Tuesday, March 08, 2005

# Posted 2:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAS HE SUPPOSED TO ADMIT THAT? Matt Yglesias reports on a panel discussion he participated in with Mike Allen of the WaPo (one of Josh Marshall's favorite reporters.) As expected, Matt argued that he-said/she-said journalism is standard fare in big-name papers like the NYT and WaPo. Allen's response to that accusation (as paraphrased by Matt) was fascinating:
Allen took issue with that characterization of what news writers are doing. He said that news writers are trying to present both sides' points-of-view, hence the "he said, she said" quality to it, but that they're trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who's right based on reading the story.
In other words, straight-up news articles have clear judgments built into them just beneath the surface. For those of us in the habit of critizing media bias, this would be old news, except for the fact that an experienced WaPo correspondent has just admitted that passing implicit judgments is standard practice for professional correspondents.

Matt's after-the-fact response to Allen's is also quite interesting. He writes that
Oftentimes, even though a story doesn't come out and say, "so-and-so said such-and-such and he was lying," it's pretty clear from reading the strory that so-and-so was, in fact, lying. Indeed, oftentimes it's only because it is so clear from the story as written that so-and-so was lying that I, as I reader, find myself annoyed that the reporter didn't come out and say so.
In other words, journalists have perfected a style that gets smart liberal readers like Matt to be outraged by Mr. X's supposed lies while also leaving the impression that the journalist who subtly suggested that Mr. X was lying is in no way responsible for Matt's interpretation of Mr. X's statements as lies.

Over at CJR Daily, Brian Montopoli is profoundly concerned by what Mike Allen has to say. Brian thinks that if correspondents have an opinion about who's right, they shouldn't be afraid to express it, unless
...journalists have become so intimidated by media bias warriors that they're now making a conscious decision to only hint at the conclusions their reporting leads them to, instead of explicitly stating them.
In case you haven't picked up on the subtle partisan cues swirling around this debate, here's what everyone is trying to say: Mike Allen says liberal reporters subtly tell you when conservatives (or occasionally liberals) are lying. Matt says liberal readers usually figure out that conservatives (or occasionally liberals) are lying, but don't realize that liberal reporters have hinted at that interpretation. Brian says loud-mouth conservatives have prevented liberal reporters from telling the truth to all but an inner circle of informed liberal readers.

So what does David say? I say that Allen is in a tough position. His conscience can't accept Matt's suggestion that reporters hide the (usually liberal) truth. But he also can't openly admit that reporters really do pass judgment, because then he will get attacked for being biased. So instead, Allen says that reporters just hint at their judgments.

In general, I'd say that most of these hints are pretty obvious. So Brian shouldn't be worried at all that only those who understand the secret code can be enlightened. When a majority-liberal press corps consistently hints at what it believes to be true, readers get the point.
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