The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, September 27, 2004

News: why can't we get some Kerry-style nuance, for Heaven's sake!

More white hat, black hat stuff from Michael Arrieta-Walden, ombud at the Oregonian yesterday: Fox, partisanship, Rathergate, loss of trust. Boilerplate why, oh why.

But, as those lachrymose (well, they cried all the way to the bank!) Central European Jews who told Americans what it was to be American via Hollywood well knew, there is a certain folksy turn of phrase, delivered with upturned face and big, moist eyes (ie, doggy-style) [1] that somehow by-passes all barriers of common sense and experience and gets us right there.

Having surveyed the dismal scene, the ombud introduces us to some of the decent, hard-working journos on his own paper:
While readers and viewers are quick to assume bias by journalists, I think what they would see in a newsroom would be vastly different. At The Oregonian, they would mostly see professionals, albeit many of them admittedly liberal in their personal lives, who don't have agendas and seek to bleach any political bias from their work through questioning and challenging their work and the work of their colleagues.

And names a couple.

It's some great shtick. Because, of course, the natural human reaction is to give one's fellows the benefit of the doubt, based on the experience that most people, most of the time, are OK. He's saying that not to trust his guys is mere prejudice - which is bad, m'kay; and, since the reader is presumptively a good guy himself, he's expected to feel ashamed for harbouring such prejudice.

Dirty pool. Crude and ignorant critics of the media may get off on hate campaigns against individual journalists; but the most damaging failings of the news business are the responsibility of editors and managers.

On the question of the New York Times' coverage of the Iraqi WMD story, Judith Miller found herself a punching-bag [2]; but clearly none of her WMD stuff - fed to her by known felon Ahmed Chalabi - would have run (and run so big!) without an editorial decision from the very top that the best interests of New York Times Company stockholders would be served by stroking the Bush administration and peddling information Times top editors had good reason to suspect to be false or deeply misleading.

This could not have been negligence on the part of NYTC management: the paper's WMD coverage was the equivalent of at least one batch of Bill Burkett forgeries going straight onto A1 each week. It had to be a cold business decision.

And, more generally, objectivity (in the perverse meaning embraced by journalism) is often a handmaiden to evil: as has often been repeated here, back in the early 1960s, when the Times was perhaps at its most objective, it failed the nation on the Bay of Pigs (the - eminently searchable - Tad Szulc/Orville Dryfoos saga) and on the Tonkin Gulf Incidents, to name but two. In neither, so far as I can recall, can the bona fides of any particular journalist be legitimately questioned: yet both were journalistic disasters.

So, enough already with the Hearts and Flowers stuff [3]. If these good people in the Oregonian newsroom really want to make a difference, let them henceforth refuse to use anonymous sources in government (federal, state and local). (I see sagebrush blowing across an empty street...)

  1. And a decent score. Something like Dimitri Tiomkin's for Mr Smith Goes To Washington:: those strings from the scene where James Stewart returns to the Lincoln Memorial for a blub and an uplifting (and utterly mendacious!) sermon from his lady love. (Although, in the ombud's piece, I get more of a whiff of Boy's Town).

  2. Franklin Foer's bitchery on Miller's private life discussed here on June 1.

  3. Originally, I typed Hearst and Flowers...

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