Saturday, July 30, 2005

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"HE SAID/SHE SAID" WATCH: When conservatives accuse the media of being liberal, smart liberals come to the media's defense by invoking the "he said/she said" hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, journalists mechanically report on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

But in spite of being very smart, the liberals who invoke this hypothesis are also very wrong. As OxBlog has shown, leading correspondents express their opinions rather forcefully in straight news articles on subjects as diverse as Iranian WMD, corporate lobbyists, fundamentalist Christians and, yes, even the Swift Vets. In fact, Mike Allen of the WaPo even admitted that he puts subtle hints in his articles in order to help the "discerning reader" figure what Allen really thinks about an issue.

I'm bringing all of this up at the moment just because two articles in Friday's WaPo struck me as excellent examples of how journalists prefer to express their opinions rather than just quoting both sides in a given debate. In a front page article entitled "Security Costs Slow Iraq Reconstruction", the first two sentences inform us that
Efforts to rebuild water, electricity and health networks in Iraq are being shortchanged by higher-than-expected costs to provide security and by generous financial awards to contractors, according to a series of reports by government investigators released yesterday.

Taken together, the reports seem to run contrary to the Bush administration's upbeat assessment that reconstruction efforts are moving vigorously ahead and that the insurgency is dying down.
Also on Friday, the lead story in the World News section inside the paper carried a semi-explicit condemnation of alleged government hypocrisy:
On the city's streets [i.e. Baghdad], the daily reality involves death, random violence and routine deprivations for people who are beyond anger. But a different view has been presented in the Green Zone, the concrete-barricaded headquarters for U.S. troops, diplomats and contractors, and the interim Iraqi government. There, the situation is described as progressing toward a gradual handover from U.S. forces to Iraqi control.
Presumably, the first liberal response to my emphasis on these articles would be that the Bush administration's effort to whitewash the situation in Iraq is so obvious that journalists can't ignore it. But that argument just makes my own point for me.

Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that the administration's account of the situation in Iraq were a total whitewash, that still devastates the he said/she said hypothesis, because according to the hypothesis journalists refuse to express their opinions even when the truth is obvious.

Now, in spite of my opinion that the coverage of Iraq has become excessively negative, I still prefer interpretive, analytical journalism to the (largely non-existent) he said/she said variety. Smart liberals such as Kevin Drum seem to agree.

However, there is a corollary to such arguments that liberals might find unpleasant. Interpretive, analytical journalism is inherently subjective. If an overwhelmingly majority of journalists are liberal, their interpretation and analysis will reflect their liberal perspective. If liberals want the media to be both interpretive, analytical and balanced, they will have no choice but to admit that balance can simply not be achieved until there are more moderates and conservatives at the major papers and networks.

That said, I think you all can see why I am so obsessed with the "he said/she said" argument. Only by prentending that American journalists aren't already analytical and interpretive can liberals defend the media from the charge of bias. If they admit that "he said/she said" is a myth, they will begin to understand why the center and the right are so frustrated with the media.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment