Thursday, February 02, 2006

# Posted 6:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Or more precisely, Monday night, when I said I was glad that the left is now aggressive about exposing journalistic bias and incompetence. Although my optimistic instinct told me that more watchdogs means better journalism, there is a disturbing dimension to all of this, best summed up by this Josh Marshall commentary on the Deborah Howell fiasco:
So much of the imbalance and shallowness of press coverage today stems from a simple fact: reporters know they'll catch hell from the right if they say or write anything that can even remotely be construed as representing 'liberal bias'. (Often even that's not required.) Indeed, when you actually watch -- from the inside -- how mainstream newsrooms work, it is really not too much to say that they operate on two guiding principles: reporting the facts and avoiding impressions of 'liberal bias'.

On the left or center-left, until very recently, there's simply never been an organized chorus of people ready to take the Howells of the press biz to task and mau-mau them when they get a key fact wrong. Without that, the world of political news was like an NBA game where one side played the refs hard and had roaring seats of fans while the other never made a peep. With that sort of structural imbalance, shoddy scorekeeping and cowed, and eventually compliant, refs are inevitable.

This is evening the balance, creating a better press.
What I like about high-minded liberals like Kevin Drum is that they care too much about the integrity of the non-partisan press to even consider outright harassment as a viable strategy for improving the media.

On the other hand, I'm not sure a Josh Marshall-type approach to the issue will really work. Naturally, liberals believe that conservative accusations of media bias have transformed the MSM into passive and compliant referees of truth. Yet conservatives largely consider their efforts to have failed.

Personally, I think Josh is very much right about journalists having a profound fear of being outed as liberals. In part, this may be because liberal media critics haven't been as vocal. But I would argue that journalists fear conservatives more because most journalists' personal beliefs are liberal.

Thus, accusing journalists of being administration shills may be ineffective if journalists consider such criticism to be absurd. In fact, being criticized from both right and left will lead journalists to conclude that they must be doing a good job if they are so unpopular, since the truth hurts everyone.

On the other hand, a NY Times correspondent once told me that she regrets how much journalists tone down their criticism of Bush & Co. before turning their articles in for publication. If the Marshall/Kos brigades can play on this insecurity, i.e. that journalists are hiding what they personally believe to be the objective truth, then perhaps they can get the kind of response they want from the media.

However, the effectiveness of such an approach may depend on left-wing critics at least presenting themselves as high-minded critics with a sincere interest in objective reporting, a la Kevin Drum. Otherwise journalists will write off liberal critics they way they do most conservatives.

Rather than making the most noise, the best strategy for media critics on either side may be to find a smoking-gun that demonstrates short-sightedness, for example the forged documents that CBS used to attack Bush's service in the National Guard. That's the kind of big story that can change the game of media politics.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

The reason that journalists feel put upon is that what they believe to be the objective truth doesn't match reality, since 95% or more of them are liberals. So when they "tone down" their articles they aren't catering to the right but kowtowing to reality. No wonder they feel aggrieved.
Journalists are far more exposed before the public to attacks from the right, because the attackers from the right more often come armed with facts and arguments.

As the Washington Post incident revealed so clearly, attacks from the left tend to consist of vicious invective and threats, and not much else.

If journalists respond to attacks from the left by moving themselves and their coverage further to the left, their publications will lose their position and credibility with the public even faster than they are doing now.
To say that the media is shills for Bush or conservatives defies reality. There are thousands of examples of this, but one stands out. The difference in media coverage between the Swift Boat veterans and the National Guard story. The press tried for years to dig stuff up on Bush which reached its peak with the Rather self destruction. The press absolutely dispised the Swift Boat Veterans and ignored them at every turn. If they were shills for Bush you would have seen the media do the same years long digging that they did on the National Guard story
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