Thursday, March 15, 2007


Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, journalists used to be independent, deep-thinking folk who actively searched out important stories, understand that cynicism was a job requirement, and spent more time doing research than attending cocktail parties. Today, with admittedly a number of notable exceptions, they are incurious spectators who prefer to pass along the news rather than find it for themselves.

There are several reasons for this, as I see them. Firstly, media consolidation and corporatization has turned TV news into more of an entertainment field than a journalistic one (yes, even including our beloved Keith Olbermann, who will be sad to know that he is not Edward R. Murrow).

Secondly, they have became lazy and complacent... unlike the Murrows and Cronkites of yesteryear, the events that shaped their career aren't exactly of the WWII/Cold War/civil rights/Vietnam caliber.

Last, by not least, years of browbeating by the reactionary right amidst cries of "bias!" have left them too frightened and confused to remember what their jobs are/were. As the non-stop scandalmania (real and imagined) of the Clinton years attests, they find it almost fun to go after Democrats, but remain reluctant to take on Republicans unless absolutely necessary (ie. stories like the Abramoff scandal remained low-key and ill-explained until the shit really hit the fan. Stories like Foley and Abu Ghraib only got play because there's a sexy angle there. The Plame scandal affected the media personally, so that was important to them. Don't even get me started on non-story they treated the Downing Street memos as...). The Reagan-era undid many pillars of American political society, and journalism is at the top of that list.

This isn't to say that there's a conservative bias in the media; that's just an absurd idea as the right-wing 'liberal media' obsession. I have no doubt that a majority of the people who work in the news business are liberal people in their personal political views. I think that has to due more with the nature of the news business than with the desire of anyone in it to bring any agenda to it. The right-wing worldview/mindset regards the media as suspicious and treasonous in nature, so conservatives are unlikely to seek out a career in news journalism (a career also requiring a healthy skepticism of American government, which conservatives also lack... except toward Democrats). Yet, despite this, the actual application of journalism has grown steadily more conservative over the years, for the reasons stated above.

I was thinking about this today, as I came across this post by Digby, in which he writes about how Time magazine's Jay Carney gives credit to Josh Marshall (who runs Talking Point Memo) for doing the dirty work on the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, when most major news outlets originally ignored it. Digby notes that Carney said one reason he originally dismissed the story is that it wasn't creating much noise yet in Washington. He then notes that what Carney's statement so alarming is that journalists shouldn't decide what's newsworthy based on who's yelling the loudest about what, but based on the merits and importance of the actual story itself, which is it their job to be looking into. The Republican noise machine can outscream the barely-existent Democratic one every time, which he remarks is one other likely reason so many silly Democratic scandal get play. Digby states-
It comes at least partially from the fact that journalists think that by simply telling the public what the politicians are saying (much of it on double super-secret backround) they are doing their jobs. They allow both sides to play out their political games in the mainstream media and then provide running color commentary on who's "winning." In their minds, if the Democrats aren't as good at stoking scandals or creating an atmosphere of political terrorism, then it's not their job to uncover what the Republicans are doing. Democrats need to "play better" if they want to "win." (You often see a kind of admiration for the bold machismo of the Republican character assassins in the press -- they are winners.)

Bingo; I think he's nailed it.

And as if desperate to prove Digby's point, Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza confirms the statement made recently by the political director of ABC News and the national politics editor of the Washington Post that "Matt Drudge rules our world". Cillizza lovingly boosts Drudge's ego by stating-
Major media outlets -- especially television networks -- use Drudge as a launching pad for their coverage, a fact that any first-tier presidential campaign is well aware of. Therefore, if a rival campaign (perish the thought!) wanted to step on Giuliani's announcement by raising questions about his conservative bona fides via a well-timed leak, Drudge was (and is) the medium of choice.

Watch how Drudge is used as a news driver by the various Republican (and Democratic) campaigns as they seek to disseminate negative information about their opponents throughout the primary process.

Yes, the same Matt Drudge who... attempts to 'debunk' global warming with silly jokes, tried to portray John Kerry and John Edwards as gay lovers in 2004, tried to peddle a fake story about Kerry having an affair, did George Allen's dirty work by posting erotic experts of Jim Webb's novel before the midterm elections, tried to smear those who outed Mark Foley, and regularly posts sensationalistic headlines about Iran. Etc etc.

(Ohh, and Drudge says the surge is going well... except, umm, little less black and white.)

This is modern journamalism at work, folks. Join me in weeping.


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