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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 31, 2007

"When the Press Fails..." From a New Book by Lance Bennett, Regina Lawrence, and Steven Livingston

"In the end, despite the momentary recognition that it somehow blew the [pre-war] story, the mainstream press still seems to have missed the larger possibility that it blew the story precisely because of following its own unwritten but binding reporting principles."

Special to PressThink

When the Press Fails…

by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston

Among the greatest challenges facing the American democracy is the struggle to recover the soul of the American press. Legions of critics and off-duty journalists are searching for answers to why it is so difficult to be independent and get stories straight. Why is it so hard to resist the ever-present spin of those in power?

We explore this incapacity of the press to change—even when aware that it is off course—in our new book, When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (University of Chicago Press).

The tragic history of US misadventure in Iraq is matched by the tragedy of the press bowing to the will of an administration taken by its own faith in being able to create reality through the sheer use of power. Ron Suskind famously reported that an official told him:

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will— we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. (131)

This stance toward the press violates both reason and civility, as we note in the book:

For a nominally conservative administration, the Bush White House embraced a keenly post-modern epistemology. Like so many social constructionists or linguistic relativists, the administration seemed to believe that human engagement with material reality is mediated by social constructs. It is almost as if Karl Rove and George Bush were reading Jean Baudrillard. What is isn’t nearly as important as what is thought to be. Reality is first constructed to fit policy preferences and then reinforced through continuous news management, including pressure and intimidation.(139)

Why did so many news organizations buy it?

It may be that the administration simply played by rules that journalists could not fathom. Or perhaps being disciplined and punished time and again by administration-led truth squads for raising questions about the national course after 9/11 prompted leading news organizations to simply fall in line and duly reported the outlandish stories of nuclear threats and 9/11 connections manufactured to sell the war. Yet isn’t a free and independent press expected to withstand pressures, even in time of crisis?

What may be most disturbing is the recurrence of a breathless insider tone in much of the Iraq story. It was hard to miss the giddiness of reporting and punditry celebrating the Hollywood staging of the Mission Accomplished Moment aboard the carrier Abraham Lincoln.

From the beginning, nearly every major news organization helped publicize what they also must have understood to be a campaign to sell the war.

The question of course, it why did so many news organizations buy it? That was the topic of Bill Moyers’ powerful, yet oddly unsatisfying PBS program Buying the War. By detailing how reporters for Knight-Ridder were able to muster questions that apparently never occurred to most of the rest of the press, Moyers demolished reporters’ claims that they had no alternative but to buy what the White House was selling them. Moyers’ recap certainly helps us understand why the public, bombarded with endless repetition of mushroom clouds and other fear-laden images bought the link between Saddam and al Qaeda. Yet, the mystery remains why so many in the mainstream press were bamboozled.

Moyers participated in an online chat hosted by freepress after Buying the War was aired. He offered a tried-and-true explanation: the media failed to be objective. He also cited the true believers of a loud right wing media, and the insider aspirations of elite news organizations. These are surely reasonable opinions. However, we think that it is precisely what passes for objectivity today that rests at the heart of the problem.

The authorities are anything but objective

The long, untenable and checkered history of this core journalism norm has left American journalism at the doorstep of government for its very legitimacy. Since objectivity—even when dressed up as balance—is difficult to produce, and tougher to defend, the default option is to seek the views of authorities. In politics, however, authorities are generally anything but objective. Despite this nagging detail, journalists quickly learn that they need to be on the inside to advance their careers. In the end, they may aspire to be recognized, or otherwise share the glow of power of the sources they cover.

Only after the press party was over, did journalists wake up to the cries from their readers, and note for the record that the war was badly off script and that they had been spun. Despite rare admissions from editors at the Washington Post and the New York Times that their papers had, in essence missed much of the story on the run-up to war, they also predictably missed much the next big episode of the saga: Abu Ghraib. This was, perhaps, the most significant episode of the whole war in terms of damage to American ideals and credibility.

Despite commendable levels of attention devoted by prominent organizations to the spectacle of Abu Ghraib, most of the press fell quickly in line with the administration line that the episode was a regrettable case of low-level abuse. Yet just outside the mainstream, another side of the story revealed an historic national departure from laws and conventions against inhumane treatment and torture. That side of the story was reported in plain sight of the mainstream press by Mark Danner and Seymour Hersh.

Missing the will or the capacity to change

As a result of the gradual conflation of objectivity with authority, the press is so firmly established inside the process of government that it cannot extricate itself even when it recognizes it has a problem. The continuing public soul-searching and tacit apologizing do not imply the will or the capacity to change.

In the end, despite the momentary recognition that it somehow blew the story, the mainstream press still seems to have missed the larger possibility that it blew the story precisely because of following its own unwritten but binding reporting principles. When challenged on these matters, journalists generally invoke those principles, and point, often in frustration, back to government itself. (30)

When the press turns to government for cueing its big stories, the response to criticism is often that the government failed to police itself. This seems out of step with the ideal of a watchdog press dedicated to protecting the public interest at precisely those moments when government fails. Yet, as we note in the book, there is an implicit expectation that government, itself (often in the form of an opposition party, or whistle-blowers) will help the press do its job:

In one of many public forums about the performance of the media after 9/11, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest was asked by one of the authors why the press did not give more play to the doubts expressed by many experts and former government officials about the Bush administration case for the war. Her revealing answer was that a few pieces did appear, but they produced no public reaction from Democrats in Congress, and, thus, the counter story had little to keep it going.

At the same forum, New York Times Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman was asked about Abu Ghraib: Given the chain of evidence and credible sources such as Red Cross reports that all pointed to administration policies skirting laws against torture and “taking the gloves off” in dealing with detainees, why was the story allowed to be driven by administration spin and congressional hearings that ultimately framed it as a case of regrettable but isolated abuse? His reply was simply that without government investigations pointing to a policy of torture, the press simply lacked the “wheel” it needs to sustain or advance another side to the story. In both cases, government failed to feed another side to the story, and so, the press, alone, could not sustain it. (30)

This ingrained dependence of journalists on officials leads to a social coziness. Even when dressed up as access, coziness ends up making the press part of the political process instead of its independent chronicler. Witness the sad spectacle of the White House Correspondents Association reeling from Stephen Colbert’s stinging satire one year to the invitation extended to the inoffensive Rich Little the next.

The obsession with insider politics

The combination of dependence on high officials and the insider coziness this produces makes it impossible for most of the press to resist being spun. Consider a case in point that appeared on April 25 of this year as a platoon of New York Times reporters jumped all over the story of how Vice President Dick Cheney attacked congressional Democrats in general and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in particular. The Times surely knew that Cheney was running at full spin, but the press loves a food-fight, no matter how contrived and meaningless. Times reporters even noted in the initial website version of the story that Cheney looked for reporters and cameras on a visit to the Hill, tipping off awareness by the reporters of their role in the charade. The clues were subtle but unmistakable. The Times noted in passing that the GOP spin strategy included singling out Harry Reid, latching onto his comment from the week before that “this war is lost.”

“Republicans have turned their fire on Mr. Reid,” the Times reported. A subtle clue concerning the legendarily taciturn Cheney’s eagerness to unburden his innermost thoughts about Capitol Hill Democrats offers an insider wink to those in the know. Of course, the Democrats were—this time—equally engaged in spinning the press: “Mr. Reid fired back directly at Mr. Cheney on Tuesday, appearing at the same microphones just moments after the vice president.”

Despite the clarity of the insider’s game that was afoot, the Times did its part and put the story all over its website (page one) within minutes of Cheney’s hunt for a camera, and on the front page in the next day’s print edition.

Why do self-aware and sophisticated news organizations routinely fall prey to such blatant manipulation? Part of the answer is the news media’s obsession with insider politics. The media provide the stage for the high drama of personal politics. Covering manufactured drama like the Cheney-Reid sniping allows the press to dodge riskier endeavors, like a substantive and sustained exploration of the consequence of failure in Iraq, and instead stick with inside baseball reporting of manufactured squabbles.

Not unlike an abusive relationship

In this way, the press doesn’t have to get into the messy and complicated business of critiquing policy or appearing to conclude independently that a policy has failed. This is the same pattern we found in press complicity in the attacks on former counterterrorism czar Dick Clarke, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson, and of course Ambassador Joe Wilson. In When the Press Fails, we call this the “tactical management of the news.” But it is rooted in the perverse news norm of running from any hint of independent assessment of many big stories and into the arms of he said-she said reporting. The press facilitates this “reality management” by habitually turning to a narrow range of sources it regards as legitimate and credible.

The strange result of all this is not unlike an abusive relationship between mistrusting and wounded partners. To return to our initial concern: just what makes it so difficult for reporters and their editors to find more independent perspectives from which to address important issues? Spin can only work with willing victims. This problem of a dependent press will not go away until journalists can look squarely at why, despite being aware of their common vulnerability to catastrophic failure, they seem unable to change how they operate.

Perhaps the path to reform is too obvious. Let every organization start each day by deciding whether they are reporting events from the standpoint of the people or from the viewpoint of those in power. Let them take the megaphones that they possess away from officials mouthing the scripts written by media consultants and opposition researchers, and put them in the hands of independent experts, civic groups, and international organizations. Above all, replace the failed norm of objectivity with a simple commitment to look at where the trail of evidence leads in the story. Much of that evidence in the Bush war years was in plain sight. It is just that the judgment of so many news organizations was obscured by their proximity and deference to power.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

W. Lance Bennett is professor of communication and political science at the University of Washington. Regina G. Lawrence is associate professor in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. Steven Livingston is a professor in the political communication program at George Washington University’s school of media and public affairs.

From Words in a Time of War: Taking the Measure of the First Rhetoric-Major President byy Mark Danner at TomDispatch (May 31, 2007).

Those in the “reality-based community” — those such as we — are figures a mite pathetic, for we have failed to realize the singular new principle of the new age: Power has made reality its bitch.

Given such sweeping claims for power, it is hard to expect much respect for truth; or perhaps it should be “truth” — in quotation marks — for, when you can alter reality at will, why pay much attention to the idea of fidelity in describing it? What faith, after all, is owed to the bitch that is wholly in your power, a creature of your own creation?

Of course I should not say “those such as we” here, for you, dear graduates of the Rhetoric Department of 2007, you are somewhere else altogether. This is, after all, old hat to you; the line of thinking you imbibe with your daily study, for it is present in striking fashion in Foucault and many other intellectual titans of these last decades — though even they might have been nonplussed to find it so crisply expressed by a finely tailored man sitting in the White House. Though we in the “reality-based community” may just now be discovering it, you have known for years the presiding truth of our age, which is that the object has become subject and we have a fanatical follower of Foucault in the Oval Office. Graduates, let me say it plainly and incontrovertibly: George W. Bush is the first Rhetoric-Major President.

Posted by Jay Rosen at May 31, 2007 8:50 AM   Print


This article is the best thing I've seen written about the press in the last 30 years. I look forward to buying the book.

Posted by: William Ockham at May 31, 2007 10:04 AM | Permalink

Howdy Jay,

Gore is talking about this now. Very strange -- and intriguing in someone who may yet run for President. He's figuring himself a new Postman, apparently. Fineman, here, is talking about Epistemology. At Newsweek.

Posted by: Richard B. Simon at May 31, 2007 12:31 PM | Permalink

Excellent, as usual, Jay. You're sounding more like Chris Lasch every day. I would add two things. One, the establishment of an "objective" press was far more driven by the need to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising than any real journalistic need. The first amendment wasn't written to protect facts.

Secondly, the old adage that "in war, the victor writes the history" is gone forever, despite what those in power would like us to believe. The web has dismantled that old saw rather nicely, thank you very much.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at May 31, 2007 12:32 PM | Permalink

The first tragic flaw in this analysis is overlooking the master narrative that existed in the press concerning Iraq before the Bush administration that enabled the selling of the Iraq war on the media stage.

In order to have skeptically examined the case against Iraq, the media would have had to skeptically analyzed their own reporting from 1998-2002 and "rowed back" from many of their own "independent perspectives."

I still think the best raw research available on this is at the Echo Chamber Project.

Posted by: Tim at May 31, 2007 12:49 PM | Permalink

Bill Moyers, Buying the War: Important But Flawed

Posted by: Tim at May 31, 2007 12:50 PM | Permalink

"reporting events from the standpoint of the people"

-- but apparently not the 62 million people who voted for George W. Bush

"put them in the hands of independent experts, civic groups, and international organizations"

independent experts -- like former Democratic administration intelligence officials who got it wrong for years?

civic groups -- like the Stalinist front group ANSWER?

international organizations -- like old Lybian-chaired UN Human Rights commission?

No thanks. I think we already know where that "trail of evidence" leads.

Posted by: Neuro-conservative at May 31, 2007 5:02 PM | Permalink

Good article, Jay. Except I think talking about the press cozying up and accepting the government's spin is a little disingenuous. Because the reporters didn't just lie back and transcribe during the Clinton administration. And they certainly won't stay docile and supine if the Democrats take control of the White House in 2008.

No, for the last 25 years, the press has failed to do its duty only when a Republican president is in office. They loved Reagan, they were okay with George Bush I and they adored Bush II. They savaged Carter and Clinton.

It's not just about sucking up to power. It's about continually being a propaganda arm for the Republican party.

Posted by: Lynnell Mickelsen at May 31, 2007 6:00 PM | Permalink

I know Jack Shafer has rarely had a good thing to say about Press Think, but his Slate piece on Fred Thompson playing the media like a conductor is pretty much a microcomos of "When The Press Fails" only on a story that one could argue doesn't matter (except when it does...)

Posted by: catrina at May 31, 2007 10:01 PM | Permalink

As a fairly new but - thanks to Jay's outstanding articles in the Huffington Post - now a regular reader of his, I enjoyed your take on the press's collapse, agree with most of it and also look forward to the book.

I was curious, however, about your feeling that Bill Moyers special came up short on why so many in the MSM were hoodwinked, citing Moyers focus on the media's lack of objectivity. Item 1 in his freepress response is headed "The Failure of Objectivity," but isn't he really talking about professional skepticism when he talks about suspending their critical faculties?

In a speech he gave two years earlier to the National Conference for Media Reform, also at freepress, Moyers sounds like he concurs with your view that what passes for objectivity today lies at the heart of the problem:

One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.


Take the example (also cited by Mermin) of Charles J. Hanley. Hanley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Associated Press, whose fall 2003 story on the torture of Iraqis in American prisons — before a U.S. Army report and photographs documenting the abuse surfaced — was ignored by major American newspapers. Hanley attributes this lack of interest to the fact that “it was not an officially sanctioned story that begins with a handout from an official source.”

Furthermore, Iraqis recounting their own personal experience of Abu Ghraib simply did not have the credibility with Beltway journalists of American officials denying that such things happened. Judith Miller of the New York Times, among others, relied on the credibility of official but unnamed sources when she served essentially as the government stenographer for claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

One of the most memorable parts of Moyers documentary was when he pressed Tim Russert on why the critical views went unheard and Russert laid it off completely on the political opposition, concluding by saying something to the effect of (referring to the political opposition), “I wish they had called.”

The crux of the problem, imo, is that the msm’s idea of objectivity is pretty much what Moyers describes, that democrats/liberals and republicans/conservatives get equal time, regardless of the soundness or honesty of the view or direction of the facts. It seems this would only work , if ever, during times they are holding relatively equal political power. When there is an imbalance of power, the press’s two-sided approach to objectivity actually serves to exacerbate the imbalance, imo, rather than mitigate through critical analysis, because those in power dominate the agenda, and tend to have and be given stronger voice. Moyers is also correct that the rise of the right-wing propaganda machine disguising itself as “fair and balanced” journalism has further distorted things, mainly by taking advantage of the two-sided approach to force discussion and coverage by the rest of the media to legitimize their views, no matter how extreme, in the name of balance.

Posted by: rollotomasi at June 1, 2007 12:42 AM | Permalink

It will no doubt astonish you all to find that people are curious about why, since you were so concerned about torture at Gitmo and at Abu Ghraib, the MSM has avoided like the plague a mention of the al Q torture manual discovered during the rescue of 42 Iraqis from an al Q torture facility.
It even has pictures.
I guess I can see the reason. You're attempting to make up for previous sins, as laid out by Moyers and Hersch.
There's a pair.
Well, anyway, it's as good a reason as others posited--"they're not antiwar, they're on the other side."
Nope. It's penance.
You might want to think about how it looks from the outside, irrespective of your always pure as the driven snow and beyond the ken of ordinary people motives.
Or not.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at June 1, 2007 7:33 AM | Permalink


Just superb.

And flawless.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at June 1, 2007 1:30 PM | Permalink

I very much enjoyed this article, but I have to say that it seems to be missing a pretty important facet. One of the reasons journalists continue to turn to familiar sources and seem to unable to change is purely financial. When a publisher has an agenda to forward, editors and reporters fall in line or lose their jobs. When a media company starts cutting jobs and resources, it's nearly impossible to develop new sources. All that takes time and money that no longer exist. Finally, the past 25 years have been enveloped by the "greed is good" mentality; journalists watched "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," too, and wanted theirs. A society that rewards success, whatever the cost to the body politic, is going to compromise all but the most uncompromising.

[...Comments seem not to be posting for some reason following Ferdy's... we are checking into it...JR, Friday night, June 1...]

Posted by: Ferdy at June 1, 2007 1:45 PM | Permalink

Thanks for pointing me to Fineman, Richard. This is how it ends. I think we're going to have to say he's doing philosophy.

What is a Fact?

It is a rare thing when epistemology—the philosophical study of how we know what we know about the world—takes center stage in the everyday life of politics.

But that is where we are today. The “war on terror” has led us into a hall of mirrors. We doubt our own national sanity. We have been so consistently lied to that we are no longer sure that we have the capacity to understand the world. Is it a “fact” that there is a worldwide conspiracy of Islamic terrorists dedicated to destroying America? If so, what “facts” must we know to derail it?

In making “We the People” the sovereign, the Founders knew that they were taking a chance. That’s why they opted for a republic, a Platonic ideal of educated, wise leaders somewhat shielded from the passions of the mob. But we have long since jettisoned that model for a purely democratic one. And now Gore is among those worried that the result is a country fueled by irrational passion.

I like the inconclusive end. Fineman surprised me.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 2, 2007 1:23 AM | Permalink

This article strikes me as developing a point made by Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, that US journalism has tended to conflate the legitimacy of a news story with the political authority of their sources. I've always thought that Chomsky let that drop and moved on a little too fast. It's great to see the three of you explicate with detailed examples just how devastating for journalism and democracy the refusal to think as an individual or as an institution really is.

I wonder if this identification of authority with legitimacy is also part of how journalists rationalize printing oppo research under their own byline. They do seem to think that the parties are part of the government and the press reports on government, so anonymously printing any passing smear the parties choose to throw in their laps is consequently "journalism."

Glenn Greenwald has a piece today on The Politico's Mike Allen as a champion practitioner of White House boosterism as journalism, but my personal favorite example of this practice comes from when Greg Palast was talking to a US television news division about breaking the story on voter roll caging in Florida before the 2000 presidential election. The network in question called up Jeb Bush's press secretary. The press secretary denied the story. The network drew the obvious conclusion that the piece was therefore without foundation and not newsworthy. As you point out, that is what the code as currently interpreted predicts most news organizations do.

At this point, journalistic change is necessary for national survival, let alone the resurrection of democracy.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at June 2, 2007 12:18 PM | Permalink

Thanx to the authors of this piece, and thanks to Jay for bringing it to us.

Dear Authors:

In such a short piece, you obviously can't get to all the issues -- but I'm wondering if you deal with the influence of "official" opinion-makers among the media -- the basic "cult of personality" that makes what certain people say important merely because they are saying it, and not because of the ideas expressed or insights delivered.

I'm asking because I was struck by the Fineman piece linked by Richard Simon above. Now, Fineman spent time talking to Al Gore about Gore's new book --- but the piece is not about what Gore thinks, its about what Fineman thinks...and its especially fatuous... a quote from the beginning of the piece...

To answer an urgent question first, Gore didn’t look bad. He’s not the svelte Al Gore of old, and why should he be? He’s pushing 60, a grandfather three times over, a best-selling author, accidental movie star and media mini-mogul. He looked pale from the preapplied pancake makeup. Then again, so did I.


Gore's point is consistent with yours -- but Gore seems to be concentrating on the pernicious influence that television "news" is having on "reasoned debate" in this country. Fineman describes the heart of Gore's thesis as "[Americans are f]ed a steady diet of fear-inducing, rage-promoting, fact-free television shows..." But Fineman doesn't cite the cable news channels and network news divisions that Gore cites. The program that Fineman cites? "The View" (apparently because Rosie O'Donnell ocassionally goes off the deep end in expressive the progressive viewpoint.)

But perhaps the most relevant aspect of Fineman's piece to what you have written above is his complete and utter denial of the very concept that the press should be doing a better job of informing Americans, and keeping politicians honest. Fineman's apparent 'solution' to the problems that Gore cites is -- a bizarrely 'centrist' web site that concentrates on political ads.

But anyone who has ever examined will tell you that it fudges its facts to maintain a "centrist" image.... and doesn't really differentiate that much between lies that can best be characterized as "Whoppers" and the kind of garden variety spin one expects from political candidates.

Yet it is the Finemans (and Broders, and Brookses, and Krautheimers, and Friedmans) who essentially set the limits of of "acceptable" opinions -- Rosie O'Donnell is "too far out" despite the fact that she usually speaks for a very large percentage of Americans, while Rush Limbaugh is "mainstream".

How can the press fix itself, when the "leadership" that it recognizes is so out of touch?

Posted by: p. lukasiak at June 2, 2007 4:24 PM | Permalink

My apologies to those who left comments and saw them "held for moderation." It's not my doing. It's an out of control spam filter that prevented me from commenting, as well. I went through all the comments labeled spam and rescued a bunch that has been posted Thursday and Friday. So please re-read the thread from the beginning. If you leave a comment and the system tells you it's awaiting moderation, shoot me an email and I will try to find it and put it up.

Also, I am going to try to get one or more of the authors to come in and respond to some of this.

Sorry, folks.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 2, 2007 8:00 PM | Permalink


Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 2, 2007 8:18 PM | Permalink

Palast also mentioned similarly farcical “investigations” by other news organizations, including CBS — who promised him a story on the 2000 Florida vote based on the reports he’d already broadcast on the BBC, then told him his story “didn’t pan out” because they’d called Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s office and a Bush staff member had denied it.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at June 3, 2007 1:42 AM | Permalink

I do have to agree with Lynnell Mickelsen that there is serious tension between the thesis that it is largely power that corrupts the US press and the pervasive media rejection of Clinton's legitimacy in the 1990s. Broder's "He trashed the place and it's not his place" in response to a mythological vandalization of the White House on Clinton's way out being exhibit A.

If the press is intrinsically subservient to power, why did it seem like Republicans were in charge of media coverage through two Clinton administrations despite approval ratings by and large untouched by the current idiot favorite even in Clinton's "darkest" hours (60%+ after Monica)? I don't presume to know, but to pretend otherwise flies in the face of all facts. The press simply didn't have the slightest trouble opposing executive power in the 1990s. We might argue that this reflected Republican domination of both houses of congress and the public conversation on policy issues and it was that power that was reflected in persistently negative coverage of the Clinton administration. Well, we have the perfect analogy now, don't we? Democratic control of both houses of congress and an opposition party president. Should we begin to expect that press treatment of Bush II will begin to rival the long Republican editorial reign of the nineties? The tone certainly has changed, but even the comparison is insulting given the relentlessly mythological oppo-research basis of the most relentless and scurrilous charges against Clinton and how much more grave and terrifying Bush's systematic sabotage of democratic governance and salvagable world order has been, how the aura of an utterly unfounded belief in GOP policy seriousness and maturity still generally prevails.

And GOPers, don't even start with the "Clinton deserved it" nonsense. In hindsight, all eight years of GOP hysteria over Clinton policy were ultimately premised on the grave danger posed to the republic by Clinton's failure to pursue the idiot GOP policies that directly and logically led to Bush's serial world-historical catastrophes (still promoted by the Weekly Standard crew whose analysis Neuro amusingly points too as an authority who knows better than the featured writers). They effectively argued that Clinton was illegitimate because he actively obstructed Bush style failure for eight long years. That argument isn't very impressive in 2007, people. Recognize. "Representing" the 62 million Americans who sadly voted for Bush (who have largely since rejected his policies) whom Neuro claims to stands up for (and most of whom, other than Neuro's fellow 25% dead-enders, now suffer deep voter's remorse) is not the solution to bad journalism. Not only does it have no bearing whatsoever on where the truth should take journalism, it is the very definition of our current crisis. "Mainstream" media taking its cues from Matt Drudge has a long way to go to catch up with how deadly reality is for the long strange trip the GOP has taken us on over the last two decades.

As for myself, Clinton was too Republican, too pro-globalization, but compared to the neocon neanderthals he looks like a freaking genius. If those in the media with children really want to protect them in the many senses that entails, they will first have to move past the presumption of legitimacy they continue to grant the authoritarian propagandists in the White House.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at June 3, 2007 1:03 PM | Permalink


I've also thought about that question. And the answer I come up with is that Clinton was genuinely non-elitist in a city obsesses with status and power. Most politicians are good at making other people think they are special, but for most politicians its just a performance, and the elite were given genuine "special" status, not the performance. But Clinton wasn't giving a peformance -- his empathy and regard for "common people" was genuine, and the elites were just as special to Clinton as the "common people". That drove the elites crazy...

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 3, 2007 3:42 PM | Permalink

Comments seem to be working fine now.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 4, 2007 11:17 AM | Permalink

Questions for Bennett, Lawrence, and Livingston

Posted by: Tim at June 10, 2007 12:28 PM | Permalink

From the Intro