted by Jay above.

Luke's eyes are full of rage. Vader watches him.
Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete." - Return of the Jedi, 1983 (from shooting script, 2nd draft)

I encourage our liberal media friends to throw off the cloak of claimed non-bias and charge openly into battle. Bereft of that smoke screen, and the cover it provides to a press which promulgates liberal ideas under color of objectivity, I am confident conservative ideas will compete more favorably on the ideological battlefield.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 26, 2005 11:28 AM | Permalink

Reporters are supposed to by highly informed on politics, but they have no political opinions? Or that they are so scrupulously even-handed that we cannot detect them? Yeah, right. Why don't they just put their opinions up front so we can apply the appropriate discount factor when evaluating them?

Posted by: Mitch at May 26, 2005 11:35 AM | Permalink

Our local paper Rockford, Illinois did one and a half pages in a six page op-ed section on bloggers in Illinois.

No mention of "Blackfive" a very big mil-politico blogger. No home town bloggers.

And the same old same old. "No fact checkers..... etc. etc. etc.

A lot of it was devoted to Alan Keyes' lesbian daughter (which I covered with links). They noted that blogs were on top of the story (so to speak) but that the "ethical" press declined to cover it. And whachu know. It turned out to be a true story. The sources checked and Maia(sp?) Keyes came out on Valentines Day.

Now this is all came out - not during the election season but well after - February. Standard human interest - Fundamentalist Politician disowns daughter.

Well any way the first you hear of the story in the MSM is in an OPED about blogs.

Now who would you prefer to get your news and gossip from.

BTW after I put up my piece I got confirmation from several readers. My fact checkers were at wirk.

Posted by: M. Simon at May 26, 2005 11:43 AM | Permalink

I'm sympathetic to the "let a thousand schools of thought contend" argument, but it's not that simple.

First, the playing field is not even. Bloggers will never have the same degree of access to good sources that the Washington press corps has. Investigative reporting will become more haphazard, less reliable than it already is, and increasingly focused on spreading FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) about one's real or imagined enemies, be they bloggers or politicians.

Second, to follow on Tim W's point about he inevitability of a partisan, UK-style press, there will never again be anything remotely like an authoritative "paper of record." Journalists will become not so much partisans as product managers pitching a distinct, branded offering consisting of equal parts worldview and attitude. More James Wolcott, less James Reston. More snark. Coverage will be driven be the same kind of elaborate research done by any other product marketing organization, and media companies will strive to brand and differentiate themselves the way car manufacturers do. Fox will be positioned like the opinion-biz version of Hummer/Cadillac, NYTimes as Subaru/Audi, NBC as VW, etc.

Note that in this brave new world, bias is more than a desirable feature; it's the very definition of the product. The key metric of success will be not overall readership or viewership but reader/viewer loyalty, and the most ferociously loyal consumers are of course the ones on the far left and far right. Niche marketing will supplant any effort to be a broad-based "paper of record," and news selection and presentation will be shadowed by efforts to win readers over not by intelligence or fairmindedness but by preaching religion to the faithful.

See Bill Keller's amazingly candid admission in BusinessWeek a couple years back about how he and Pinch and the suits decided to focus on catering to their hardcore, most loyal readers instead of appealing to a broad audience. Hence the new Times' emphasis on "flooding the zone", Krugman and Dowd's screeds, more coverage of gays and much less coverage on complex matters - esp but only overseas reporting of countries like Russia or South Africa - that do not afflict the hated redstaters and give comfort to the blue state metrosexual secular core.

In short, the MSM are morphing into blogs with marketing staffs. At some point the political center may rise up and take its revenge, but in the realm of thought and opinion, there's no question that in the near term this will give much greater influence to voices on the far right and the far left.

Posted by: thibaud at May 26, 2005 12:12 PM | Permalink

Thibaud, you say "Bloggers will never have the same degree of access to good sources that the Washington press corps has. Investigative reporting will become more haphazard, less reliable than it already is, and increasingly focused on spreading FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) about one's real or imagined enemies, be they bloggers or politicians."

I have a number of comments on this. First, the "good sources" you talk about only talk to the press as a means to promote their spin which more often than not is exactly the FUD you are complaining about. Second, these "good sources" are not going away; if the MSM become less useful to them they will quickly adapt and provide their "scoops" to bloggers. Third, these sources are mainly of use to help understand the inside-baseball aspects of politics; this part of the news gets coverage way out of proportion to itsw importance. Fourth, if you want to get good information on the issues themselves, there are lots of open sources which will provide more information than any journalist can digest - just go to AEI for one perspective, Brookings for another; these folks are screaming information to anyone who will listen.

Posted by: Hunter McDaniel at May 26, 2005 12:35 PM | Permalink

I still wonder about the letters Newsweek published in this weeks' issue. It seemed like a significant portion of the letter writers were saying "Even if it was true you shouldn't have published it."

Which is a criticism Newsweek would be happy to have. They would MUCH rather have a debate about whether true reporting has actual consequences than whether thinly-sourced, annoymous reporting has more implications (particularly in politics).

It seemed to me, and this is just my own opinion, by publishing the amount of letters with THAT criticism (don't publish even if true) that Newsweek was trying to paint its critics as yokels. As political unsophisticates who JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND JOURNALISM. Of course some yokel from Iowa with a yellow ribbon magnet on his car would say "never publish anything that 'harms' the military." But Newsweek can hardly be expected to follow that kind of criticism (not if they want to be SERIOUS NEWS). I don't know if this was at all intentional, it was just my impression of the letters they published.

Posted by: catrina at May 26, 2005 12:56 PM | Permalink

Hunter, you make some good points, esp about spin, but I've yet to see bloggers break big stories rather than merely debunk news accounts. My responses to each point:

HM: "First, the "good sources" you talk about only talk to the press as a means to promote their spin which more often than not is exactly the FUD you are complaining about."

True, but sources are essential to good journalism, whoever's doing the reporting. I'll agree that FUD seems to be on the increase, esp coming from master FUDmeisters like the arabists and Bush-haters within State and CIA, but this doesn't let journos off the hook. They still have plenty of good anti-FUD devices. Namely, the requirement to seek corroboration from multiple sources and certain traits one expects from adult professionals such as common sense, maturity, good judgment etc. Not every journo is such an easy mark as Sy Hersh.

HM: "Second, these "good sources" are not going away; if the MSM become less useful to them they will quickly adapt and provide their "scoops" to bloggers."

This is a good thing. More reporting, more reporters, more choice => a better approximation of truth. Again, sources are essential

HM: "Third, these sources are mainly of use to help understand the inside-baseball aspects of politics; this part of the news gets coverage way out of proportion to itsw importance."

Agree with you there. One great benefit of the 24x7 cycle and ubiquity of the internet is that it reduces the market value of the scoop. If I can read it anywhere within seconds, there's little economic value to be gained from getting to press first.

HM: "Fourth, if you want to get good information on the issues themselves, there are lots of open sources which will provide more information than any journalist can digest - just go to AEI for one perspective, Brookings for another; these folks are screaming information to anyone who will listen"

Agree totally. It's a huge waste of time to read semi-literate journalists on, eg, social security when you can go directly to the websites of their quoted sources. Brad DeLong's website is better written and far more insightful and informative on Soc Sec'y than any of the MSM's SocSec'y articles that he skewers so hilariously each day.

But if the internet disintermediates journalists, allowing us to tap the experts directly, then really the only beats left to journalism are opinion and investigative reporting.

If you're right that investigative journalism will never be any better than it is now, it may still be worth saving. But if not, then what do you envisage as journalism's unique contribution? (Not a snarky question - just trying to explore the implications of your argument).

Posted by: thibaud at May 26, 2005 1:03 PM | Permalink

I can't agree with John Cole that Hugh Hewitt is being "disingenous" when he tries to pin the New York Times with a false equivalence argument.
Intellectually dishonest, yes. Selectively cherry-picking evidence, absolutely. But disingenuous ? Nahh.
Hewitt is who he is; he was a Republican operative, a sort of minor league Karl Rove, long before he ever became a commentator. He doesn't explicitly announce that, but neither does he try to hide it.
So he has to be read that way -- in the same manner that you would read a blog by, say, Joe Trippi, or one by Ari Fleischer. You just have to remember who's talking -- a political party operative.
To paraphrase Jon Stewart, complaing that pols spin is like complaining that the monkeys at the zoo masturbate in public.
They're monkeys.
That's what they do.
Get used to it.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 1:13 PM | Permalink

I stopped believing in the MSM a long time ago but then I was a Librarian. Every day I did fact checking as I helped kids do homework and Drunks settle bar bets. I was amazed how often MSM got it wrong. It was the Serbian war that finally did it for me. I found out more in about two hours of helping a highschool kid research a term paper than I did in several years of watching ABC News. MSM didn't have a clue. Night after night of bigfoot reporters standing in front of burning houses trying to fit what they saw into pre-existing storylines that had no relevance to what was actually going on.

Blogs were a revelation to me. Citizen Journalism. Newsweek Lost credibility with me years ago. NYTimes? Give me a break. But Blogs have a clean slate. If they are consistantly right I will listen. When they screw up I will drop them. But then I've spent years trying to build credible collections for everyone Liberal or Conservative and my customers never knew which I was. Time, CBS, and the Washington Post can't say the same thing. If NBC says the sky is blue I'm looking for myself.

Posted by: Robert at May 26, 2005 1:35 PM | Permalink

* Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?
* If so, what kind of politics should it have?
* How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

* No.
* N/A.
* N/A.

The model that serves us all best, is an adversarial, skeptical press. Verify. Skip the trust. Jay's examples of possibles instances of the press "fighting back" seem to mostly involve the press bringing to light 'admissions against interest' made by the government itself. It is indicative of the timidity and passivity of the press in general, that it can only steel itself to get up on its hind legs and bark back critically at the government, when the press has some supporting documentation, produced by the government itself!

Tim Golden's article was based on an Army Report on its own investigation. It passes today as an act of courage for a reporter to report on a document of this sort, rather than to spike it in obsequious observance of the Army's desire that it remain undisclosed. I don't know how the Times obtained the confidential report, but I'd wager the word "received" could be substituted for "obtained". Still, I'll take what I can get, and I'm mildly encouraged by this sign of life, although the press is still in the posture of someone processing through the information the government spews out, albeit a little more critically. We are still a long way from a press that can generate and stand by its own investigative reporting based on truly independent sources, including sources hostile to the government.

In much of the press hand-wringing over the Newsweek/Koran theater piece, you can detect a real strain of preemptive excuse-making on the part of the press. In bemoaning that terrible lapse, and in pledging to hold itself to higher and higher standards of verification, the press is absolving itself preemptively for its failure to report what it knows, or what it should know. A press, already living in risk-adverse fear of harmful market impacts brought about by Administration attacks, preoccupied with meeting every charge of bias, will not be able to reconcile its newly Olympian ethical standards and its belt-and-suspenders approach to inaccuracy or alleged bias, with its primary mission to timely, comprehensively, critically report the news.

This was just the latest episode of the Administration's use of a place-holding untruth. They ran out the attention-span clock on the story with their attacks on Newsweek and the news-media in general, despite the Administration's knowledge that Newsweek didn't have it so much wrong, as it had the wrong agency. The lie doesn't have to hold for long, in order for it to be meritorious for the Administration. The automatic amplification of Administration falsehoods by segments of the news-media itself accelerates the clock even faster, as it becomes hard to hear the truth amidst the cacophony.

Posted by: Mark J. McPherson at May 26, 2005 1:41 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady of CJR apparently counts himself as one of the non-simians, ie a journalist. Which supports my point, above, that "Journalists will become not so much partisans as product managers pitching a distinct, branded offering consisting of equal parts worldview and attitude. More James Wolcott, less James Reston. More snark."

Remember, it's all about attitude. Even if it's borrowed from Jon Stewart.

Posted by: thibaud at May 26, 2005 1:46 PM | Permalink

You're absolutely right, Thibaud.
But at CJR Daily, we don't pretend that we are not an online journal of opinion. After all, that's what the site is -- a running critique of journalism just committed.
We try to point out exactly what's wrong with the coverage that we find lacking, or what's right with stuff we admire, but in the end what we're doing is expressing our opinion.
That's what critics do.
That's the whole idea.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 2:00 PM | Permalink

Press Politics

The journalism that is under scrutiny currently is the product of "reality-deniers" either blind to their own ideology or incapable of confronting it. They are self-described as "reality-based", "non-partisan", neutral or objective journalists.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 26, 2005 2:06 PM | Permalink

Great, Steve, thanks for the considered reply.

One q: you say that "what we're doing is expressing our opinion."

Yours or Stewart's? (Or perhaps you make no distinction, which might explain the odd use of the singular after the word "our"?)

Posted by: thibaud at May 26, 2005 2:37 PM | Permalink


The "our" is a reference to the four or five people who staff the site on any given day. (It'd be great to add Stewart to the mix, but his going rate is a little stiff for a non-profit.)
True, while the place often operates like a participatory democracy as we hash out what to cover and what not to cover, and what to say about it, five minutes before an arbitrary deadline the participatory democracy reverts to a benevolent monarchy.
Like anyplace else, there has to just one guy who pulls the trigger. I'm the guy.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 2:48 PM | Permalink


Ah, the linguistic view -- there is no objective reality, only symbols seeking to frame that reality.
As it happens, I saw Jim Carey at lunch; he had a dollop of mayonnaise on his necktie.
He wasn't aware of it, but it was real.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 2:53 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: LOL, I was shooting for the rhetorical, but perhaps fell short and landed in linguistics.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 26, 2005 2:56 PM | Permalink

Sys- :-)

Posted by: acline at May 26, 2005 8:44 PM | Permalink

Jay, sorry for the digression, which seems to have stopped discussion in it's tracks.
Back to the subject at hand:

* Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?

Yes, in the sense that it influences politics, although often in ways it does not anticipate.
No, in the sense that the last presidential election illustrates. The mainstream press, as you have noted yourself, approached 2004 campaign coverage armed with outmoded conventions and outdated forms that put it in the position of a handcuffed man trying to bat against Randy Johnson. Karl Rove knew this, and, like any good fastball pitcher, he kept his pitches in and up.
Three strikes and you're out.

* If so, what kind of politics should it have?

It's not a matter of politics. The press has to stop resorting to he-said/she-said/devil-take-the-hindmost journalism. This is precisely the crippling flaw that Sen. Joseph McCarthy exploited to such good effect 50 years ago. Eventually it caught up with him -- but no thanks to the press of his time.

* How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

Oh, we know. A George Tenet or a Paul Bremer -- two men who fucked up as badly as anyone can -- receive presidential medals, while good men die like dogs and thiefs and charlatans run free.
It's starting to feel like a five-year run of reading only Mad magazine.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 26, 2005 10:06 PM | Permalink

Yes, the press is a political animal--or rather, animals. Each newspaper and periodical, and each journalist, has a political point of view which informs what it publishes, and what he/she writes. To pretend otherwise is to deny the obvious. The public can best be served by knowing the politics up front, and having the press drop the fiction of objectivity. So, the politics the press "should" have are transparent ones.

That said, there used to be an overarching principle of allegiance to the country and its people that (at least often) overrode personal, partisan, or financial concerns. I'm not speaking about a blind "my country right or wrong," but a weighing of the relative importance of a story and the likelihood it is to actually be true, with the damage it is likely to cause. A very high standard of truth and importance should be applied to a story with a high potential for damage. The simple fact that a thing is true does not automatically mean it's either newsworthy or that it ought to be published. That is a judgment call, and weighing the consequences of publishing something should be in the mix--such considerations certainly used to be factored into the equation (see here).

As far as the use of anonymous sources goes, there are some rather simple rules that, if applied, would go a long way towards fixing that problem. But the press is too attached to the anonymous source to give it up easily or limit it much, I'm afraid. See this.

Posted by: neo-neocon [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 26, 2005 10:14 PM | Permalink

I think you might agree, Neo, that if the press were doing what you suggest, then in cases were it made a "good" judgment by your lights, and decided against printing a true story because it was not worth the possible damage to U.S. interests, or added danger to US troops, then you and I would, by definition, never know about any of these cases-- or the decision that was made.

Based on what I know of how newsmaking works at the top firms, the kind of judgment you describe happens a lot. But that's beside the point because my knowledge is so unreliable. We don't know how often the press holds stories because the stories don't come out.

Steve: I think your critique of the "there is no objective reality" people misses the mark by miles and miles. There may be some who under the spell of one academic conceit or another think there is no objective reality out there, but James Carey is not one, I am not one, and most of the people you would laugh at for holding these views actually hold views that are nothing at all like the proposition you are laughing at.

"There is no objective reality, only symbols seeking to frame that reality" isn't even close to what Carey says or means. He knows there's a world out there prior and indifferent to our perceptions of it. It doesn't care what we say about it.

Yet he also says, and I agree, there is no way for human beings to apprehend that world except through symbols and our tools of representation. That is a very different proposition. Intellectually it leads to very different places than your parody sketch.

In journalism this often comes down to seeing news as what is found vs. news as what is made. Carey and I (and Andrew Cline, I bet) think "news" must be a thing made, more than a thing found, even though we recognize that finding things out and finding the truth, the facts, "what happened" are essential, and basic acts in journalism.

We believe the news is mostly made (from what journalists find in their reporting and observation) but that doesn't mean we think it's made up. We don't.

So next time you gear up for your knock on post-mod deniers of reality (or of objective truth) remember what Rosen said: that you are getting it almost totally wrong. And you, Lovelady, are the author of most of the claims you are rejecting.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 12:54 AM | Permalink

John Cole has written another post. Again, he takes issue with certain flip, extreme and reflexive views on the right calling the news media anti-military, a charge he rejects as absurd and wrong.

This is even more hard hitting than his earlier critique of Hewitt. See A Response to Rick.

Follow the necessary logic to get to this laughable implication of treason. First, you must believe that the media is anti-military. Not just anti-military, but anti-American. Not just anti-American, but willing accomplices of the enemy, and thus, treasonous. Second, you must believe that defending the right of the those treasonous media types to report freely is also treasonous. It is, at its worst, an argument of treason by insinuation, and its absurdity is matched only by how offensive it is.

I reject all of this. The media is not, as an institution, anti-military. The media is, however, suspicious of the military establishment, and for good reasons. The Pentagon routinely lies to them. See Tillman, Pat. Or the Pentagon Papers. Or any hundreds of other similar events. At any rate, even if the press is suspicious of the military establishment, Rick is somehow confusing criticism of the Pentagon with criticism of tthe actual soldiers as well as the goals of the United States.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 1:15 AM | Permalink

"No, in the sense that the last presidential election illustrates. The mainstream press, as you have noted yourself, approached 2004 campaign coverage armed with outmoded conventions and outdated forms that put it in the position of a handcuffed man trying to bat against Randy Johnson. Karl Rove knew this, and, like any good fastball pitcher, he kept his pitches in and up."


Even if Rove ignores the mainstream press it is political. Politics is all about who see and who you don't. Politicians do not have the time or money to see everyone.

Posted by: Tim at May 27, 2005 8:19 AM | Permalink

Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?

Yes, but its role in the political ecology is equivalent to the role played by the Egyptian plover to Nile Crocodiles (the political system). Without the plovers removing leeches (i.e. corruption) from the gums of the crocs, the crocodiles would soon loose their teeth and die. When the crocs enter water in which leeches are thriving, the plovers need to work especially hard.

If so, what kind of politics should it have?

it depends upon the situation. In a "divided" government, the ecosystem ensures that the environment is not overly friendly to leeches, and the plovers can go about their business in a normal (impartial) fashion. But when one party controls both Houses of Congress and the White House, the leeches have an ecosystem highly favorable to them -- and the plovers have to get very aggressive if the crocodiles are to survive.

How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

when the leeches are being removed effectively, and the crocodiles stay healthy.

In other words, the press should not be "partisan" --- it should not take a particular political point of view and advance it consistently. It should take an "oppositional" role only when one is necessary --- when one party wields all power in Washington, and is doing so without regard to the long-term health of the nation.

The press needs to be much more aggressive right now; it needs to take the approach it took toward Clinton and "Monicagate", reminding its audience at every opportunity why there is a problem....

1) every time the "war on terror" comes up, it should point out that Bush ignored warnings of the 9-11 attacks, and then tried to cover it up.

2) every time Iraq comes up, the press should point out that Bush lied about WMDs and his decision to go to war, and then tried to cover it up.

3) every time Social Security comes up, the press should remind its readers that Bush has lied, and continues to lie, about Social Security going bankrupt, etc...

Posted by: rsmythe at May 27, 2005 8:58 AM | Permalink

re: "We believe the news is mostly made (from what journalists find in their reporting and observation) but that doesn't mean we think it's made up. We don't."


re: no objective reality

Certainly reality exists. It's the objective point of view that's a fiction. No man can stand outside of reality, look in, and then describe it as it is. The reality is certainly there (and we humans are very clever at measuring and manipulating it), but we perceive it, and relay it, through many filters.

Posted by: acline [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 10:51 AM | Permalink

Jay --

Take a deep breath, son.
It was a gibe, already, not a full-blown intellectual argument and certainly not an attack. Parody simplifies and exaggerates; that's it's nature.
Believe it or not I'm well-aware of Jim's work ...and of the various twists and turns in linguistic theory that go all the way back to Lichtenstein .
I'm also aware that Bishop Barkely plowed this ground -- the impossibility of ascertaining the nature of a reality distorted by perception -- centuries ago, and that most of what has been said since consists of rehash and refinement.
It's true, I am a country boy ... but it's also true that the turnip truck brought me into town a long time ago. At the time, you were maybe six years old.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 10:58 AM | Permalink

Oops !
How embarrassing.
Make that Wittgenstein.
Lichtenstein is where he went to rest his brain.
It's been a long week.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 11:21 AM | Permalink

Sorry, Steve. You were joking? Fine, it sounded jocular, for sure. And this may sound wacky I know, but experience tells me there is such thing as being prejudiced against ideas. (Ideas, not the people who bear them.) And I'm not saying you are. But you might have spoken that way.

In truth, I have no idea what works of the masters near and far you have mastered. Or how much of Jim Carey you absorbed. Or how liberal, how catholic your thought.

But it would be fascinating to find out and match those great books up with what I would call newsroom style in intellectual matters. For whatever reasons (but I'm sure you have them) you will sometimes call on this style.

To my mind it is unconvincing. But then I don't like that style, anywhere it appears. You might even say I'm prejudiced against it.

Back to the matter at hand: answers to the three questions I asked of Drum. He e-mailed me for some clarifications. Don't know, we may see something in reply at I wonder if Hugh Hewitt has ideas he will post. I also want to know what people think of Instapundit's answers.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 11:49 AM | Permalink

My reaction to Instapundit's answers may be found here.

Posted by: acline at May 27, 2005 1:04 PM | Permalink

I certainly agree, Jay, that we wouldn't know about the stories the press is holding back. Can we assume there are some? It's certainly possible--but how many, or what they may be, you are correct in saying we can never know.

But that doesn't mean there's no way to make a judgment. There are enough stories they do print that, IMHO, should have been left unpublished because they fail the test of truth, good sourcing, or negative consequences far outweighing the public's need to know.

In fact, the classic discussion on this point (I believe it was during the 90s, between Peter Jennings and another well-known newsman--unfortunately, I just Googled it and can't find the link, and I don't have time right now to look further) included a statement that the newsmen in question would not supress a story even if it directly harmed US troops. So, between that, and many recent events, I, personally, begin to wonder whether journalists today are in fact holding back on stories for reasons of either truth or consequences.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 27, 2005 1:35 PM | Permalink

You don't like what you call "newsroom style in intellectual matters" because you find it to be deeply anti-intellectual.
But it's just one extension of what we might call the newsroom's mindset of universal skepticiism. Skeptical toward academics, yes. But also skeptical toward cops, priests, corporations, politicians, lawyers, miitary commanders (as opposed to commandos) or anyone else who represents authority.
In a way -- although both academics and hardened news hound would reject the comparison out-of-hand -- in its own unacademic way it is a profoundly academic outlook: question everything, take nothing, including yesterday's wisdom, at face value.
Sometimes the sardonic flip side of "question everything" becomes "mock everything" [see Stewart, Jon] and I suspect that it's that too that you find irritating, especially in instances when you imagine that it's directed at academia.
But I digress. For purposes of this conversation, the point here is that the credo that grows out of this outlook is "Trust no one," and by this credo Isikoff's sin becomes a primary one and Isikoff himself becomes Exhibit A:
He did trust someone, he didn't question insistently enough or persistenly enough, and, sure enough, he got badly burned.
I'd wager the case study is being codified in journalism classrooms from coast to coast, even as we speak.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 1:39 PM | Permalink

Jay: "I also want to know what people think of Instapundit's answers."

Seeing as what I wrote on my blog agrees with Reynold's answers on the 2d and 3d questions, I will offer some thoughts on the first.

There is a line to be drawn between "right wing" criticism of national media organizations that present news from a social responsibility/social justice perspective and the "the right wing press destruction machine".

It's healthy to criticize right and left wing pundits that push the victim card and approach a paranoid style - as John Cole does, for example.

However, I found this in EJ Dione's column, Assault On the Media, incredibly hypocritical:

They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise.
In fact, isn't this the heart of the "fake but accurate" journalism defense? Doesn't this describe the narrative bias and how news is "made"?

What I find most telling is that much of the press is it's own echo chamber, relying on each other (supposed competitors) and wire services uncritically for "made" news. Why?

If the press wants to operate under the cynical notion that everyone lies to them, assume the worst and question motives, why not other journalists?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 27, 2005 1:41 PM | Permalink

Steve... As Mark J. McPherson said: Verify. Skip the trust. If you want to put it down to ye ole' newsroom skepticism, fine by me. Who can be against that?

neo-neocon; the "classic discussion" you are talking about involved Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace and a hypothetical question about traveling behind enemy lines with the "North Kosanese." It is a display of the arrogance and cluelessness of media celebrity.

Wallace flunked moral reasoning on that show. He also intimidated Jennings into flunking, which is fascinating as a contest among dueling television stars, both trying to be in the situation and think, "how do I look?" at the same time.

In the tape, the contrasts between media culture and the military culture are glaring. What strikes me about it, each time I watch, is how the speakers from the military were intellectually way ahead of the media people, in the sense of going down roads they had traveled many times in their minds, connected to a sense of honor and a grasp of fateful consequence. They had struggled more, and so knew the problem inside-out.

Wallace was winging it, and mugging for the camera, like a rich kid who doesn't have to study. Or a "live" recruiting poster for the culture war, hamming it up and enrolling thousands an hour on the opposite side.

But you would have a hard time persuading me that a hypothetical on a PBS forum with two celebrity journalists is very good evidence of what the news media have done in real situations with sensitive stories.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 2:18 PM | Permalink

What strikes me about it, each time I watch, is how the speakers from the military were intellectually way ahead of the media people, in the sense of going down roads they had traveled many times in their minds, connected to a sense of honor and a grasp of fateful consequence. They had struggled more, and so knew the problem inside-out.

you call the military's desire to save its own skin "way ahead intellectually?" I'd call it intellectual justification for naked self-interest.

A press that makes its decisions based on chavanism winds up being little more than Pravda --- as we saw in the wind up to the Iraq war, where Bush regime officials were permitted to lie, distort, and exaggerate without practically no challenge by the media. There were lots and lots of people --- especially those who read the foreign press, or were paying enough attention to find the truth buried on page A18 of the New York Times --- that were well aware of the Bush regime's lies and manipulations. But the mass media felt it was "disloyal" to call the honesty and integrity of the President into question, and as a result we've spent over $300,000,000,000, thousands upon thousands of Americans are dead or permanantly disabled, and tens upon tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. And all we have to show for it is pictures of Iraqis waving blue fingers.

I want a press corps that reports what is happening, not acting as an agent of the United States Government. And if that means that some Americans will be killed during a war, so be it --- that is what war is about. If the reporter in question hadn't been told about the ambush, the American soldiers would have been just as dead.

The real question that should have been asked is what a French reporter should do in that situation ... and in a reverse situation where the French reporter has information that could save the lives of Kosanese soldiers whom the Americans are planning on killing. When we take the chauvinism out of the equation, suddenly the answer becomes much clearer....

and there is no intellectual gymnastics needed to justify violating journalistic neutrality.

Posted by: rsmythe at May 27, 2005 2:38 PM | Permalink

It's not that Wallace gave the wrong answer, or wasn't sufficiently pro-American in his remarks. In the hypothetical as stated, one could give deeply reasoned answers to any of the available choices: warn, don't warn. But this is what Jennings and Wallace could not do, or at any rate didn't do. Their answers were superficial. The skeptics were caught flat.

I have to add, on another subject, that I think it's a significant event--also a healthy one--when we start to see intra-party backlash and debate on the excesses of the Cultural Right's media project (Drum called it "the right wing press destruction machine") with a member of the Liberate Iraq Coalition, John Cole, starting to object to the fundamentalist impulses, party-line behavior and political extremism he's seeing in the reactions to Newsweek events.

Cole's newfound skepticism about where this project ultimately goes ("many of you guys out there don't want an independent media- you want a damned public relations firm...")is telling us something.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 2:50 PM | Permalink


I speak here only for myself, not other editors.
But in the five years I was the managing editor of a fairly large newsroom (500 folks) with a reputation for aggressive journalism, I doubt if a week passed in which I didn't hold back one or another story.
It's so routine that it goes uncommented on. I held back stories for as many reasons as there were examples: I didn't want to compromise an FBI negotiation with a hostage taker; I didn't want to blow the cover of an underground cop; I thought Story X had too many holes in it; I didn't think Story Y supported its own premise; I thought Story Z needed more work, and on, and on.
Heck, I once pulled the plug on an investigation in which I had invested seven months of two reporters time and God knows how many of the newspaper's dollars. Why ? I became convinced the effort, ambitious as it was, was ill-conceived and, worse, going nowhere.
When you make the right decisions, no one ever knows. When you make a wrong one, everyone knows.
In the business, there's a cliche' so old that it has moss on it, but it lives on because it's true:
Doctors bury their mistakes; lawyers send theirs to jail; editors put theirs on page one for all the world to see.
That's not a complaint; I loved the job; it's just a fact that accompanies you to that job every day.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 2:59 PM | Permalink

Re: Steve's example

Something that frustrates me about so much criticism of the news media is that it forgets, or refuses to accept, a simple truth that we may see in Steve's remarks: Journalism is an honorable practice by people trying, for the most part, to do the right thing. I think those who *always* see the bad, and ascribe to it politically nefarious intentions, are themselves guilty of such intentions: using media criticism as a method of political struggle divorced from the good work of improving journalism (no matter who practices it).

Posted by: acline at May 27, 2005 3:23 PM | Permalink

I agree with that, Andrew. What's really tragic about it, Neo, is that for many of the decisions Steve talks about the decision is exactly the one you and your neighbors would make if you were running the newspaper and talked it out, and had to in the end decide. But the impression created by the culture war is the opposite.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 3:33 PM | Permalink

Jay, there is a difference ... regardless of culture war perceptions.

The degree of difference contributes to disaffection (arrogant, out of touch, elitist). That doesn't speak to honor or political motivations - that's the culture war component.

APME survey on use of graphic news photos

Andy, "I think those who *always* see the bad, and ascribe to it politically nefarious intentions, are themselves guilty of such intentions ..."

Your not talking about journalists here?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 27, 2005 4:26 PM | Permalink

That APME survey is fascinating.
I'm surprised the gap between journalists and readers was only 15%; I'd have guessed a larger split on the question of printing some of those pictures.
But it's a useful exercise to take the test, because it puts you in the shoes of editors who have to make those decisions all the time, because the photos do keep on coming.
In Philadelphia, the liveliest and most emotional debate we had in my time was what to do with the photo of the Pennsylvania state treasurer, who pulled a gun and blew his own brains out at a press conference he had called himself. (He had been caught redhanded taking bribes.)
We debated long into the night, and finally let the story dominate page one -- but we put the photo on page A17.
On one like that, you're know you'll take heat no matter which way you decide.
Did the fact that he was a liberal Democrat enter into the debate ? Get real. When a state official calls a press conference in order to commit suicide in front of the world, it doesn't matter if he's a Fascist or a Trotskyite, or a Martian; that's news.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 5:25 PM | Permalink

Sys- re: always ascribing bad intentions

Journalists can certainly be guilty of this. I would call them bad journalists just as I would call those who always ascribe nefarious intentions to the press bad critics.

Posted by: acline at May 27, 2005 5:41 PM | Permalink

There is a danger, Jay, in hearing the opposition confirm your prejudices. It's often mistaken for "refreshing candor", and thus accorded a commensurate amount of credibility.

In this case, I speak of John Cole's suspicion that conservative watch-dogging and criticism of our liberal media friends are merely a desire for conservative public relations. This swerves uncomfortably close to Dan Rather's bromide that conservatives think the media is biased simply because it doesn't reflect their own biases.

Please consider that conservatives can claim "liberal bias", and our media friends can very well be guilty of actual liberal bias. It's not always a matter of charge and counter-charge cancelling each other out. Somebody (perhaps conservatives) may be right.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 27, 2005 5:44 PM | Permalink

"Swerves uncomfortably close?" You lost me. The question is whether it's true, what Cole is saying, not close to what some icon of your untruth once said. Dan Rather knew very little about the people he was classifying. John Cole knows quite a bit. Do we really have to compare them?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 27, 2005 7:22 PM | Permalink

"Something that frustrates me about so much criticism of the news media is that it forgets, or refuses to accept, a simple truth that we may see in Steve's remarks: Journalism is an honorable practice by people trying, for the most part, to do the right thing. I think those who *always* see the bad, and ascribe to it politically nefarious intentions, are themselves guilty of such intentions: using media criticism as a method of political struggle divorced from the good work of improving journalism (no matter who practices it)."

Yes, but journalists and column-writers seem to forget this when they are reporting on other professions. Who more than journalists always finds and parades the bad among cops, doctors, businessmen, clergy, politicians, etc.? That's what makes it news, just as journalists screwing up is also news.

The Newsweek story was way overplayed, but somehow I find it difficult to feel sorry for those poor journalists when a feeding frenzy hits them over some sloppy bit of reporting. At least Newsweek didn't go the full Rather and continue issuing patently absurd defenses of itself beyond the initial news cycle.

Posted by: Brian at May 27, 2005 9:12 PM | Permalink

Brian --
I'm not sure I follow the logic here.
So when we find, in your words, "bad cops, doctors, businessmen, clergy, politicians," we shouldn't share the details of our findings?
True, that ethic that would leave us with a lot of time on our hands to go to the track, study our horoscopes, feed on leisurely lunches, play the stock market and pursue sexual dalliances ... but if we had wanted to do that, we'd have gone into other lines of work in the first place, wouldn't we ?
Besides, is that kind of obliviousness really what B. Franklin and T. Jefferson had in mind when they designed the system ?
Somehow, I doubt it.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 27, 2005 11:14 PM | Permalink

I'll take Glenn Reynolds seriously when he reams the press for not pursuing reliable, undisputed (to this point, anyway) and now quite publicly sourced allegations that the Bush administration lied unendingly about the evidence for the Iraq invasion and falsely described the invasion as a potential "last resort" for months, perhaps years, after they'd made up their minds to go to war. I'd say that was considerably more deadly, and more damaging to our national credibility, than the Newsweek fiasco, to which Reynolds devoted at least a dozen posts.

(I'd like to see him go after Terry Moran's completely unsourced allegations about an anti-military bias among the press, too, but that's a minor quibble.)

This is a bit of a sidetrack and I've written about it ad nauseum, but when two of the most senior officials of our closest ally say that the invasion of Iraq was based upon multiple lies, and not one goddamned soul in the White House briefing room other than my unpaid, part-time correspondent even bothers to ask about it, you cannot ascribe a liberal bias to the press.

The press have always been conservative in the sense of not wanting to swim against the prevailing tide. That tide was mostly liberal from Roosevelt through Reagan — and no, I'm not forgetting Nixon, but he was an aberration and got treated like one; would have been worse absent Kissinger — but as liberals were replaced by conservatives and reporters started drinking more with the conservatives than the liberals, the tide turned. Now the conservative impulse is toward conservative politics, and anyone who has lived through the past 15 years or so and doesn't see that is, frankly, either a moron or so blinded by ideology as to be functionally so.

That's the sense in which the press are political: it's social politics. If liberals ever again take control of government for an extended period, you'll start to see a politically liberal press, assuming there still is a press — and I'm speaking here of the national press — about ten years in because that's how long it'll take for liberals to replace conservatives as the best drinking buddies and the people whose names go on the second batch of party invitations.

The press'll take up a crusade now and again, and they'll go after a seriously wounded politician no matter what his affiliation, but they won't buck the tide.

So, yes, properly understood the press are political animals, both in the social sense and in having a self-aware influence on the political process.

Should they be political? Not in the social sense, but with respect to their influence on our political discourse, the press would be absolutely meaningless absent it. As it is, they're moving about in the aimless, depressed phase that comes just before absolute meaninglessness. Their politics should be the politics of the rhinocerous in the china shop. He's not biased, he just happens to break shit when he pokes around.

You'll know if the press has got its politics right when bodies start piling up, when policies are reported on for what they mean and do rather than on what two or three opposing factions say about them, when the press realize that writing to a fifth-grade level, or whatever the standard is now, doesn't mean the paper is being read by fifth graders, when the press don't cower before any bunch of wackos who happen to attract enough followers to make noise — ooh, diversity, we don't have enough frickin' Young Earth Creationists in the newsroom; how can we cover them fairly? — and when they remember that events don't happen in a vacuum. Hey! Yo! Over here! Context! History!

And when they quit using phrases like "without fear or favor" unless they mean it.

And I'm not even going to address the successful, forty-year effort, by what started out as Goldwater Republicans, to undo the forty years of influence social liberals had had more or less uninterrupted.

My question to Kevin Drum: Fight back? With what? Their record of competence?

Posted by: weldon berger at May 27, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink

Wasn't there something about the first rule of journalism being that all governments lie?
Speaking as an outsider who picked up a bit of journalism 101 and with frequent opportunity to talk about it with actual journalists, it seems to me that 90% of the problem could be solved by simply asking a follow up question and reporting the results.
So that, for instance "soandso says: we see X happening" becomes "soandso says: "we see X happening", but upon questioning couldn't provide clear evidence of a relevant study". In other cases this becomes "he said/she said and what he said was wrong". Obviously this is not always possible, either because the journalist in question does not know the facts, or the facts are in dispute. On top of which, this practice would made many stories more complicated (a less simple tale which doesn't fit as conveniently into predetermined segments) and in many, many cases would probably reveal to the audience, that there isn't really a story, just the usual suspects making the usual noise.
Still, I believe that's what is meant by fighting back, (and what will IMHO be the only form of added value journalism can provide once it can no longer keep the gates guarded because every interest group has direct access to its base and every citizen has acces to every press release.)

Posted by: markus at May 27, 2005 11:51 PM | Permalink

But it's just one extension of what we might call the newsroom's mindset of universal skepticiism. Skeptical toward academics, yes. But also skeptical toward cops, priests, corporations, politicians, lawyers, miitary commanders (as opposed to commandos) or anyone else who represents authority. -Steve Lovelady

Why just the people who represent authority? One of my major problems with big parts of the media relates to their deep skepticism of one side of a story, combined with great credulity towards the other. From where I stand, that looks a lot like bias- but I suppose it is just barely possible that it could be that a lot of journalists have gotten in the habit of being skeptical of authority, and have forgotten that they're supposed to be skeptical of everyone else, too.

Just because some group doesn't represent authority does not mean they're more credible than someone who does.

Posted by: rosignol at May 28, 2005 9:20 AM | Permalink

rosignol, I think it's part of the narrative bias where the "story" has protagonists and antagonists combined with the "afflict the comforable, comfort the afflicted" bias that drives who gets put in each role. The press loves an underdog story, the Noble Savage, even if it distorts "reality".

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 28, 2005 10:28 AM | Permalink

Hi, Jay. Long time, no talk. We used to trade posts.
I've left journalism to become an educator.
Thanks for the link to the Taiibi column.
I just linked to it at my blog:
I'll be reading you and hope you do likewise. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Scott Butki at May 28, 2005 10:39 AM | Permalink

This is how I'd like to see the press fight back---by calling bullsh*t on it's own:

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 28, 2005 5:58 PM | Permalink

Markus, Rosignol:

Yes, the original sentiment is "All governments lie," and that is indeed the bias, or rather the starting point of most journalistic inquiry.
The thought was first penned, I believe, by George Orwell, the patron saint of today's investigative reporters, in the seminal essay, Politics and the English Language, published in 1946.
An elaboration on the premise came somewhat later from I.F. Stone:
"All governments lie. They fudge and omit. They bury and muffle inconvenient facts. They do this repeatedly, relentlessly, shamelessly."
The concomitant thought -- that it is the writer's job "to undo the folded lie" -- comes from W.H. Auden.
It's entirely possible that all three were misguided, of course.
But, frankly, I haven't seen anything in my 40 years of eligibility to vote that might dispute their premises.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 28, 2005 7:27 PM | Permalink

I'm in agreement with the poster who said the problem isn't the skepticism of the press, it's the fact that the skepticism is unevenly applied. Skepticism of certain authorities on one hand is combined with credulity towards others, I'm afraid. It's not a winning combination, and it's what accounts for the perception (and perhaps, the reality) of bias.

As for Steve's comments--I appreciate the information, and I have no doubt that you, and other newspeople and journalists, sit on certain stories for a number of reasons. But I thought it was interesting that, at least as far as I could tell, all of the examples you gave were fairly local and/or criminal in nature. That's not the focus of my concern, although I'm sure it's also important. My concern is with international stories (or national ones ) that impact on national, military, or world security. I've seen so many stories of dubious sourcing and suspect provenance that have the potential to impact negatively on these extremely important matters, and yet are published, that it makes me wonder what it would take to suppress one in the national interest, and how often it happens that the press does so.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 28, 2005 7:44 PM | Permalink

The notion that a press erring on the side of suppressing things would improve the American military's hand or strengthen "our" side does not, I think, withstand scrutiny.

Such a tendency exhibited by the press over time would hurt more than it would help the people of the Armed Forces and the ones who have to fight the wars.

When the soldier and family can't get the attention of the Pentagon and go to the press with: we don't have the armor we need is that "bad" publicity for the military or a good and necessary correction?

One way to think about it: if you wanted to kill an institution, you could flood it with positive press, over time concealing problems from the very people who will later have to suffer them or solve them.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 28, 2005 9:04 PM | Permalink

" makes me wonder what it would take to suppress [a story] in the national interest, and how often it happens that the press does so." --Neo

Ah, but "in the national interest" according to whom ?
It would be presumptuous in the extreme for any editor or publisher to suppose that he is blessed with the foresight to know what is or what is not "in the national interest" -- even if he had the President whispering in his ear.
The last time I can recall that one did so, it backfired in his (and the nation's) face. At President Kennedy urgent request, Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, suppressed the news that his reporters had obtained that Kennedy and his band of ill-informed White House hawks were about to launch an invasion of Cuba, against the advice of his military advisors.
So we got the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which did more than just embarrass the administration; it brought the world to the brink of nuclear war,
Later, a rueful Kennedy told Sulzberger that he wished that Sulzberger had ignored his request and had blown the whistle on the coming debacle.
(What Sulzberger had forgotten, of course, was the maxim first formulated by Lord Northcliffe, a British publisher, 60 years earlier:
"News is anything that someone somewhere wants to be suppressed; all the rest is advertising.")
Ten years after the Bay of Pigs object lesson, Sulzerberger was again faced with a decision: whether to publish the Pentagon Papers, or to submit to the Nixon adminstration's demands to cease and desist. Fortunately, he had learned his lesson and he published.
That was all a while ago, but when it comes to object lessons like those , editors have a very long memory.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 28, 2005 11:26 PM | Permalink

weldon berger: "You'll know if the press has got its politics right when bodies start piling up ..."

I find it interesting that both Steve Lovelady and Jay Rosen have commented since, and neither commented on that statement.

So, let me say that either that's a perfectly reasonable expression used by journalists, the Left and Right ... or ... it's unacceptable and deserves criticism.

Jay Rosen:"And why are the "necklace" comments from "William Boykin," taken from this thread, all.. over... the Net...while the "soldiers target journalists" comments from the same thread don't warrant a mention from anyone?"

Steve Lovelady: "People who talk like that are not engaged in debate; to the contrary, they're usually paid assassins.
Either that or armchair thugs who have watched one too many Soprano's scripts or read one too many Tom Clancy phantasies."

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 11:48 AM | Permalink

I'm not sure what you're driving at, Tim. Exactly what sort of comment to Weldon were you seeking ?
I didn't comment because I felt the phrase (and the sentiment) neither rose to the heights nor sank to the depths that inspire comment.
What stuck more with me was:
"Their politics should be the politics of the rhinocerous in the china shop. He's not biased, he just happens to break shit when he pokes around."
As a letter writer to the New York Times observed today, "There's no substitute for smart people who can write."
(Ironically, he was referring to Weldon's arch-enemy, Dan Okrent, but the thought holds for Weldon as well.)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 1:30 PM | Permalink

By the way, here's a matter that's at least tangentially related.
Remember Glenn Reynolds' (or was it Hugh Hewitt's?) supposition that the NY Times ran with Tim Golden's story of torture at the Bagram prison out of some sense of solidarity with the beleaguered Newsweek ?
Here's an excerpt from an interview with Tim Golden on CJR Daily about that very question:

Q: Was there any talk in the newsroom about the implications of publishing it so soon after the Newsweek piece that was blamed by some for igniting protests in Afghanistan? If so, what was the discussion like?
A: There was a lot of talk about finishing the story so that it could run ahead of the mega-project that the paper was doing about class issues in America. I worked full-tilt on the Bagram story for more than a month, trying to get it ready to run by Sunday, May 15, because the class series was going to start the following week. Then the editors decided to move the class series up by a week, and so my story got bumped from that Sunday’s paper at the last minute. From then on, it was mostly a matter of getting two open pages for the first-day story.

It was probably a very good thing that my stories didn’t run on that Sunday and Monday, because that was when the Newsweek debacle hit a kind of high-water mark with the non-retraction retraction and whatnot. But we are almost never as strategic about these things as conspiracy-minded readers (and government officials) tend to assume. Later, a lot of readers wrote in to say how courageous or conniving we had been to run the series so soon on the heels of the Newsweek thing. Mostly, though, we just wanted to get it into the paper as soon as possible.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 1:41 PM | Permalink

I'd say Weldon Berger's comment that the press should be a "rhinocerous in a china shop" points out the difference we want in the press. Some of us (I'm in this group) just want information, but others (partisans) want those in government who they oppose to be smashed. I'm just not convinced that the press is nonpartisan. I don't think anybody believes that Weldon Berger and his ilk would really call bullsh*t on President Kerry. We all know the press will go easy on the people they like and go hard on the people they don't like. Why can't the press just be honest? Why won't they call bullsh*t on their own?

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 29, 2005 3:22 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady, I guess I'm wondering if you (or Jay Rosen), as a media critic, know you have your politics right when the "bodies start piling up"?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 3:27 PM | Permalink

Weldon Berger's idea of "bodies piling up" embodies the philosophy of DU and Kos on the left, and Freepers on the right. Boring, isn't it? But to the Weldon Bergers of the world this is journalism Valhalla. Spare me.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 29, 2005 3:37 PM | Permalink

Since it was brought up, I found this interesting:

Tim Golden on Digging Deep, Timing, and Sourcing

MB: A few conservative bloggers and pundits have questioned the timing of the series. Glen [sic] Reynolds (Instapundit) went as far as suggesting that The New York Times was trying to avert attention from the Newsweek ordeal by running it. What would you say to these critics?

TG: I am reluctant to respond to people who call themselves by names like “Instapundit.” I certainly support scrutiny of the press; the Times is a big, powerful institution and I think it should be accountable to the public. But a lot of our self-appointed critics don’t make much of an effort to base their opinions on facts. Nor do they seem to understand much about the way that newspapers work. ...
First, I couldn't find where Glenn Reynolds suggested such a thing and there is no link to it at CJR Daily. Could anyone provide one?

I was also interested in Golden's desired qualifications to be a critic. It would be interesting to know Golden's opinion on news councils and ombuds.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 3:53 PM | Permalink

The difference you cite is illusory. It's the information itself, given time to sink in, that will smash the china.
In the end, it always does. But it can take a long, long time.

I can't speak for Weldon. I suspect -- but I'm not sure -- that his reference was to Vietnam, where 55,000 American bodies had to pile up in the service of a government lie (the Gulf of Tonkin resolution) before the public wised up and brought the boys home.
Sidenote: It's almost always the public which wises up, not the politicians ... but, as noted above, that can take years. Compared to Vietnam, the current body count in Iraq, also in the service of a government lie, is a hiccup. So from where I stand, the only logical conclusion is that we could be in for a long one.
Which is tragic, but it does not change the obligation of those on the scene: to bear witness.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 4:00 PM | Permalink

I don't have any problem with those who "bear witness", I have a problem with those who "bear agenda". Those who bear agenda in the press are myriad----just read what they write---it ain't witness. (Unless
"witness" is chaos, civil war, theocracy [in Iraq and here], a nation divided [again Iraq and here]. The press has it's little cliches and stereotypes that must be promoted, and it has nothing to do with "witness". It has to do with reinforcing a worldview.
Too bad some of us don't buy into it. I know why you say all this stuff---I know you have to parrot the party line, but don't imagine all of us are marching in lockstep with you.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 29, 2005 4:21 PM | Permalink

"Bodies piling up" is what happens when investigative reporters investigate. Most typically, the bodies in question will belong to whoever has the most power to do the most stupid or corrupt or criminal things at a particular moment.

Trout: Bullshit. The price one pays for a genuinely aggressive press is that people on one's own side of the partisan aisle will get burned from time to time. I have no idea what a Kerry presidency would have been like, and with luck I'll never know, but one thing I do know is that with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, something like the Downing Street memo would be the subject of investigations by all 250 Congressional committees and subcommittees, it would be on the front pages of every national paper and it might even knock Jacko off the cable news channels. Obviously Republicans aren't going to investigate the matter and, whether from social politics or timidity or tone deafness, the national press will continue their habit of blowing major stories until someone or something forces them to cover it.

Some administrations are more deeply corrupt than others. I expect this one to rank among the top five when all is said and done. But when it comes to corruption in government, I'm a Puritan. I want the buyers and the bought in jail or doing community service among the people they've screwed, I don't care which party spawned them, I want politicians so terrified by the power of the press that they're compelled to ask themselves how whatever it is they're doing will look in the paper, I want whistleblowers to get ticker-tape parades and I want investigative reporters who aren't happy unless they've got someone's entrails in their pockets.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 29, 2005 5:33 PM | Permalink

p.s. - Steve, I don't think of Okrent as either arch or enemy. I just think that one incident and his behavior surrounding it was rank enough to warrant writing him off.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 29, 2005 5:57 PM | Permalink

SL: If you read that entire Vietnam narrative (and analogy to today) into weldon's comment, I can certainly understand why you decided it "neither rose to the heights nor sank to the depths that inspire comment."

Now I'm left wondering why you did, or said you did, and what your thoughts (and Jay's) are now that weldon has clarified it.

I think this is related to the question of what politics the press should have. weldon makes an impassioned argument for one type of press that I think - but am not sure - (which is why I'm asking) contradicts Bok's suggestion.

So, I'm interested.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 6:18 PM | Permalink

Now we're getting to the nub.
This is where we disagree:
I believe that going into harm's way and reporting back on what one sees in front of one's own eyes -- to use your words, "chaos, civil war, theocracy [in Iraq and here], a nation divided [again Iraq and here]" -- is indeed bearing witness.
The job of a witness is to witness, not to paint pretty pictures.
And I don't believe that those who go, see and report back are making it up, any more than they were in Vietnam. (The obvious question that occurs is: What exactly would be the percentage in that?)
It hasn't yet gotten to the point, thank God, that either I, or you, "have to" parrot a party line -- although it's certainly true that in this case, so far, both parties seem to have the same line. However you for one are apparently in tune with that line, without any coercion at all.
So, really, were it someday to get to that point -- which is entirely possible, I concede -- how would we know the difference ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 6:39 PM | Permalink


My goof. I simply misread Weldon rather vivid prose.
Which is why I worded it the way I did, to cover precisely that possibility. To wit:
"I can't speak for Weldon. I suspect -- but I'm not sure -- that his reference was to Vietnam ... "

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 6:45 PM | Permalink

No Steve, I don't think "bearing witness" means "painting pretty pictures". The press is looking for chaos, civil war, division, etc. and that is what they find. Or, as our genial host has said: The News Is Not Negative. But It Is Too Narrow. Nice try, though Steve----I just don't fit into one of your nice, neat boxes.

Thank you, Weldon, for reinforcing my opinion about the cluelessness of the press. I don't think an unelected, unaccountable press terrorizing our elected representatives is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment, but I am certain that this is what a bullying, unelected, unaccountable press has in mind in order to amass unlimited power. See what happens to your precioussss First Amendment rights if it ever comes to pass that "politicians (are) so terrified by the power of the press". It won't just be politicians fighting back, it will also be those of us who see you as a pack of unaccountable, power-mad elites. Count on it.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 29, 2005 7:31 PM | Permalink

Trout, I honestly can't tell from your comments how you think the press should operate. Nothing I said suggests an "unaccountable" press — the press are always accountable, through their audience and through the laws establishing limits on free speech (limits from which our elected representatives are excused when they're on the floor) — but as for the rest of it, it seems to me that's exactly what the founders had in mind.

Jefferson said "This basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decided whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." I expect he'd be sorely disappointed with both estates now, but I doubt his sentiment would have changed.

Sisyphus, I'm pretty sure I'm not contradicting Bok, but I'm absolutely sure she's operating on a more sophisticated level than me and my rhino.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 29, 2005 8:59 PM | Permalink

Ahhh, now at last, we learn:
Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Tom DeLay are "terrorized" by a press run amok ?
Funny ... those boys don't look all that scared (except for Tom, who oughta be).
Anyway, I'm glad that enough probing finally elicited your view of my, and everyone else's, "precioussss" First Amendment rights.
I was hoping against hope that those views would come spewing out in all their venom -- and, sure enough,
But Kilgore, here's the beauty of this country and, for you, the awful Catch 22 :
They're your rights, too.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 9:14 PM | Permalink

weldon: "I expect [Jefferson would] be sorely disappointed with both estates now, but I doubt his sentiment would have changed."

You might be surprised.

In 1787, Jefferson wrote:

The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro' the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.
In 1794, Jefferson stopped reading the newspapers because of the "bad news":
I have so completely withdrawn myself from these spectacles of usurpation & misrule, that I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month; & I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.
Jefferson served as President from 1801-1809.

In 1807, he wrote to John Norvell and specifically addressed what he thought about newspapers. I recommend the whole letter, but thought this was revealing:

Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources, as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2d would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The 3d & 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.
By 1819, Jefferson no longer read newspapers:
I read no newspaper now but Ritchie's, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
I always find it interesting when Jefferson is selectively quoted in defense of newspapers. I always get a kick out of the faux astonishment that Bush claims not to read newspapers when Jefferson came to the same conclusion 100 years ago.

But you may be right, Jefferson may find today's newspapers as distasteful.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 10:26 PM | Permalink


Why is it surprising to you that Jefferson became disillusioned ?
Once the pamphleteers of his time turned their full spotlight on Jefferson, he found the situation uncomfortable in the extreme.
So also did Washington, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Jackson, Lincoln, Johnson 1, McKinley, T Roosevelt, F Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson 2, Nixon, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2.
That's the whole point of the 200-year-old exercise -- which, by the way, has yet to be dupicated by any other nation on the planet.
It's an experiment, and a fragile one at that. So far, it's held up pretty well.
Do you really want to abandon it now ?
What's the alternative, as per the relationship between the rulers and the ruled ?
Stalin's Russia ? Hitler's Germany ? Mao's China ? Hussein's Iraq ? Kilgore Trout's vision of an ideal future ?
(Okay, I admit, that last paragraph is redundant; as concerns the press, they're all the same.)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 29, 2005 11:14 PM | Permalink

SL: Why is it surprising to you that Jefferson became disillusioned ?

I think you misread what I wrote.

That's the whole point of the 200-year-old exercise -- which, by the way, has yet to be dup[l]icated by any other nation on the planet.

I think the American press "exercise" has gone through stages. I don't think newspapers today are what they were 200 years ago.

I do think that there are comparisons that can be made between the American press, at times, and the British press.

Do you really want to abandon it now ?

I guess it depends what you mean by "abandon it". I would like to see an experential news source over the 'net. I think that Kent Bye has some good ideas for journalism in the 21st Century.

But subjective perceptions need to be balanced with objective facts. By Phase 7 of post-production, I hope to address how to fully implement a New Media Ecosystem that uses many insights from the field of intelligence analysis.
I understand that is outside the scope of the alternatives you listed, but I didn't think you were being serious.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 29, 2005 11:41 PM | Permalink

I was being serious. Try to respect that. I know it will be hard, but, hey, life is hard.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 30, 2005 12:08 AM | Permalink

I have the impression that Newsweek reported this factoid because its reporters and editors all assumed that "everybody knows that there is torture going on" at Gitmo, that it was policy to do so and that the truth is always worse than what the government admits. Some of the comments above seem to be based on the same assumption.

* Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?

Insofar as it covers Washington, it can't help but be.

* If so, what kind of politics should it have?

It shouldn't have a single kind of politics. It should have as many different kinds as there are out there.

* How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?

You'll know when you have the same reaction to the current press as you have toward bloggers; when reporters vote in similar proportions to the rest of the country, and have more arguments with each other than they do with Republicans, and learn from those arguments instead of just ignoring, or ridiculing, what they disagree with.

The biggest problem with the press is not its bias, but its arrogance and cynicism toward what most Americans still believe in, religion, patriotism and democracy. Unfortunately, too many of you come across like Matt Taibbi, snide, cynical, dismissive and profane. Dan Rather is the poster boy for how most Americans see reporters today. Jay Rosen seems to be the exception who recognizes that bloggers have more in common with the original idea of a free press than the professional press does.

Posted by: AST [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 30, 2005 12:38 AM | Permalink


Wow, can you ever misread like a champ. My only point was that the press squeals like a stuck pig whenver it gets the kind of scrutiny it dispatches with career-bolstering glee at any other profession. The obnoxious public handwringing and defensiveness is also far in excess of that demonstrated by the press' traditional targets (although perhaps only because their traditional targets don't own a press in which to whine). Do you really imagine I'm so stupid as to think that the press shouldn't uncover the misdeeds it finds? You know, I'd hate to let that question linger...

The Newsweek story was really overplayed--feeding frenzy bites the press in the ass--but the press conference where McClellan was berated for daring to criticize journalistic errors was a classic display of hubris. How dare this mouthpiece question us! I'm sure those Enron execs felt much the same way. Maybe it's time to butch up a little.

Posted by: Brian at May 30, 2005 1:15 AM | Permalink

Would would an agressive press look like, Mr. Rosen? Um, I asumme, given your job, that you follow how the media in Britian operates, no? They generally are consistently skeptical of whomever is in power and are more often than not relentless in their skepticism. Why do you think that blogs don't thrive there as much as here? The media there does a decent job in holding its British public officials accountable. Ours, quite simply, do not. It does not characterize the U.S. (particularly Washington-based reporters) general approach to journalism AT ALL, despite your linking to a few sporadic decent articles published over the past couple weeks. Again, it's an entire approach. And, my guess is, you know this...

Posted by: Volvo Liberal at May 30, 2005 1:37 AM | Permalink

What would an agressive press look like, Mr. Rosen? Um, I assume, given your job, that you follow how the media in Britian operates, no? They generally are consistently skeptical of whomever is in power and are more often than not relentless in their skepticism. Why do you think that blogs don't thrive there as much as here? The media there does a decent job in holding its British public officials accountable. Ours, quite simply, do not. It does not characterize the U.S. (particularly Washington-based reporters) general approach to journalism AT ALL, despite your linking to a few sporadic decent articles published over the past couple weeks. Again, it's an entire approach. And, my guess is, you know this...

Posted by: Volvo Liberal at May 30, 2005 1:40 AM | Permalink

You'll know when you have the same reaction to the current press as you have toward bloggers; when reporters vote in similar proportions to the rest of the country, and have more arguments with each other than they do with Republicans , and learn from those arguments instead of just ignoring, or ridiculing, what they disagree with.

This statement crystalizes why right-wing media criticism is so generally worthless. Despite their protestations that they want an "unbiased" media that reports the facts, what they really want is a media that treats lies with the same respect as facts in order to achieve "balance."

Imagine for a moment a group of completely objective and unbiased individuals, who all research and report the same story. Naturally, these people would wind up with some opinions based on their work, and there would be likely be an overall consensus with regard to where the truth lies --- but these opinions and that consensus would be based on objective facts, not on the biases of the general public.

The real reason that right-wingers don't like "the media" is that they hate the truth --- they loathe the fact that their biases are not supported by available evidence, and blame the media for exposing their biases.

Instead, they demand that the press treat conclusions drawn from irrational beliefs (religion) and inherent biases (patriotism) with the same respect as those drawn from objectively collected facts.

Is there "liberal bias" in the media? Perhaps, but only because "liberal bias" is the inevitable result of the fact- and truth-gathering process. The right-wing wants to return to the day when "heretics" were persecuted for making objective observations that contradicted the orthodoxy promulgated by the Church --- only in this instance, the Church is a corrupt, bigoted, and venal right-wing establishment.

Posted by: rsmythe at May 30, 2005 7:09 AM | Permalink

" ... the press squeals like a stuck pig whenver it gets the kind of scrutiny it dispatches with career-bolstering glee at any other profession."
Oh, come on, Brian.
There is no more navel-gazing institution on the planet than the U.S. press.
"Press critic" used to be the occupation of a lonely few. These days, any newspaper larger than the Possum Hollow Daily Trumpet has one. CBS's Memogate got more gleeful coverage than Enron, and Newsweek is closing in fast.
I'm not complaining -- I'm one of the critics and I enjoy the paycheck; in that sense, I'm riding the wave.
But to pretend that any other institution in American life subjects itself to the same self-scrutiny that the press does is to lose all touch with reality.
Let me know the day that an Enron, or a General Motors, or the director of a huge government agency, or the AMA, or any big law firm, or Wall Street itself, or a Presidential press secretary starts issuing a weekly report for the public on "all the ways we fucked up last week."
That's the day that I'll fly you into Manhattan, put you up at the St. Regis and buy you the biggest martini in town.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 30, 2005 1:17 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: "I was being serious. Try to respect that. I know it will be hard, but, hey, life is hard."

My apologies Steve, I thought it was another gibe.

Of course, behind any gibe can be deeply felt seriousness.

I will, in the future, try to do a better job at divining the seriousness of your gibes.

I will also try not to perceive it as an additional burden in life, which is hard, to do so.

And, with all due respect, it was Bishop George Berkeley, not Barkely (along with Locke and Hume).

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 30, 2005 2:54 PM | Permalink

Weldon Berger asked how I thought the press should operate. Here's how: the press should provide INFORMATION with the least amount of factual error, spin and opinion. The press should not be a pack of charging rhinos terrorizing the populace. I don't worry about Rummy, et al, I worry about the Richard Jewels out there. A press that needs to terrorize people is a press that is not interested in obtaining information (I think they've even figured this out at Gitmo), but a press that wants to wield power. I don't want a press that is all power and no accountability.

This brings me to Lovelady's remarks that First Amendment rights belong to us all. If only it was true. When I slander and/or libel someone, there is legal price to pay. When the press ruins someone's reputation (Richard Jewel) they are allowed to hide behind their preciousss First Amendment and do not have to reveal who told the lie and hence, no consequences. If I witness a crime and refuse to tell what I know, I am charged with conspiracy and thrown in the slammer. The journo gets a pass, and high-fives from his pals. The First Amendment gives more privileges to journos than to us proles, at least as determined by the courts.

Our First Amendment rights are being whittled away as it is (sexual harrassment laws, McCain-Feingold, etc.) and I resent the press getting a pass, especially since I'm not convinced extra privileges improve the news product.

Posted by: kilgore trout at May 31, 2005 11:53 AM | Permalink

"Is there "liberal bias" in the media? Perhaps, but only because "liberal bias" is the inevitable result of the fact- and truth-gathering process." - rsmythe, above.

More from the "Facts have a liberal bias" secular theology, conveniently conflating the historical philosophy which formerly enjoyed the label "liberal" with the "liberal" political ideology predominant in our newsrooms today.

The really frightening thought is that many of our dominant liberal media friends, likely including those in the most powerful positions, rationalize their liberal bias in this manner too. And therein lies the problem. Accordingly, I'm increasingly discourgaged that our current press can be reformed. It may have to be dismantled and supplanted.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at May 31, 2005 1:21 PM | Permalink


Refresh my faltering memory on this one.
I'm presuming from your comments that Richard Jewell eventually got his day in court, but that he also got a bum's rush from the judge and/or jury ? Or did he settle out of court ?
Truth to tell, I don't recall how it played out.
(I'm no lawyer, but I always thought that Jewell would have had a better chance in court by going directly at the FBI and the cops for recompense -- and not just at NBC and the AJC, which so eagerly swallowed the FBI line at the time. The penality for putting together bogus charges based on a rigged case ought to be even higher than the penalty for suspending disbelief and reporting the rigged case as if it were gospel.)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 1:47 PM | Permalink

If you want to blame Richard Jewel on someone, KT, you might start with the FBI. They're the ones who put his name out front as a suspect, and they did it knowing it would be reported. If you want an example of why the press should start from the assumption that governments lie, that's a fine one.

Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, aluminum tubes, yellowcake, killer drones, mobile biowarfare labs, all our troubles will be over when dead enders/Saddam/al-Sadr/Uday & Qusay/Saddam again/al-Sadr again/Fallujah/Zarqawi/Fallujah again/Zarqawi again are caught and killed or destroyed. This war will pay for itself. Eric Shinseki's estimate of the troops required to keep peace is "wildly off the mark." The troops will be coming home three months/six months/one year/15 months/18 months/24 months after the invasion. Maybe 30 months. Maybe four years. Or five.

There are 120,000 Iraqi security personnel fully trained, and equipped and rarin' to go. There are 5,000 Iraqi security personnel fully trained and equipped and rarin' to go. No, 80,000. No, 150,000. No, 20,000.

Reconstruction is going well; the reason people don't have regular telephone, electricity, clean water and sewage services is that we're taking all those facilities down, the better to repair them. War is a last resort. The Baghdad museum wasn't looted. Every spike in violence is the death throes of the insurgency.

The press dutifully report all that crap, and the leeeebrul, biased, spinful New York Times is among the worst offenders. We're committing war crimes, Bubba Trout, and you want it sanitized, and you have no idea how well sanitized it already is.

You want information without bias or spin? Well, let's show the war: let's show mangled corpses, our own and Iraqi ones; let's show the coffins coming into Dover and the multiple amputees wheeling around Walter Reed; let's show what's left of Fallujah, along with the refugee camps surrounding it; let's show the nose-cam footage of Iraqis getting blown off their rooftops, where they've gone to sleep because there's no power for AC; let's show the unexploded cluster bombs waiting for kids to come along and play with them; let's go back into Abu Ghraib and see how things are going; let's go into Gitmo. Let's go over to Uzbekistan and see how the guys we've "rendered" are holding up. Maybe we can grab some footage of one of them getting boiled.

Let's run through all the Geneva Conventions, see which ones we've violated. We can start with the one where an occupying power is responsible for providing security in the occupied country, and move along to the one where the safety of non-combatants is an imperative in military operations. There's footage relative to all that, too.

That would be information, unspun and unbiased: Let's print it. Oooh, but we can't, because there's not one frickin' newspaper or other news outlet willing to utter the words, "war crimes," or to show the pictures and tape that actually document the war, because reality is just too fucking biased.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 31, 2005 2:43 PM | Permalink


You have confused self-scrutiny with gossip-mongering and a desire to talk about oneself; further, you've confused the kind of perspective gained from non-stop navel-gazing with the kind gained from dispassionate analysis. If journalists had meaningful self-scrutiny they wouldn't be in their current mess. And they wouldn't need ombudsmne, would they? An ombudsman, in case you're not aware, is someone who looks at complaints from the outside that everyone inside is blind to.

Posted by: Brian at May 31, 2005 2:55 PM | Permalink


You forgot about the military "quagmire" that lasted all of one weekend during the invasion. Oh, wait, that doesn't support your claim of newsmen as poodles for the administration. Never mind, then.

What about the pieces of a centrifuge found buried? Oh, probably an administration conspiracy. Never mind, then.

The forecast of Iraqi casualties, the forecast of Afghan famine, the forecast of "Arab Street" revolts...sorry, didn't know it was rude to bring those things up. Never mind, then.

There's a huge amount to argue about in what you choose to call "lies", as well, but forget that for now...are you really saying that journalists are excused from acting responsibly as long as they can plausibly point their fingers at someone else? Someone said something therefore run with it regardless whom it damages?

Posted by: Brian at May 31, 2005 3:07 PM | Permalink

"If journalists had meaningful self-scrutiny they wouldn't be in their current mess."

To the contrary, the case can be argued that their obsession with excessive self-scrutiny only exacerbates their current mess, simply by keeping it on the front burner.

That's the problem I have with all these disingenous, dishonest and rampant calls for "transparency" -- the flavor of the month at the moment.

As if transparency would magically dissipate the complaints of the bias warriors. To the contrary, it only inflames them. To mark the most vivid example, "transparency" is precisely what got Eason Jordan into hot water and onto the unemployment line. Just as "transparency" is what got Larry Summers at Harvard into the very deep shit that he is still trying to climb out of.

Each was transparent to a fault -- and don't think that lesson wasn't learned in the offices of editors and college admininstrators across the land. Consequently, hereafter the order of the day will be the order of the past: When speaking out, keep it as cautious and as vanilla and as noncommital as mush, for down the path of transparency awaits only grief.
So what do we end up with ? The bland leading the bland, into an opaque world shrouded with fog and baffling to outsiders.
It was ever thus and, after these minor but nonetheless ill-fated outbursts of candor, it will return to thus.
And those who fanned the flames at the very glimpse of a little transparency will bear a good part of the blame for that, and the shame.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 3:44 PM | Permalink

weldon: "[The FBI are] the ones who put his name out front as a suspect, and they did it knowing it would be reported."


Case Study: Richard Jewell and The Olympic Bombing (Appendix)
Judge Sides With Newspaper in Jewell Libel Case

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 4:07 PM | Permalink

Steve Lovelady: To mark the most vivid example, "transparency" is precisely what got Eason Jordan into hot water and onto the unemployment line.

Where's the video, Steve? Have you, or CJR Daily, called for the release of the video?

Has CNN or Eason Jordan?

AJR's Stand-up Triple
Editor and Publisher Weighs In on CNN and CBS Scandals

Not only was there a tape, but CNN admits it never asked for it, as CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney has revealed to me. There was no problem with getting a copy of the notorious "off the record" tape from the World Economic Forum. When I asked WEF's Klaus Schwab whether he would have made a tape available, cut to just Eason Jordan's remarks, and give it to Jordan and CNN, he replied: "Of course. And they could make any distribution of it they wished."
Steve Lovelady: What Sulzberger had forgotten, of course, was the maxim first formulated by Lord Northcliffe, a British publisher, 60 years earlier: "News is anything that someone somewhere wants to be suppressed; all the rest is advertising."

Like journalists' confidential sources?

Didn't NBC settle with Richard Jewell citing the need to protect confidential sources?

How about CNN's settlement for an "undisclosed amount"? What was their reasoning?

I'm not a lawyer either, but I find the court decisions between the Jewell and Name Plame Blame Game fascinating.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 4:42 PM | Permalink

Weldon: "[The FBI are] the ones who put his name out front as a suspect, and they did it knowing it would be reported."

Sisyphus: Really?

Steve: Well, yes, Tim, since you ask, really. And I base that on the material you supplied.
Thanks for that stuff, by the way. Both the story from and the subsequent case study paint a pretty vivid picture of government agencies run amok and a newspaper, with some but not enough reservations, going along for the ride.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 4:49 PM | Permalink

Tim --
So let me see if I follow this train of thought to it's logical end:
If only Eason Jordan were to get even more "transparent" and demand the release of a tape showing the remarks that he almost instantly backpedaled from and later apologized for ... then what ?
Deemed the Emperor of Transparency, he would be paraded on the shoulders of grateful bloggers demanding that CNN reinstate him ?
Mmm hmmm.
Makes sense to me.
Sorry, son, they're calling me back from the other side of the rabbit hole.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 5:07 PM | Permalink

Oh, and thanks for the link to the Austin Bay blog, where I find Jabba the Tutt vowing that "Phillip Bennett, Managing Editor of the Washington Post is next in line to walk the plank."
Nahhh, ain't no lynch mobs around these parts.
(I don't know what that's all about, but Phil has been managing editor for all of about seven minutes. Maybe it's something he said when he was 11 ? )

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 5:27 PM | Permalink


If you're hearing voices calling to you from a perceived rabbit hole ... then you might want to ask yourself what's on the other side of that rabbit hole?

The braying of dinosaurs mired in tarpits may not be where you want to go (or return).

I am a strong believer that you can lead a horse to water, but if the ideology of the horse is so entrenched that the horse is blind to it, refuses to believe the water exists, it's a mirage and can't be trusted, then there's not much you can do for the horse but let it perish of thirst.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 5:40 PM | Permalink

No, Brian, I'm not saying "run with it regardless whom it damages." I'm saying that if you want to blame the press for Jewel, you have to start with the law enforcement agency that provided the bogus information. I'm saying the press were stupid for taking anything the administration said about Iraq prior to the invasion, and most of what they've said since, seriously. And I'm saying that with a very few exceptions, the press abandoned in favor of cheerleading any pretense of objectivity about US behavior with respect to Iraq long before the invasion — you would've had a better chance of finding Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank in Siberia than on the front page of the Post when they were writing critical stories before the invasion (or now, for that matter), and the way the press swooned over Powell's melodramatic UN presentation should be in every J-school textbook 'til the sun goes out — and they're still reluctant to challenge the administration's spin, and they for damned sure won't show what the war is actually like.

That's an example of running with something someone said no matter whom it damages; it has damaged a whole lot of people and will damage a whole lot more to come.

You wouldn't know about the 14-year-old centrifuge part if you hadn't gotten it from the news, would you? (Of course, you would've known about it a week earlier if CNN hadn't obediently held the story until the administration gave them permission to publish it. ) And it would've stayed in the news, just as the discovery of some fifty pre-Gulf War chemical artillery rounds would have, had the administration not realized how pathetic those looked as a justification for a war.

(I spoke with a Pentagon press officer about the artillery rounds after Congressman Chris Cox said in February that "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq." The officer, an Army Lt. Colonel, told me it didn't amount to much and pointed me to the Duelfer report. The conversation was so anti-climactic I didn't even bother mentioning it in the post I wrote about Cox. The perfume bottles, though ... wow.)

As for pre-invasion pessimism, I'd remind you that 1) the press covered the administration's post-invasion triumphalism ad nauseum, even beyond the point when it was clearly unwarranted, and 2) pessimistic predictions didn't kill anyone, and 3) they weren't the government. There's a distinct difference between someone outside government making bad predictions — although you may have noticed that we're stuck in Iraq with no end in sight, that we've lost more troops during eight of the 24 months since "major combat" ended, including May, than we did in the heat of the invasion in March and in April of 2003, that the war has not exactly paid for itself, that Eric Shinseki's estimate of how many troops would be required to secure the country seems to have been much closer to the mark than Paul Woflowitz's or Rumsfeld's and that the administration probably shouldn't have ignored the State Department's advice — and the government themselves making crooked ones.

As for the pre-invasion intelligence, every one of the things I mentioned was hotly contested by our own intelligence agencies; all but one, the "mobile weapons lab," had been debunked before the invasion, and that one was the subject of major doubts which have since proved entirely warranted. Even if one assumes, despite the assessment to the contrary of the key officials in our closest ally's government, that the administration were simply mind-bendingly stupid about the intelligence rather than lying, they still knew before the invasion began that almost everything they'd touted as evidence of a threat was wrong, and the inspectors were putting a period to it before they were pulled out. (Remember the inspectors? and how they were maligned for not finding anything?)

If the Pentagon has footage of soldiers painting schools or digging wells or doing anything else productive, by all means, let's show it. I have no doubt Fox would be happy to do so even if the Maoists at CNN wouldn't. And if print reporters can get to the scene without getting killed on the way, then by all means they should write about it.

Except in very rare instances, it isn't the job of the press to do preemptive damage control for anyone. None of the stuff I've mentioned is speculative: we did drop cluster bombs and we haven't made any organized attempts to clear them, we have tortured people and exported them for others to torture, we have blown up innumerable Iraqi civilians, we have suffered many thousands of maimed soldiers, we did seal off Fallujah and flatten it, once with most of the civilian population trapped inside and once forcing them out while we blew up the town to such an extent that two thirds of the population are still homeless, we have failed to restore electricity and water services to pre-war levels, we have failed to secure the country even to the extent that it's safe to drive six miles from Baghdad to the airport, or for the national government to leave the Green Zone, and we have failed to get oil production back up to pre-war levels.

And that's just the stuff we know about,and even that isn't fully documented because newspapers and television news are afraid to run the pictures to go with the stories. The responsibility of the press is to go after news wherever it takes them, and to report it fully without worrying about whose feelings it'll hurt.

Aside from rectifying their criminally poor war coverage (again, with a few institutional exceptions and some stunning individual reporting), among the many things I'd like my newspapers to do is, when they're reporting a politician's stance on an issue, report as well how much money he has received from groups who benefit from his stance, and when he received it. That's information people could use, and it's useless out of context. Print it and see what the public make of it.

The press haven't ever done what I want them to do, and they certainly aren't getting closer to it now.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 31, 2005 6:49 PM | Permalink

weldon, I'm curious. If the "government lies" then why do you refer to government sources to prove those lies?

I'm just saying ...

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 7:28 PM | Permalink

Not to prove them, S, just to verify them. All of the administration intelligence claims I mentioned were disputed by outside experts, and people inside the administration, generally career intelligence and diplomatic personnel, provided confirmation. If you like, I'll amend the aphorism to "administrations lie" when I use it.

I assume you're also asking how I make a choice about whom to believe; it's mostly a matter of assessing who has what to lose and who has what to gain by saying what they're saying. When I see people making widely disputed claims to bolster a cherished cause, as the administration were doing, and those claims are being disputed both by people outside the administration who have the appropriate expertise and either no axe to grind or, as was the case with the IAEA, their reputations to protect or reclaim, and by people inside the government or having recently left it who support the contradictory position despite having a lot to lose, I vote with the ones who have less to gain from their stances. I did so at the time and I do so now, and I think events have validated my opinion. Maybe it was just luck.

When the sources are on the record, as with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz v. Shinseki on the matter of the appropriate number of troops to secure the country, or Wolfowitz v. the oil industry on Iraq's ability to pay for the war, it's even easier: You go with the credible party.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 31, 2005 8:10 PM | Permalink



"... it's mostly a matter of assessing who has what to lose and who has what to gain by saying what they're saying."

That's a VERY common metric and I think one that favors the odds. Not foolproof and something that can be spoofed.

"... Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz v. Shinseki ..."

This one interests me the most. In hindsight, many have argued Shinseki has been proven correct - or more correct. Before the war, IIRC, there was debate across a wide spectrum: from replicating the Afghanistan model to replicating Desert Storm.

Shinseki, it seemed, went for the middle.

In truth, I certainly don't know how things might have differed. Whether 250,000 would have been enough or too many. Whether casualties would be higher or not.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 8:32 PM | Permalink

You wrote:
"What's on the other side of the rabbit hole ?"
That's fairly apparent to anyone who has read Lewis Carrol. I know Georgia Tech is a little light on the classics ... but you could look it up yourself. Since you haven't yet, I'll give you a clue. The answer to your question is:
* You.
* And the phony pleas for transparency.
* And Jabba the Tutt at Austin Bay blog, succumbing to his intoxicating vision of blog triumphalism, crowing that "Phillip Bennett, managing editor of the Washington Post is next in line to walk the plank."
That last one, by the way, is about as ephemeral a wish as that of the liberal but hopelessly misguided Daily Kos fantasizing that Jeff "I'm a Whore" Gannon will bring down Scott McClellan, Karl Rove and George Bush himself.
Like Alice herself , I choose to occasionally slip back through the rabbit hole and into the reality-based community. (I can't help it; It's where I make my living.)
But I'll be back. It's irresistable, wandering around this alternative universe where up is down, down is up, and every pitch is a slow fat one down the middle waiting to be hammered out of the park. (I haven't had a batting average this high since Little League.) But I have to remember that, as gratifying as it is, it bears no relationship whatever to the real world that most of us make our way in each day.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 8:34 PM | Permalink

Speaking of journalism and politics, readers of PressThink may be interested in Daniel Okrent's departing Faux News (We Slander, You Decide!) pissing contest with Paul Krugman whom he declined to seriously engage with while that was actually his job.

Based on this exchange, Dan Okrent was not working as "ombudsmen," he was effectively a Republican party minder paid by the New York Times to feebly spin on behalf of Republicans annoyed by reality. The paper that gave us Judith Miller channeling Ahmed Chalabi, Office of Special Plans Psy-Ops, and missing WMD as default page one (and still can't find the Dearlove memo earlier than pg.18) thought improved reader relations meant adding more right-wing distortion, refusal to read, and baseless slander.

And the New York Times is the poster child for (Judith Miller, David Brooks, William Safire) liberal media bias?

That dog won't hunt. That dog isn't even in the truck.

Wait a minute, did we leave him at home?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 31, 2005 9:05 PM | Permalink

Shinseki didn't specify 250,000; the exact quote is "several hundred thousand." I'm pretty sure he was estimating on the basis of a rough troops-per-thousand ratio based upon his experiences with running peacekeeping missions. He was testifying at a congressional hearing at the time, so it seems unlikely he just pulled the number out of his hat, and I would expect that sooner or later a staff report supporting his estimate will surface.

In retrospect, given that he knew we didn't actually have that many troops available, it seems like a cry for help. I remember reading, soon after the invasion, a Rand paper talking about the issue. The ratio of peacekeepers to population in Kosovo was 20 per 1,000 and, counting the paramilitary constabularies, it was about the same in Northern Ireland (for some twenty years). With Iraq that would translate into about 500,000 troops, which was clearly impossible under even the best of physical and diplomatic circumstances.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 31, 2005 9:40 PM | Permalink

Rand article based in part on a 1995 Army War College article. Also in retrospect, it would have been great if some reporter had, like, researched Shinseki's comments.

Posted by: weldon berger at May 31, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink

Good point, Weldon.
Let's not forget, though, that General Shineski's comments about the required troop strength to save Iraq led to his abrupt, premature and involuntary "early retirement."
I predict a similar fate for Gen. Myers and Gen. Eichenberry, each of whom had the temerity to say that the Newsweek article had nothing to do with the Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan offing each other -- and to say, by extension, that Scott McClellan was full of bullshit
In this administration, it's not nice to suggest that the official line is a pack of lies designed to prop up a manufactured thesis.
Not even if you're a four-star General. Most especially not if you're a four-star General.
These guys will pay, and pay dearly.
Helluva way to end a distinguished miltary career, isn't it ?
And when it happens, it will be relegated to page A18 of our major newspapers, if it's mentioned at all.
But count on it. It's as certain as sunrise.
Another scoop for Press Think. Remember: You heard it here first.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at May 31, 2005 10:42 PM | Permalink

weldon, Phil Carter wrote that this AWC study formed the basis of the "several hundred thousand" estimate.

Another RAND report that might interest you.

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 10:48 PM | Permalink

Forced to Retire?

Posted by: Sisyphus at May 31, 2005 10:52 PM | Permalink

Carter's often right, I'll buy that. What's funny, in a sick sort of way, about the War College report is that a study published at the end of January, 2003, opens by saying, "With the winds of war swirling around Iraq, it is time to plan for its post-conflict reconstruction."

Ya think?

With this Knight Ridder story from October of last year (one of several stories on planning failures), we have a nice set of bookends.

WASHINGTON - In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.
The slide said: "To Be Provided."
Relative to the Pentagon, the War College guys were light years ahead with their two-month jump on post-war planning. For another look at how well this played out, check out the 3rd Infantry Division's after-action report. A choice excerpt:
3ID (M) transitioned into Phase IV SASO [the "to be provided" phase] with no plan from higher headquarters. There was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad, creating an interim government, hiring government and essential services employees, and ensuring the judicial system was operational. In retrospect, perhaps division planners should have been instructed to identify and address these issues earlier, given the likelihood that higher would not provide such information.
Ya think? And that's not a slam on the 3rd ID guys; they did what they could with what they had, and they came as close as was possible in print to calling Central Command and the Pentagon a bunch of morons.

Your link to the Rand study is actually another link to the War College study.

I don't want to talk about the war anymore. It's just one example, albeit a huge one, of bad reporting.

Posted by: weldon berger at June 1, 2005 1:08 AM | Permalink

(Number One: Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?)

Look at the last 20-30 postings. Looks like politics to me !

Posted by: Tim at June 1, 2005 7:35 AM | Permalink

Strictly speaking, Tim, we're not "the press." Nor loosely speaking. We're a bunch of people mouthing off about the press in comments on a blog written by a guy who is also not "the press." I suppose you could count Steve Lovelady as "the press," but he's actually only Steve Lovelady.

Not that the press aren't political; just nobody thinks it's in the appropriate way.

Posted by: weldon berger at June 1, 2005 7:59 PM | Permalink

I suppose you could count Steve Lovelady as "the press," but he's actually only Steve Lovelady.

Exactly, Weldon, and thanks for pointing that out. Where the idea got started that someone who makes his living criticizing the press is the press escapes me. But I suspect it's part and parcel of the premise that "he doesn't buy my construct of the press, so he must be part of the press."
As noted earlier, it's an Alice in Wonderland world that we're all operating in here. Granted, it's interesting, in the sense that any tracking of a paranoid mind is interesting, but, as you well know, it's not grounded in any reality beyond fantasy land.
Meantime, the news has moved far beyond Newsweek, or Kevin Drum. Mark Felt is the order of the day.
Shall we start ?

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 1, 2005 10:25 PM | Permalink

Surely there is a PressThink post in the effective mainstream media muzzling of the Downing Street memo as a paradigm case of the domestic US media setting an agenda that looks like demented fantasy from the perspective of any other press culture on earth.

Why do we have wall-to-wall echo-chamber treatment of White House psy-ops on Newsweek and almost no mention of what appears to be extremely credible information that may establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that Bush is at the very least a liar? How will we know if the press refuses to cover it?

FEAR OF THE TRUTH and its political consequences is the phrase that most immediately comes to mind when describing current non-coverage. Despite Kevin Drum's call for a press spine, press non-coverage suggests the mainstream believes it has already lost the culture wars. Do they now neuter themselves out of fear rather than respect for the truth?

In any event, we'll have to have an independent counsel investigate OR A FREE PRESS THAT DOES ITS JOB before we find out how completely intelligence was manipulated and precisely how many impeachable offenses he may have committed.

Outside of faith-based press initiatives (like making the literally incredible assertion that George W. Bush is not a serial liar), is there any way to interpret the effective news blackout that doesn't lead to the conclusion that we no longer have a free press in the United States of America?

The only other possible coherent defense of Bush administration behavior is the posiiton that the US is not and should not be a democracy in matters of security and national defense. Does a decades long state of emergency (W.W.II--Cold War--"War on Terror") effectively mean we've given up on democracy? Is that good enough? Has the press already thrown in the towel?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at June 2, 2005 2:03 AM | Permalink

From the Intro