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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 8, 2007

An Exchange with Neil Lewis of the New York Times

Neil Lewis, a Washington correspondent for the Times, wrote me about my criticisms of his colleague, Jim Rutenberg, in a previous post. Here's his letter, which he graciously agreed to make on-the-record, with my reply.

Neil Lewis, a Washington correspondent for the New York Times, wrote me about my criticisms of his colleague, Jim Rutenberg, in a previous post. Here’s his letter, which he graciously agreed to make on-the-record, followed by my reply.

Dear Professor Rosen: I don’t think we’ve met but I write as someone who is generally a fan of your blog and commentary. I am a longtime Washington correspondent for the New York Times. But I hope that I am not reflexively defensive about the criticism of the Washington press, and believe much of it is dead-on and thus helpful. I am writing to object, however, to some of your comments on May 1 about my colleague, Jim Rutenberg. In particular, your suggestions that there was something invidious in his interviewing you at length and only using a portion of your comments in his article.

I am a bit amazed at such criticism; what you describe is, in fact, the essence of what we do. We shorthand, we synthesize, we edit. News pieces are the result — and inevitably so — of a sort of triage process. One of the wonders of the web is that if someone has lots to say other than what a reporter will include in his article, it may be said elsewhere, freely and at length. And that is exactly what you do in your blog and commentaries. I am grateful for it and enjoy (mostly) reading your work.

Your complaint has the cranky tone of public officials who chronically complain they can get only a snippet of their worthy thoughts into the publication.

And, as a result of your pique, you suggest something quite breathtaking, especially for a journalism professor: people might well consider, you say, not cooperating in oral interviews because they might be used briefly.

The ability of the reporter to fashion the scope of any particular story is what distinguishes real journalism from stenography. There are, of course, honest and dishonest ways to go about it. But what you call preconceptions about assignments may also be decisions to define the scope of the story in advance. (See your comment: “I knew what I was getting into when I called him back. Reporter and I talk for 30 to 45 minutes; he decides which twelve seconds he wants to use. If he has a pre-existing narrative that he wants me to ratify, chances are good I will say something he can use to do just that. Them’s the rules.”)

There is also opportunity to concoct a reality by preconceiving a story and then getting the quotes to fill in the blanks. I have long resisted — to the irritation of many editors — edicts to call someone to say something we expect him or her to say. Why call anyone at all if we have already selected the person for what we expect him or her to say?

As I say, I am an admirer but i thought you were less than fair to Jim Rutenberg. (Yeah, he is a friend and colleague.)

Regards, Neil Lewis

Jay Rosen replies

I agree that journalists must condense and trim; this is normal practice. But I didn’t say there was something invidious in Jim Rutenberg interviewing me and only using a portion of my comments. I knew full well he would use only a portion of my comments. I said there was something invidious about recruiting me into a miscast bloggers vs. journalists “debate” that I specifically wanted no part of, because I thought it wrongly and cheaply applied to the situation at hand.

That “left-leaning political activists” felt the choice of Rich Little hopelessly dated and the Correspondents’ dinner badly compromised was, I thought, a bad idea with which to begin a news story. For the simple reason that lots of other people thought Rich Little and the dinner itself dated and compromised, including—as it turned out—columnists David Carr and Frank Rich in the New York Times. Now that your newspaper has decided to end its participation in the event, it may be easier to see that.

I told Rutenberg there were reasons for the mistrust of the dinner that had little to do with activists clashing with journalists and everything to do with the history of Bush and the press. Thus: That Man Tried to Run You Over. Why Are You Having Dinner With Him?

I agree completely that “the ability of the reporter to fashion the scope of any particular story is what distinguishes real journalism from stenography.” As you say, there are honest and dishonest ways to do it. I don’t contest your right to fashion an account that you think fits the facts. And I recognize that I lose control of my words in an interview. Therefore the transaction involves trust.

“But what you call preconceptions about assignments may also be decisions to define the scope of the story in advance.” I agree. Here there is wide room for argument.

“People might well consider, you say, not cooperating in oral interviews because they might be used briefly…” Nope. I simply said that I was re-considering. But not because I only got a few lines in the play and waaaaaahhhhh I wannna bigger part. By my participation in Jim Rutenberg’s story, I ended up perpetuating a lame, wrong-headed and outworn interpretation of a failed ritual.

The ritual gave out because the consensus beneath it—that the Washington press corps was a legitimate part of the modern presidency, indeed part of the system of checks and balances—was rejected outright by Bush, Cheney, and Andrew Card. In my view the press didn’t want to face this and still does not want to reckon with it. Too costly, then and now.

So underneath this little dispute about a single interview is a much bigger dispute. Here I realize I’m departing from your letter’s concerns.

Michael Getler, ombusdsman for PBS, said it last week in his review of the Bill Moyers program, Buying the War: “The failure of much of the American press to uncover — and provide some prominence to — the private doubts and even the public case against the war was, in my view, it’s most egregious failure in my 50 years in journalism.”

Why did it happen? What were the consequences? And how do we know if the reporters and editors (the bureaus and staffs) who participated in this historic and egregious failure have reckoned with the reasons for their collapse under Bush, seen the depths of it, or corrected the parts in their system—including their belief system, their pressthink—that failed? Just below the surface of the Corespondents’ Dinner we find these far more explosive questions.

Watching the dinner on C-SPAN, I found it impossible to decide: Are the press people sitting there with Bush sitting there as professionals who….

  • previously understood and corrected for their most egregious failure in 50 years?
  • remain in general denial about their most egregious failure in 50 years?
  • persist in ironic detachment from this debacle, so as to return things as smoothly as possible to Normal?
  • are completely deluded about the current state of the watchdog press and our basis for trusting it?
  • aren’t worried at all because the bloggers and “activists” who say things like that have an ax to grind?

It’s impossible to know when you look at that crowd, and this is what Colbert exploited so skillfully for laughs. The WHCA saw it and got Rich Little to come the next year. Dean Baquet and Bill Keller saw that, and pulled the plug. A perception problem, they called it.

I agree with Michael Getler that newspapers like yours and the Washington Post have done more to reckon with their collapse under Bush than their colleagues in other places, especially TV news, who have done almost nothing. But this is not the same thing as doing enough. Maybe I am wrong, but I get the impression you think the whole subject talked to death.

To me the conversation has just started. Thanks for writing— and for reading PressThink.

Jay Rosen

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 8, 2007 1:39 PM   Print


Just another MSM dinosaur flailing in his death throes. That reporters have a preconceived storyline going into interviews and generally select quotes to support it cannot seriously be denied. This gotcha journalism is in support of a broader narrative whose contours are not clear but which is intuitively understood by most reporters, and adhered to. It will be interesting to know one day how this groupthink came about. In any event, it has led to a systematic and massive failing on the part of the press to provide the information needed by the public. Part of the press's responsibility is emphasis; it will no longer ward off criticism to state that a story was covered, if it was not given the requisite positioning and importance. The press's Iraq war failings are merely a sympton of this and not the cataclysmic, one-time failure that needs to be atoned for. For it happened in the past (why was the public taken by such surprise on 9/11?) and its happening today (we have barrels of ink on the firing of 8 AGs while the previous admin's firing of all of them is absolved at the same time scandals involving Reid, Pelosi and Feinstein are ignored - look them up). As soon as the current press realizes its commodity role, we will all be better off.

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 8, 2007 4:41 PM | Permalink

I find it amazing (and disheartening) not only that Lewis did understand the point you had made the first time, but then felt compelled to lecture you on "what journalists do". sheesh!

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2007 4:54 PM | Permalink

It seems pretty clear that Lewis was simply unable to hear what you said. It makes me wonder what he actually picks up when he claims to read and enjoy your blog otherwise. He can't have been paying much attention if he still hasn't caught on to your "Let's move past blogs vs. journalists" agenda (Let alone moving past the even more fantastic 'rabid liberal bloggers' vs. journalists narrative).

Is an utter failure to communicate the best we can hope for from a would-be "open-minded, blog-friendly" journalist at a newspaper this prestigious? It's very discouraging.

This is yet another dialogue without much dialogue. The only hope I see is that the blog platform is constituting an alternative public sphere where Lewis' inability to follow simple grammar is exposed for the well-meaning, but lame defensiveness he uneasily avoids conceding that it is. If enough of his friends outside the paper begin giving him grief over the embarassing and condescending cluelessness he demonstrates here, maybe he'll eventually be able to figure it out. Or not.

It's one thing to lecture the generic blogger about how they simply don't understand the high calling of journalism, but insisting on the same tired, apologetic nonsense with a professor of journalism professor suggests a pretty deeply motivated refusal to engage with the basic points at issue.

Even when they mean well, the only conceivable conclusion they can come up with is "journalists are so misunderstood." He may as well have covered his ears and said, "Naa, naa, naa!" while you were talking. It would have demonstrated about the same level of seriousness and engagement.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 8, 2007 5:16 PM | Permalink

It's a bit like spending forty minutes telling a reporter that Iraq should not be seen as a conventional war and then being quoted in a story that says the US is winning the war in Iraq. Lame and lazy come to mind as adjectives that accurately describe Lewis's attempt to reduce this level of egregious journalistic negligence and disconnection concerning the overarching narrative of the piece into a question of personal pique and ignorance of journalistic protocol.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 8, 2007 5:32 PM | Permalink

Do you have a theory for why these journalists seem to find the rollback theory so hard to think? Is it like the Bush administration dead-enders inability to admit mistakes? Old dogs stuck with old tricks? What?

My dad used to try to educate government engineers on new developments in sewer pipe technology and was repeatedly astonished at the degree to which so many professionals basically hadn't learned a thing since their last class in college. What they were told in school basically became the limit of their world view. They had no idea about the principles that justified what they were taught so they were helpless to judge if a new idea was legitimate or not. Is that something like what you're running into?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 8, 2007 5:38 PM | Permalink

The only "theory" I have about rollback recognition is what I wrote:

"The ritual gave out because the consensus beneath it--that the Washington press corps was a legitimate part of the modern presidency, indeed part of the system of checks and balances--was rejected outright by Bush, Cheney, and Andrew Card. In my view the press didn't want to face this and still does not want to reckon with it. Too costly, then and now."

Also, RR, I don't traffic in phrases like "MSM dinosaur." And I don't think of the New York Times in those terms. It's an important institution, very much alive, and a potentially vital check on power in good times and bad.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 8, 2007 6:05 PM | Permalink

ie, ostriches

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 8, 2007 6:35 PM | Permalink

Thanks for expanding on a point you made in the earlier post on the Correspondents Dinner. I am not sure I totally agree with you, but you make a good point. You have given me something to ponder.

While I retreat to a neutral corner to think, do you think any of the rollback was self-inflicted by the press. Not from the stand point of letting Bush do it to them, but rather a gradual corruption of their reputation as a watchdog by a too cozy relationship with prior administrations. I hear Reagan could be quite the charmer.

I am not sure of the truth of this but if it was true the Clinton Administration leaked to the press to control the timing and spin of bad news, did not that give them some control of the narrative as well? Sort of how good can the watchdog be if it is accepting table scraps from the wolves? The de-legitimization starts or continues.

Bush stuck a knife in the back of the press and the public yawned, not quite the reaction one would expect from the death of a trusted friend.

Maybe the press seems lost and out of sorts because it does ot know how to wean itself from leaks and anonymous sources.

Just idle thoughts, hope you can follow them.
Thanks again.

Posted by: abad man at May 8, 2007 8:31 PM | Permalink

re the otherwise excellent Mark's
"He can't have been paying much attention..."

Come on, it's east african plains ape nature to seize on the aspect that you most disagree with, particularly if it looks like what you've encountered frequently before. And once you're in "conflict mode" your mind's not open to the rest of the argument. Let's not hit him with sticks for it.

"Do you have a theory for why these journalists seem to find the rollback theory so hard to think?"

Better yet, do we have contact info for them and could we survey them to find out how many of them really do understand it? empiricism is good.

Posted by: Anna at May 8, 2007 8:38 PM | Permalink

Related, how to make your ideas stick
(via MiniMediaGuy )

Posted by: Anna at May 8, 2007 8:53 PM | Permalink

Dear Jay,
I sometimes think of you as an anthropologist working in the exotic foreign land of pressthink. When you speak to people who live there, how do they seem to perceive the potential costs of acknowledging rollback? I ask because I couldn't begin to guess.

From where I sit, the cost of being humiliated by the White House but continuing to insist it isn't happening would surely be infinitely higher than being humiliated by the White House and squarely facing that reality so you can begin to end your own shame. You seem pretty sure they don't see it that way.

What consequences of reality testing do the citizens of the land of pressthink consider to be so incalculably high that it would be less costly for them to continue to be a laughingstock than to start down the path toward dignity and self-respect?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 9, 2007 3:57 AM | Permalink

From where I sit, the cost of being humiliated by the White House but continuing to insist it isn't happening would surely be infinitely higher than being humiliated by the White House and squarely facing that reality so you can begin to end your own shame. You seem pretty sure they don't see it that way.

Within the dysfunctional and insular community that is "the beltway media", the humiliation of which you speak does not exist. One would think that people like Andrea Mitchell would be ashamed to show her face after the numerous falsehoods she's communicated in recent weeks -- but one detects not the slightest sense of shame on her part. The DC media was given a wake-up call when the Boston Globe the Pulitzer for their series on "signing statements" -- an important story that literally anyone could have written, but which continues to be ignored by the "mainstream media" (including the Globe's corporate sister, The New York Times) -- but rather than awakening, they just hit the snooze button again.

I'd like to suggest that there is now a parallel "Rollback" phenomenon underway -- now the press is "rolling back" on the public itself. Just as Bushco rejected the idea that "the Washington press corps was a legitimate part of the modern presidency, indeed part of the system of checks and balances" and subsequently treated the press with contempt and disdain, the beltway media now rejects the idea that an informed citizenry is an essential part of that same "system of checks and balances."

"The people" are still "important", but not because of their role as the electorate in a democracy, but because of its function as an audience for advertisers.

And just as the DC press corps acquiesced to the White House's rollback of its traditional function, so to has the public accepted the disdain shown to it by the press --- "the people" are satisfied with bread and circuses and "infotainment" instead of relevant journalism, just as the DC press corps are satisfied with "access" and status instead of reliable and relevant information that it can relay to the electorate.

Until the American people recognize the cost of their own humiliation by the beltway media, the press itself has no need for self-examination. There is no humiliation when the only people pointing out that Adam Nagourney, and Fred Hiatt, and Karen Tumulty, and Brian Williams are stark naked are the "dirty f&&king hippies" on the internet -- the press still has the power to ignore that criticism, and as long as they control access to the information available to the vast majority of Americans, they can get away with pretending to be wearing silk and sable.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 9, 2007 7:57 AM | Permalink

Speaking not about Neil Lewis, whom I have not met, but about the political press corps as animal, I'd compare the rollback recognition situation to the FBI's troubles with a broken, inadequate, outworn and unfixable data management system. It's not that the field officers and bosses don't know it's broken; it's not that they don't suffer for it. They know; they suffer.

But think about the huge up front investment required, the time it would take to figure out a better way, the massive disruption it would cause, the learning costs for transitioning to a new system, all with no guarantee that the next set-up would be better than the prior one... you can see how they'd tell themselves that the old broken network can keep going for another year, and another after that.

Isn't it humiliating? Yeah, it's humiliating-- they're supposed to be the FBI! (This makes them all the crankier.)

Isn't it obvious? Yeah, it's obvious; they have to work with a broken system every day! But their own, very human adjustments make it seem less bad than it really is.

Don't they see the failures we see? The 9/11 bombers got through their net, in part because of a non-functioning data system! They do see a lot of what we see, but once they start thinking of those massive disruptions, and the failures that could go on during that...

How can they ignore the critics who have pointed these very things out? They can't exactly ignore them, but they know a lot of those critics have resented the FBI for years, and not giving them the satisfaction is probably a factor.

But the main factor is that the broken system can always run for another day and the day everyone says "enough, we have to fix this..." always seems impossibly far off.

It's a kind of denial, I suppose, but on the other hand they know they have a thoroughly broken system, which is different from someone who is "in denial" about an alcohol problem or an abusive husband.

In the specific case of the Times Washington bureau, my hunch is that they took comfort from the purging of Judy Miller (who was not popular there) and began thinking they got their mojo back with this story, which "restored" an acceptable level of we're-the-watchdog dignity.

Best I can do...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 9, 2007 9:00 AM | Permalink

But Jay,

the FBI is government, it ALWAYS bungles things and does them in the lease efficient manner. The press is private enterprise, which WILL fix itself eventually (this is already happening). This leads to an observation that you left out: beltway reporters probably also fear fixing the problem because they don't know what the fix will do to their careers.

Posted by: R Rainey at May 9, 2007 10:59 AM | Permalink

Uh, well, it's not an exact anaology. I'm just trying to explain something that I think is very hard to explain.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 9, 2007 11:39 AM | Permalink

Paul's comment above is apropos of what I've long believed, and may have stolen it from somebody several years ago (Somerby?).

That is, the beltway media never "forgave" the public for not being on board with their never ending attacks on Bill Clinton and ultimately, the impeachment fiasco.

They never "forgave" the public's high approval (60-70%) while they kept repeating sex, sex, lying, lying...

Posted by: Eric at May 9, 2007 1:22 PM | Permalink

I'm not sure that it's just a matter of maintaining the devil you know. I honestly don't know if established media managers know how to fix the problem. Certainly they're not going to be given the time they need to figure it out by the profit-hungry investors who want their cut now and don't have an abiding interest in a journalistic mission.

The industry is in tremendous turmoil brought on by new media platforms, financial imperatives, and an extremely aggressive government that has undermined not only its ability to do its job properly, but also its confidence.

Fear is a very powerful thing and can get people nodding in agreement whether they like it or not. I'd say that the radical right that has been exerting its considerable muscle is one of the scariest regimes I've ever seen, the likes of which have not been seen in this country since the 1950s.

When we look to our "papers of record" to have the answers, they feel kind of silly saying they don't have them. So there's a lot of this nitpicking, end-around talk about whether people should grant journalists interviews and whether there's value in editing remarks.

Posted by: Ferdy at May 9, 2007 3:46 PM | Permalink

So there's a lot of this nitpicking, end-around talk about whether people should grant journalists interviews and whether there's value in editing remarks.

I agree with most every word, Ferdy. They don't know how to fix the problem. Especially that. That's why they keep that broken data management system--which I call pressthink--in place. But then they have to defend it with more conviction than they actually have.

They don't know how to put the watchdog press together again.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 9, 2007 4:03 PM | Permalink

Marcy Wheeler of Next Hurrah and FireDogLake responds to this post.

Every time I was interviewed during the Scooter Libby trial, I tried to work in one particular line:

"Why isn't the media covering this trial with the same attention or resources with which they covered Clinton's blow job? Why is a blow job so much more important than our nation's security?"

Guess what? It never made it into an article. Not one. In fact, several times, journalists told me they didn't think they could use the words "blow job" in an article, even though the country focused on nothing but blow jobs for key months of 1998 and 1999.

That's how it starts. Later...

The instances where Rosen would have liked to post his comments and force journalists to link to them--the WH Correspondent's Dinner and the run-up to the Iraq war--both feature journalists as central players in the story. Ditto the Libby trial (and any blogging thereof). Which means we really need to distinguish between two events happening simultaneously. New technology has democratized the generation and distribution of reporting which has set up a somewhat false dichotomy between bloggers and journalists... and, at the same time, the press has been an actor in some of the most important events of the past several years. Focusing on the former apparently remains a way to ignore or downplay (it's all Judy's fault!) the latter.

And that is when those preconceived narratives become so important--because they specifically allow institutions of journalism to avoid any reflection on their own complicity for past events.

Exactly. Which is why I felt that in this case I should write about it.

Marcy, a former academic, wrote a book about the Libby Trial and covered it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 9, 2007 4:05 PM | Permalink

That is extremely helpful. Thank you very much. Your response clarifies much of what you have been pointing toward in an extremely vivid and effective way. From my perspective it is an excellent analogy.

P. Lukasiak,
You capture something I have noticed myself, though I was not able to put it quite so articulately. I think you may be on to something. The "you don't understand journalism" canard is effectively a license to blow off audience feedback. Logically it is closely analogous to Bush's "I don't accept that you represent any legitimate interests apart from yourselves" quip. Such mainstream journalists are saying that bloggers, especially liberal bloggers, do not represent any legitimate interests, they are a lower form of life to be tolerated or educated and civilized, but certainly not a group of legitimate importance or influence worthy of being listened to or respected.

R. Rainey,
It is worth noting that systemic government failures under the Bush administration have consistently been a function of PRIVATIZATION. Anti-competitive "privatization" ala George W. Bush is patently even worse than outdated public approaches. The contractors for Walter Reed were just the latest failure in Bush's long list of private, corporate clowns failing to remotely approach accomplishing their contract obligations in a timely or effective way. To my mind, the catastrophic consequences of most of Bush's actions could not be making a stronger case that many, many things ARE best left to the government, particularly when they involve situations that manifestly do not allow for market competition (or competition will not be allowed for ulterior reasons as is so often the case with this administration).

I would argue that there probably is a fairly close analogy between the pathetic performance of the private cartels patronized by the Bush administration and the pathetic performance demonstrated by the handful of media conglomerates responsible for limiting competition within so much of what passes for mainstream journalism in this country. How else could we account for the kind of anomalies P. Lukasiak points to with the story on signing statements, a topic of indisputably monumental import which was nevertheless effectively avoided by so many for so long while we were treated to a seemingly endless series of gossip fests by our journalistic "betters"?

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 9, 2007 4:15 PM | Permalink

How else could Glenn Beck still be on the air?!

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 9, 2007 4:24 PM | Permalink

Mark, I think we come from different points on the political spectrum, but I will try to not let that interfere with the discussion. I think you are not looking at my government/private industry dichotomy correctly. I don't know who the Walter Reed contractors are so I will use everybody's corporate whipping boy as an example, Halliburton. People crap all over H's performance in the mideast in this war. However, H is up about 350% since the war began, partly because it has a giant customer who throws money at it and does not insist on accountability. There are few (ascetics, saints, dead people) who would not enjoy having a high paying customer who demands little in the way of service. In this case, it just happens to be that the customer is not spending his money, but rather yours and mine; therefore, he has little incentive to spend it wisely. Thus, if you look at it objectively, H is the rational actor and the GOVERNMENT is the cause of the inefficiency. The media is owned by investors who are self interested. They are more the Halliburton than the government - they will insist on improved efficiency. It is already happening; why do you think ownership of newspapers is shifting. Now, whether good journalism pays is a different topic, but there certainly is a demand for real news, and where there is a demand there will be a supply.

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 9, 2007 7:00 PM | Permalink

After reading Jay's FBI analogy I am not sure how good of an analogy this is anymore but here goes anyway.

Rollback did not occur in a vacuum, events prior had to enable it and as per this post there is a tail after rollback occurred.

Going with the analogy of a watchdog press, could that watchdog have become fat and lazy on a steady diet of table scraps, leaks and inside sources. Why should the dog hunt when it gets fed tasty morsels even if they are from the wolves? Choosing which of he tasty morsels get fed to the beast can control it as surely as starving it, stuffing rather than starving the beast.

The process is worsened as the 10 second sound bite replaces the 20 minute interview as the engine that drives the narrative; the dog gets a little fatter and a little lazier. Preserving access and sources, keep those tasty morsels coming, topped actual reporting. This might be exemplified by everyone's favorite punching bag Judy Miller. She had access but that same access made her easy to control. I doubt this started with the Bush Administration.

By 2001 the Watchdog could be ripe for rollback. Whether by accident or through careful analysis it was discovered the watchdog, deprived of table scraps could no longer hunt. Good message discipline, 10 second sound bites form multiple sources might have been thin gruel, but the beast was starving. Immediately post 9/11 this was even easier as traditional antagonists to the Administration State and the CIA reeled from pre 9/11 failures, and a general need to, perhaps once, pull together. So there is the dog, does it starve, learn to hunt again, or rollover for a new master?

Once 9/11 was farther in the past, the threat not as real, the war not as quick and clean as promised, opposition to the administration resurfaced, and thus sources opened up again. The cynic in me believes several parties, not necessarily interested in truth and or justice, realized how tempting leaks would be to a starving beast. Discretion, analysis was further left behind as the beast reapplied itself to the feed trough. See Dan Rather and National Guard Memos.

So now here we are, can the dog still hunt? Is it willing to learn? Or is the press like a stray dog that belongs to whoever feeds it so to speak. Then maybe boycotting the dinner has some sort of symbolic significance, but little proof that someone does not still own that dog.

The press's unwillingness to bite the hand that feeds it allows partisans of both sides, (of which we all are undoubtedly one), to beat on the press for its incompetence. It has forgotten who it works for.

Posted by: abad man at May 9, 2007 8:02 PM | Permalink

Is it good that Marcy Wheeler can consciously repeat a sound bite over and over hoping to get it into the press to frame an issue to her liking? Is not that part of the pressthink that facilitated rollback? She is giving the press what she thinks they want, a sound bite, packaged the way she wants. Then when it is not used she discusses the ins and outs of why the quote was not used. Overall it shows a pretty cynical self-awareness of the interview process. Makes me wonder if she was just spinning her wheels during the rest of the interview, waiting to get her money shot(quote) in. Was it really the blowjob or the cover-up and the perjury... national security or just perjury? ( rhetorical question, different ways to look at an issue, not looking to start a brawl here) My point is sound bite vs. context, the issue is not as simple or as clear as she would like to make it. As she criticizes the press she shows her willingness to use/abuse it. At its heart the statement is propaganda. You have a less clear understanding of the Libby trial after reading it, while it is wrapped in a plea for more understanding.

Posted by: Abad Man at May 9, 2007 8:09 PM | Permalink

Posted by: R Rainey: "the FBI is government, it ALWAYS bungles things and does them in the lease efficient manner. The press is private enterprise, which WILL fix itself eventually (this is already happening). This leads to an observation that you left out: beltway reporters probably also fear fixing the problem because they don't know what the fix will do to their careers."

Aside from the fact that this is libertarian econotheology; it leads to an uncomfortable conclusion - the large elite media institutions are largely doing what their owners/upper management wants them to do. Their interests are well served by Bush's agenda, which is to help the rich and screw everybody else.

BTW - the *reporters* won't fix anything; they don't have that much power. If they report the wrong things about the wrong subjects, they don't get printed. If they persist, they get fired for poor performance (i.e., not producing 'printable' stories).

Posted by: Barry at May 9, 2007 8:45 PM | Permalink

Barry, your post is full of ingrained liberal assumptions. To wit, why is having media companies run by their management/shareholders bad for them? This is how all companies are run. How exactly are media companies benefited by Bush's agenda? Why is it assumed that management of all corporations are aligned with Bush (those big, bad corporations)? I would wager most heads of media organizations are democrats. This is like the No War for Oil slogan so witlessly bandied about. In certain spheres, it doesn't matter if one doesn't have facts to back up his charges, those bastards are guilty. We just know it!

In the end, you better hope that the press function you are looking for is compatible with profit maximization, because as globalization sharpens our capitalist knives media organizations are going to do what will make them money. You may think that this will override the pursuit of the public good, but some of us think the pursuit of the public good is too maleable a concept, allowing the press endless excuses to do whatever they want (the Cho video for example). Why should these agenda driven dinosaurs be given a pass? It should be perfectly obvious that a market driven news world will work, for there is a desire for real news and thus it will be provided. I would much rather put my trust in the collective desire of the many (for that is what the market is, that is what the blogosphere is) than some editorial board who dictates what I should know based on their own slippery notions of what is good for us.

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 9, 2007 9:59 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen: "I said there was something invidious about recruiting me into a miscast bloggers vs. journalists 'debate' that I specifically wanted no part of, because I thought it wrongly and cheaply applied to the situation at hand." and "Still, Rutenberg didn’t violate any of the rules for interviewing sources, and I knew what I was getting into when I called him back. Reporter and I talk for 30 to 45 minutes; he decides which twelve seconds he wants to use. If he has a pre-existing narrative that he wants me to ratify, chances are good I will say something he can use to do just that. Them’s the rules."

The important foundational concept here is the role journalism's structural bias plays in the "symbolic production of reality." (Carey's ritual model)

Posted by: Tim at May 9, 2007 11:22 PM | Permalink

A Cultural Approach to Communication

Posted by: Tim at May 9, 2007 11:22 PM | Permalink

A few notes:

1) I think that Jay's FBI analogy is somewhat inapt, insofar as the FBI is an entrenched bureaucracy with little in the way of adopting technical innovations, while the media need only return to the status quo ante of the "watchdog press". There is at least an insitutional memory within the media of how the press should operate, but there is no such institutional memory in the FBI.

2) Per Eric

Paul's comment above is apropos of what I've long believed, and may have stolen it from somebody several years ago (Somerby?).

while Somersby is among those who doubtless influence my perspective, it wasn't a direct steal. Instead, it was an attempt to suck up to Jay by extending his insightful "rollback" concept to the relationship between the media and the public.

3) On rollback -- it would be a mistake to think that this started with Bush, although Bushco has turned it into an artform. It really started with Clinton, who sucessfully "went around" the DC media that was obsessed with "blow jobs" and uninterested in reporting much of anything else. The sad irony is that while Bushco rejected adopting the various successful policy initiatives of the Clinton administration, the one place it did adopt and expand upon Clintonian policies was in the treatment of the press.

4) Per abadman (re Marcy Wheeler)

Overall it shows a pretty cynical self-awareness of the interview process. Makes me wonder if she was just spinning her wheels during the rest of the interview, waiting to get her money shot(quote) in.

actually, this is not what Marcy was doing. Marcy was THE expert on the Plame leak, and was willing to go into extensive detail on the significance of each day's testimony. Her "blow job" comments were an attempt to make a separate and distinct point about media coverage -- to point out that there was a media frenzy over Clinton's lies about personal indiscretions that had no bearing on governance or public policy, while there was a distinct lack of interest in Libby's lies about a grave matter concerning America's national security interests.

Marcy's larger point continues to be born out today -- there is far more attention paid to John Edwards haircut than the various serious scandals enveloping the Bush adminstration. IMHO, part of this problem is structural.... for the corporate media to provide appropriate coverage of the DoJ scandal would mean assigning a team of reporters to examine the thousands of pages of documents released by the DoJ, and do a lot of digging into the public record. Its far cheaper to write/talk about trivialities like a $400 haircut than to provide meaningful coverage -- which is why the vast majority of the 'scoops' that have emerged from the DoJ scandal have come from the "crowd-sourcing" efforts (and investigative journalism) of TPM Media, independent journalists like Murray Waas, and local reporters who have investigated what has been happening in their own backyards. The beltway media, which has access to "Main Justice" and The White House, has pretty much ignored the story. (When it does come up with something, its inevitably an attempt to 'spin' the facts in favor of a beltway type -- the latest example is David Ignasius' 'scoop' regarding DC USA Taylor's supposed initiation of an investigation into Monica Goodling. Examining the full record shows that Taylor was not responsible for that investigation.)

Much like with the Downing Street Memo story, the beltway media has done its best to ignore the DoJ scandal (see Fred Hiatt at the Post and Mark Stengal at Time) -- and is now finally being forced to deal with with it.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2007 8:48 AM | Permalink

Look, Clinton committed Perjury, not lies about his indiscretions, and he was the President. Libby committed Perjury, in a national security case so vital the actual leaker was not charged. Perhaps because after what, three years, even Fitz does not seem To be able say whether the core crime was committed, or if any national security interests were involved. That makes it look like the investigation targeted specific individuals, instead of who did the core crime(that is supposed to be bad I thought). Conflating the two in a manner to advance your political point of view is not advancing understanding and doing a poor job of proving your point.

What Libby did was bad, let's just not pretend that what Clinton did was not equally as bad if not worse. Clinton had a much higher position of authority and power. When the president feels he is above the law of the land it is bad for governance, just as Bush feeling he is above the law is bad for governance. (commence the battles over degrees of guilt)

Funny thing, here the watchdog press is obsessed with Clinton, not obsessed enough with Bush. Go to a right wing site the opposite is "true".

How about holding all of the bastards' feet to the fire?

Posted by: abad man at May 10, 2007 10:37 AM | Permalink

Sorry Paul, I didn't mean to "suck up" to Jay :)

And by the way, its Somerby (not Somersby).

Posted by: Eric at May 10, 2007 11:04 AM | Permalink

Look, Clinton committed Perjury, not lies about his indiscretions, and he was the President. Libby committed Perjury, in a national security case so vital the actual leaker was not charged. Perhaps because after what, three years, even Fitz does not seem To be able say whether the core crime was committed, or if any national security interests were involved.

Libby (who also leaked Plames identity) was charged with perjury in a case with national security implications -- when the key witness commits perjury in an effort to cover-up what happened, it makes it far more difficult to indict on the underlying crime. Clinton's lies about Lewinsky were irrelevant to the sexual harrassment case brought against him -- and Paula Jones dropped the case and admitted that she'd been used by the right-wing to harrass Clinton.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 10, 2007 11:21 AM | Permalink

My favorite thing about this post: there's a moment where it outwits the culture war, just for a second, a flash. I believe it occurs here:

"The ritual gave out because the consensus beneath it--that the Washington press corps was a legitimate part of the modern presidency, indeed part of the system of checks and balances--was rejected outright by Bush, Cheney, and Andrew Card."

Well-informed Bush opponents, from the doubters to the haters, would probably say, "That's right, Bush and company denied legitimacy to the press as a check on presidential power."

Well-informed Bush supporters--including the culture warriors--would probably say, "that's right, under Bush and company the liberal press finally lost legitimacy as a check on presidential power."

They're sufficiently close that we can almost get agreement on what happened, which almost never happens. It's like a glitch in the culture war.

The odd party out in that flash moment is the journalists. They don't think anything earthquakee happened to their legitimacy under Bush.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 10, 2007 12:21 PM | Permalink

I agree with the journalists that don't think anything "earthquakee" happened to their legitimacy under Bush.

The chasm between the press and public developed during the "earthquakee" mid-80s and 90s. Stalwarts like Geneva Overholser were sounding the alarm of journalism's declining legitimacy.

Jay recognized this in a previous post:

I think the Bush press policy is an act of political realism and does testify to the acumen of the administration. I think they should take credit for it, and their supporters should give them credit. Historians will.
I agree with Paul Lukasiak that the Bush "rollback" is a continuation and perhaps an increase in the shift around the press as ritualistic drama-kings and queens. This is a more profound realization because more of the public and politicians are shifting their symbolic reality of the role/position of the press.

No more oral interviews ... "the transaction involves trust."

Posted by: Tim at May 10, 2007 1:33 PM | Permalink

The Decline of Democratic Institutions

Attempts to excuse the press from diminishing the authority of democratic institutions simply will not work. The standard excuses -- "it's always been this way," "competition is driving us to excess," "we're only satisfying the appetites of the audience," "don't blame the messenger" -- will work at gatherings of journalists and owners but will not withstand reasoned debate.

Posted by: Tim at May 10, 2007 1:34 PM | Permalink

p. lukasiak.

Armitage leaked the Plame ID. I am astonished that, by now, you think there is anybody who doesn't know that.


Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 10, 2007 2:05 PM | Permalink

Tim - I'm curious how the press diminished the authority of democratic institutions. It seems to me that the national government under the control of the Republican regime has had unprecedented authority - self-granted, I admit, but only now are the sleepers awakening from their post 9/11 torpor.

Posted by: Ferdy at May 10, 2007 3:25 PM | Permalink

I'm struck by the similarities between the response of Neil Lewis to Jay Rosen and the response of Joe Klein to Glenn Greenwald. Lewis and Klein are both smart, highly literate, and honestly trying to engage press critics, but they both seem to completely miss the point of the criticism. In each case, the problem is the grip that "pressthink" has on their worldview. They literally can not conceive of the criticism they are confronted with. As a result, they respond in ways that seem like deliberate distortions of the criticism (although Klein's case seems much more serious than Lewis's). It's quite depressing if you believe that a functioning press is an important ingredient in a free society.

Posted by: William Ockham at May 10, 2007 5:36 PM | Permalink

William O.

It appears you have, once or twice, tried to tell a reporter he made a mistake.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 10, 2007 8:59 PM | Permalink

True, William. Klein's bafflement is almost total. But it's really a kind of insularity.

A while ago, David Broder used to be known for ringing doorballs during election season and talking to voters in key precincts in their homes. Lots of doorbells. Since most political reporters would rather have drinks in the bar with the campaign pollster, Broder achieved among peers that god-like reputation to which Klein refers. His was a method other political journalists admired but did not imitate.

Greenwald is coming along well after these events. He doesn't know anything about them. He doesn't see Broder, a Beltway pundit without discernible passions, as "closer" to the people, when for Klein that's exactly what is different about Broder-- compared to other journalists who cover politics he gets closer to the people. He rings doorbells! He talks to people in their living rooms! Ma and Pa America are his sources, not the pollsters and tacticians I talk to!

Of course this was back in the 80s and 90s. Klein assumes it all as tacit knowledge. Which is turn makes him sound bizarrely out of touch to Greenwald.

"It's quite depressing if you believe that a functioning press is an important ingredient in a free society."

Well, yeah.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 10, 2007 11:35 PM | Permalink

Richard Aubrey:

Of course, Mssrs. 'Scooter' and Cheney clearly did not know that Armitage had beaten them to the punch, and they were energetically *trying* to leak Plame's covert occupation, in ignorance of what Armitage had already done. It was through no effort of their own that they weren't the first leak. Surely you don't find what they did more excusable by the fact that, unbeknowst to them, somebody else had already done it?

Posted by: DPS at May 11, 2007 12:30 AM | Permalink

Ferdy: "It seems to me that the national government under the control of the Republican regime has had unprecedented authority ..."

"Unprecedented?" Compared to when? Lincoln? Teddy Roosevelt? FDR? Truman? Eisenhower? Kennedy/Johnson? Nixon? Reagan?

Do you understand what Carey means when he describes ritual and symbolism?

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2007 4:37 AM | Permalink

One link at a time ...

Don Hewitt's Durable Hour

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2007 5:07 AM | Permalink

Money Lust

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2007 5:10 AM | Permalink

Rather, not

As important as the Gotcha! game has always been to journalism, I've always been uncomfortable with it.

In 1990 D. Patrick Miller wrote a piece in The Sun called "Toward a Journalism of consciousness." In it he wrote about how, with investigative journalism, the reporter sometimes needs to gain, then betray, the trust of his sources, always for a greater good — a story the world needs to hear. Early in my own career I did an investigative report on rural poverty that led me to the same conclusion: that we sometimes employ dishonest or morally compromising means to serve what we believe to be honest and morally justifiable ends. However we put it, rationalization is involved. Such is also often the case with the Gotcha! game. Yeah, we win, but what, besides the exposed butts of those whose pants we pull down? In some cases, big things, sure. In others, not much.

Ironically, winning at Gotcha! was what put 60 Minutes on the map in the first place. It's also why I've never liked the show, and why I agreed with Hal Crowther when he called the program "America's public executioner," or something like that. Hal wrote that back when Mike Wallace wore an honest hair color and grilled a fresh victim every Sunday evening. (It was a routine perfectly lampooned once on Saturday Night Live by Martin Short and Harry Shearer, who played Wallace expertly.)

Right now Dan and CBS are losing the same Gotcha! game they've played for decades on 60 Minutes. I don't think that's any kind of poetic justice, or karma, or anything to cheer. It's a tragic story.

Because the truths we need to know aren't just the ones Gotcha!s expose. And getting to those will take another kind of journalism: one we won't copy off TV, and we won't need to save — because we still don't have it yet.

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2007 5:14 AM | Permalink

... [There's] always been the profit side, making money, so there's always tension there?

Well, let me correct your predicate. There hasn't always been that divide. In the very early days of television news, when I first joined ABC in the early 1960s, basically the network didn't care what the hell the news division did. They gave the news division a few million dollars a year, said, "Here it is; go do whatever it is you people do, and do not come back for any more money." They didn't expect news divisions to make money.

Then one day, along came this new program on CBS, and it wasn't an immediate success, but after two or three years, 60 Minutes started to do something that no news program had ever done before: It began to turn a profit. Now, all of a sudden, the presidents of networks were going to the presidents of their news divisions and saying: "CBS is making money off that -- what are they calling it, a magazine program? Why don't you do that? You do a magazine program."

And so 60 Minutes begat 20/20, and then 20/20 begat Dateline, and Dateline begat Primetime Live, and there was a biblical epic of begatting that went on in the television industry. And now, all of a sudden, making money became part of what we did. Originally news divisions were there to act as a fig leaf so that when the president of a network was called before a congressional committee to justify his license, he could say, ... "We have Edward R. Murrow. We have David Brinkley and Chet Huntley and people like that, and they are doing very serious news programs." So in a way, the news divisions were not about money. These days they are. ...

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2007 5:19 AM | Permalink

You have two situations: One is whether Libby & Co. were "energetically" leaking the Plame info. Not according to the testimony.
The other is whether it was illegal. Not, according to Fitzpatrick who declined to prosecute. And, not, since Plame was not covert. And, not, since the name was already out there (see the IIPA).
I do think it is excusable for an administration to explain its side of a story when the big name in the story--Wilson--lied about it. If Wilson had told the truth, there would have been no reason to worry.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 11, 2007 6:17 AM | Permalink

Jeez. Did you read the comments after the Klein piece?
He really doesn't get it.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 11, 2007 6:18 AM | Permalink

Tom Matrullo comments on this post at IMproPRieTies. Interesting, too.

The press is now subjected to the same objectification and analysis as the institutions and officials it writes about. At first, the press imagined it was invisible, and this was not contested, because what it produced was "objective." Objective product. Therefore the producer could be anyone. Any professional. The product remained unblemished by subjectivity of the producer.

But now that we have another data set - the press itself, seen through the axgrinding bloggers - the tables are turned. To be in that audience, enduring Rich Little's dead presidents, is to have left the world of the invisible craftsman of objective reality, and entered Blogworld.

Now the surround of data is inescapable. Before, the dinner would be "covered" by the press however it wished. Now it's merely more data, inserted into a seething mass of information. Laughter and clinking glasses, riots, suiciders, displacement of the voices of those doing the laughing, Katrina victims -- Colbert's "report" brought into the room what is all around it, a resonant realm of metadata that situates the press within a context which it apparently cannot conceive or exclusively determine.

The denial Rosen mentions is more general than just having to do with one giant error. The press is in denial that it is no longer invisible. The grammar of the world that it manufactured for our consumption is no longer entirely at its service. The tools and skills that were its province are now more widely shared. Attending that dinner is the last gasp of a peerage being consumed by its king, to the general delight and disgust of the people it has failed.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at May 11, 2007 11:24 AM | Permalink

re: "People might well consider, you say, not cooperating in oral interviews because they might be used briefly' Nope. I simply said that I was re-considering."


I think you are right to reconsider it and others would be well advised to do so. If it's no longer about getting to the truth of the matter why participate in the charade (and waste your time in the process)?


Posted by: Delia at May 11, 2007 11:52 AM | Permalink

"a peerage being consumed by its king, to the general delight and disgust of the people it has failed."

That is brilliant. My theory is that out of the resulting chaos and cacophany, a better media will result which will provide what people really want. A troubling early sign, however, is the compartmentalizing of news. People travel all day among blogs that reinforce their viewpoint, while avoiding other views because they can't or don't want to understand them. This will cause trouble.

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 11, 2007 12:12 PM | Permalink

Roger: Seems to me that people chose which outlets to read and which to ignore, in the old days. And which headlines to pass over.
And, after some experience with an individual reporter's work, to follow or ignore it.
Information one did not particularly care for was ignored even when on dead tree.
And, in the interim between the advent of the tv remote control and news blogs, where one did not need to rise from the sofa to avoid Uncle Walter, it was pretty fast and easy, too.

Posted by: Roger Rainey at May 11, 2007 1:32 PM | Permalink

I operate under the assumption that the vast majority of people are honestly trying to do the right thing, as they see it. My very limited interactions with journalists leads me to believe that, as a group, they fit that assumption.

I'm old enough to remember David Broder from the 80's and 90's, but I'm far enough removed from Washington, D.C. to know that doesn't make him the "voice of the people". It pains me to see journalists who are willing to engage their critics trot out their old scripts for responding to criticism without realizing that the criticism is different, the critics are different, and, most importantly, they themselves are different from when those scripts were written. If Neil Lewis is still reading, my reply to him is that he is being reflexively defensive. You need to take a hard look at the last 20 years of Washington journalism. Can you make the case that the Washington press corps is an essential part of our social order? Our founders thought that freedom of the press was important enough to include in the Bill of Rights. Have you and your colleagues lived up to that?

Posted by: William Ockham at May 11, 2007 3:14 PM | Permalink

Hello, esteemed professor of journalism.

I suppose you think that the more words one tosses at a subject, the more correct it makes that thesis. However, whether or not the press has become insanely craven (and it has, I must say) doesn't excuse Cheney for being a motherfucking idiot.

Posted by: Richard Tibbitts at May 12, 2007 6:42 AM | Permalink

probably off topic, but of general interest re" bloggers vs journalists....

The Senate Commerce Committee has refused to renew the credentials of a highly reputable reporter because he now works for a web-based publication

from an editorial on the subject in The Hill:

The problem isn?t necessarily resistance from politicians wanting to keep bloggers at a distance. Rather, the biggest hurdle bloggers must overcome is distrust among the Capitol Hill press corps. The House and Senate press galleries take their marching orders from mainstream journalists, who have little incentive to invite enterprising bloggers to their coveted stomping grounds.

Journalists from media companies make up the committee that governs the Periodical Press Gallery. They oversee admission to the gallery and administer its strict rules.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 12, 2007 7:51 AM | Permalink

Tim - I certainly do understand how ritual and symbol create cohesion and a shared narrative, but I think you have to consider that if the public at large is rejecting the legitimacy of the mainstream media in favor of other messengers, they are rejecting the shared narrative the MSM is trying to advance. This, it seems to me, is another example of pressthink, where the press as you see it has had the power to strip public institutions of their authority. I see the authority of the Bush White House as unchallenged until the people themselves elected a Democratic majority as the legitimate check on the executive branch. Whether the Bush presidency has had unprecedented power is hair-splitting. No, I suppose it hasn't. But it has in my lifetime.

Posted by: Ferdy at May 12, 2007 8:51 AM | Permalink

Ferdy: "... if the public at large is rejecting the legitimacy of the mainstream media in favor of other messengers, they are rejecting the shared narrative the MSM is trying to advance."

This is an excellent observation. I actually think the public is rejecting the legitimacy of the MSM to manufacture consent. It is not narrative specific, but rather a loss of legitimacy as gatekeepers.

Posted by: Tim at May 12, 2007 9:40 AM | Permalink

I am no journalist, I comment and I advocate so I depend on journalists. I depend on them to find facts and connect the facts to the instant. I am perfectly capable of making my decisions of how to present that information. But I need accurate info.

Some journalists didn't boot it during the run up to the Iraq war, Knight-Ridder for example, but they also didn't have a DC corridor audience. The DC corp finds itself 'oh so very special,' perhaps in their self-imposed ignorance they are, the vast majority of the populous does not live in the DC corridor or anything remotely resembling it. The 'great and powerful' have agendas with strong motives running them, they are rotten sources for more than their agenda. The workers in the trenches may have their own POV but they are absent the consuming motives of the powerful. This is apparent out here in the hinterlands, the boss' agenda is pretty evident, but to know what he's up to is known, at least in pieces, to the workers. Great access to the powerful is pointless, they'll hold a press conference and tell you. The DC corp needs to relearn information gathering and lose their cache' of power access.

The constriction of media ownership and its mega-corporatization are blows to the dissemination of information that is actually gathered. Anyone dependent on a paycheck is aware of the risk of repeatedly drawing the negative attention of the owners. This will have effects.

The lie of balanced reporting has been bruited about to immense harm, opinion may require balance, information is what it is. Whether it has a positive or negative impact on a political viewpoint is immaterial, it is simply fact. Responsible and objective reporting has nothing to do with balance, it is beyond balance it is the gathering of available fact and presenting it in its framework within time and place.

I no longer have much trust in the NYT and WaPo, I reference them to other publications and open information because Iraq happened on their watch with open source information contradictory to their reporting, huge warning signs existed.

Gotcha is such nonsense, the facts are what they are, if they support or attack that is the outcome. Gotcha is an audience function not reporter's, that reporter has done his part if he has striven to find and understand the facts surrounding what he is working on. I do Gotcha.

I have been interviewed and I have found the experience wildly variable, in some cases pre-conceived notions trumped facts (statements) and in some cases the results were more coherent than original, you take your chances. (it isn't a bad thing to have and idea of where the interviewer is coming from).

Thanks for a useful and thought provoking forum.


Posted by: chuckbutcher at May 13, 2007 1:43 AM | Permalink looks to outsource local reporting--to India!!

Council meetings are webcast live, you see, and labor costs in India are lower.

h/t to TPM

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 13, 2007 3:31 PM | Permalink

The new york times are just reporters and they really don't know what they are fully talking about. I always hear miss reporting all the time stuff i have verified on the net.

Posted by: social networking at May 14, 2007 4:31 PM | Permalink

As a fledgling newsperson myself and blogger, I understand what it means to create and substantiate ones turf. It is a grind, and I can see why traditional news people have an attitude or predisposition to old school ways.
Its just a motivating factor for those of us who are competing with the traditional force, and some of us, in fact, are winning.

Posted by: Garth Roberg at May 14, 2007 5:31 PM | Permalink

Eric Boehlert provides statistics on the Washington Post's patent favoritism toward pro-George Bush bloggers and documented discrimination against any other sort of blogger: Over the last two years, 52 citations of pro-Bush blogs to 12 citations of anti-Bush blogs.

There is something deeply wrong with a purportedly journalism-based world view that can't manage to respect a pioneer of original, web-based journalism, Josh Marshall, yet regularly finds a way to falsely portray extremist right-wing nutjobs like Michelle Malkin as solid citizens.

This is not only an established and consistently applied Washington Post policy, it is a clear double standard where the superb journalistic practices of Marshall are effectively disappeared from a purportedly "liberal" newspaper and a pretense is maintained that the embarassment that is Michelle Malkin involves journalistic bonafides.

With this behavior the Post hasn't only taken leave of any pretense of journalistic seriousness, by their demonstrated lack of integrity they have patently taken leave of the most rudimentary standards of journalism. Their implicit claim that disgracing their profession is required by the very standards their own work defies on a daily basis is not only breathtaking and toxic, it is, more importantly, self-deluded nonsense.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 15, 2007 5:17 PM | Permalink


This is about how the Post for years has treated right-wing bloggers seriously, despite their track record of chasing childish conspiracy theories, while often dismissing liberal bloggers as partisan and fringe, despite their track record of breaking stories and altering political agendas.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 15, 2007 5:21 PM | Permalink

Mark. You have validated the legitimacy of counting cites or mentions or word occurrences.
You really don't want to go there.
You've already lost on that one.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 16, 2007 7:35 AM | Permalink

Okay, so "rollback" as regards the press is SOP for the Bush Administration. I get that.

What I have to wonder, though, is how far "rollback" has permeated into the culture of other political actors, i.e. the candidates for next year's elections.

I'd venture to suggest that Fred Dalton Thompson, should he actually declare to stand for election, could potentially subscribe to this theory. He's certainly familiar enough with web tools like YouTube to get his message (the riposte to Michael Moore's challenge) out quickly and effectively, sidestepping the need to call a press conference. I have to wonder how many current or potential candidates can, or want to, do the same thing.

Posted by: VictorWong at May 16, 2007 8:40 AM | Permalink

Victor. A political figure using, for example, Youtube, can expect that everything he says will be communicated to the viewer/reader/listener.
The necessity of editing for length, clarity, or other excuses for misrepresnting--accidentally, I'm sure-what he said, will no longer apply.
So, it would appear that the traditional media might want to figure out a way to assure those whom they interview that their views will be accurately and fully reported.
So, for example, we wouldn't have a thread like the one above. Wouldn't be any need for it. The subject wouldn't arise.
That would put the traditional media in the role of stenographers instead of wise, discerning gatekeepers, which I expect would be an ego hit.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at May 16, 2007 10:49 AM | Permalink


despite being sympathetic to Boehlert's argument, I must point out that he excluded the most famous liberal blog (dailykos) from his calculations -- while including the most famous conservative blogs. I suggest that the ommision may have skewed his data somewhat.

Much more telling is Michael Scherer's piece in salon on how Drudge has become a "gatekeeper" for the mainstream media...

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 16, 2007 5:28 PM | Permalink

How would you characterize the tone of the Post's references to Daily Kos or any of the blogs that are not consistently pro-administration? Wouldn't you consider the qualitative part of the argument to hold up, that when such blogs are referenced it is in an overwhelmingly antagonistic and consistently negative manner? That is the primary point I took away from the piece.

I think we can accept your point and still recognize the legitimacy of Boehlert's polemic shift of focus as well: Foregrounding Josh Marshall rather than Daily Kos isn't simply a Democratic party friendly method of statistical analysis (though it also appears to be that), it is a completely legitimate and necessary reframing of the Post's straw man fiction that critical blogging voices can only be hysterical and partisan, not serious, rational, or legitimate, and certainly not the fact-based information gathering and analysis to which the Post purports to adhere by mainstreaming the indisputable journalistic integrity of Matt Drudge and the political operatives who create the gossipy RNC oppo research he, The Politico, and now the Washington Post purvey in the name of journalism.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at May 17, 2007 11:45 AM | Permalink

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