Thursday, October 14, 2004

# Posted 3:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HE SAID/SHE SAID JOURNALISM: Back when the Swift Vets were still on the front pages, I had a brief exchange with Kevin Drum and Zachary Roth (of CJR) about whether or not professional correspondents mislead their audiences by engaging in he said/she said journalism, i.e. mechanically reporting on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

The subject came to mind again when Kevin linked to an internal memo from ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin which made this remarkable statement:
I'm sure many of you have this week felt the stepped up Bush efforts to complain about our coverage. This is all part of their efforts to get away with as much as possible with the stepped up, renewed efforts to win the election by destroying Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions.

It's up to Kerry to defend himself, of course. But as one of the few news organizations with the skill and strength to help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest. Now is the time for all of us to step up and do that right.
Kevin's take on the memo is that it's about time the media started getting as tough on Bush as it should be. To some degree, the existence of such a memo implies that ABC's correspondents had been holding their punches in the first place.

Yet take note of the author's observation that the Bush campaign had already stepped up its complaints about ABC's coverage. In addition, Halperin bolsters his argument by observing that leading correspondents at both NYT and Newsweek also believe that Bush's attacks on Kerry are on the brink of becoming outright lies -- lies designed to deflect public attention from the administration's failure in Iraq.

Perhaps Mark Halperin doth protest too much? If the NYT and Newsweek are already calling Bush a liar, and the campaign already thinks that ABC has been unfair, does Halperin really need to remind his correspondents that they should aggressively expose Bush' distortions of the truth?

Now let me make my own position clear. If Bush distorts the truth -- which he often does -- then journalists should make that clear. Journalists should interpret events rather than just reporting on them. Objectivity is a relative notion, and nothing produces more bad journalism than false pretensions of objectivity.

All I want is for left-of-center media critics to stop pretending that journalists' passivity lulls the American public into believing Republican lies.
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