August 26, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Even the New Republic Edition)

Even the New Republic judges that the incompetence and malfeasance of the American elite press corps has risen to levels that can only be called criminal:

The New Republic Online: Matter of Fact: Journalists, in short, became accomplices to fraud. And they should have known better. In 2000, Bush and his right-wing allies learned that the way to win political arguments is to launch rhetorical attacks based only loosely--if at all--on the facts and then depend on reporters to spread them as credible perspectives on the truth. And, ever since, this White House has conducted its business the very same way, shamelessly peddling lies about everything from budget projections to weapons of mass destruction without the slightest fear of retribution.

Posted by DeLong at August 26, 2004 02:05 PM | TrackBack
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For anyone interested in years of painful details, a link to dailyhowler.com is on our host's blogroll.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg at August 26, 2004 02:15 PM

Criminal indeed. Boiling in oil is too good for them.

Once upon a time, crusading journalists were heroes. People even wrote books and made movies about them. Now I rate "journalist" with congressmen and real estate developers. (There's plenty of room in the cauldron, come on in ... )

Posted by: John H. Farr at August 26, 2004 02:16 PM

Newspapers can't afford bad quarters,not to mention successive bad quarters, so they're not only risk-aversive, but very tight with the kind of investment in human capital that papers like the WSJ are still famous for--staking reporters to months and months of research to construct strong and thoughtful stories. And consider how this affects the reporter's idea of his or her work: he or she has to churn out lots of prose about lots of things, the prose has to be entertaining, and it had best not create problems with big advertisers or big blocks of subscribers. And so they learn to skip the research, drop the hard questions, and incorporate as much pre-packaged material as the system allows. In some ways it may indeed have been harder back earlier times, but at least the reporter of those days could enjoy some name recognition--of the sort now reserved for tv news stars.

None of this is news, but we ought to bear it in mind when contemplating the explosion of the blogosphere. How would Brad DeLong's blog start to look if Brad DeLong himself were subject to the pressures confronting a reporter for a mid-sized metropolitan daily? This blog would be doing very well indeed if it met the standards, say, of the Knight-Ridder papers in their coverage of the run-up to OIF, a great exception to an otherwise very bleak scene.

Posted by: alabama at August 26, 2004 03:20 PM

alabama wrote, "None of this is news, but we ought to bear it in mind when contemplating the explosion of the blogosphere."

Your analysis would be plausible but for one fact: the screwiness of the press in these regards usually seems to benefit right-wingers. So it's not plausible that it's simply a matter of deadline pressures, etc.

Posted by: liberal at August 26, 2004 03:27 PM

Of course, liberal, you're right--nothing is simple, and I oversimplified. I only wanted to mention the simple things that I tend to overlook, writing myself a memo on the subject, if you will. And here's another oversimplification: if Bush loses in November, he'll contest the results in court, arguing that the 527's wrecked the electoral process.

Posted by: alabama at August 26, 2004 04:00 PM

We shouldn't expect much of the "press corps" when newspaper editors don't even know how to use Google:

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/007601.php

Posted by: MDP at August 26, 2004 04:29 PM

How tragic it is that we should have simultaneously an administration that is hollowing out the nation and a press that has hollowed out itself.

Posted by: Mushinronsha at August 26, 2004 04:35 PM

Am I wrong in thinking that the type of journalism pioneered in the New Republic is in part to blame? I'm thinking in particular of that type of "liberal" journalists who are so concerned with being "independent" and contrarian that they cannot bring themselves simply to state that conservatives are fanatical wack-jobs: even when it should be obvious that such is the case, and that there are not in fact two sides to every issue. Mickey Kaus and Gregg Easterbook come to mind as two who are more interested in being contrarian than in presenting anything resembling the truth.

Posted by: ChristianPinko at August 26, 2004 04:57 PM

P.S. not that all conservatives are wack-jobs: just the ones running the Republican Party right now.

Posted by: Chris at August 26, 2004 04:58 PM

"Newspapers can't afford bad quarters. . . so they're not only risk-aversive, but very tight with the kind of investment in human capital"

That's what they'd have you believe. America seems to have forgotten that quality sells. The major networks are in a race to the bottom of the barrel, losing ever more of its audience and wondering why. It's not just the media; look at the auto industry: Ford can't sweeten deals enough to sell its overstock, while Honda can't make its cars as fast as they sell.

"not that all conservatives are wack-jobs: just the ones running the Republican Party right now.
"

The right-wingers running the GOP are NOT conservative.

Posted by: Dragonchild at August 26, 2004 05:24 PM

Dragonchild, that's exactly right. There isn't much of a conservative movement left in America; what there is in its place is a right-wing totalitarian movement.

Posted by: howard at August 26, 2004 07:57 PM

Why shouldn't the press corps ballyhoo the Republican hoopla?

After all, when was the last time a reporter got fired for reporting that Gore invented the Internet or that Iraq had WMD?

Posted by: what the heck at August 26, 2004 09:29 PM

Re our press corp's inattention: has there been one 'investigative' report or article that begins something like "People are saying that right wing groups, not directly associated with the Republican Party or the President, are secretly training operatives to infiltrate demonstrations in New York during the Republican convention to foment violence and extreme behavior that will outrage mainstream Americans when they see it on TV. Techniques that were in widespread use by police and others during the Nixon era are being revived, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah?" I have no evidence to support this rumor, but 'people' are certainly saying it(I am!). Given their history of slime-by-surrogate, the Bushies would probably feel betrayed if someone weren't doing it. And, of course the Swifty liars got a lot of play based on less. So where are our fearless journalists? As usual, they'll ruefully catch up on this after the fact.

Posted by: Artur at August 27, 2004 06:43 AM

Re our press corp's inattention: has there been one 'investigative' report or article that begins something like "People are saying that right wing groups, not directly associated with the Republican Party or the President, are secretly training operatives to infiltrate demonstrations in New York during the Republican convention to foment violence and extreme behavior that will outrage mainstream Americans when they see it on TV. Techniques that were in widespread use by police and others during the Nixon era are being revived, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah?" I have no evidence to support this rumor, but 'people' are certainly saying it(I am!). Given their history of slime-by-surrogate, the Bushies would probably feel betrayed if someone weren't doing it. And, of course the Swifty liars got a lot of play based on less. So where are our fearless journalists? As usual, they'll ruefully catch up on this after the fact.

Posted by: Artur at August 27, 2004 06:44 AM

Re our press corp's inattention: has there been one 'investigative' report or article that begins something like "People are saying that right wing groups, not directly associated with the Republican Party or the President, are secretly training operatives to infiltrate demonstrations in New York during the Republican convention to foment violence and extreme behavior that will outrage mainstream Americans when they see it on TV. Techniques that were in widespread use by police and others during the Nixon era are being revived, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah?" I have no evidence to support this rumor, but 'people' are certainly saying it(I am!). Given their history of slime-by-surrogate, the Bushies would probably feel betrayed if someone weren't doing it. And, of course the Swifty liars got a lot of play based on less. So where are our fearless journalists? As usual, they'll ruefully catch up on this after the fact.

Posted by: Artur at August 27, 2004 06:44 AM

Our contemporary press - print, radio, and televised - is mostly about selling copies, programs, and advertisments. By and large, the pursuit of truth and the advancement of knowledge and understanding is secondary.

Posted by: bncthor at August 27, 2004 08:52 AM

Dragonchild: "The major networks are in a race to the bottom of the barrel, losing ever more of its audience and wondering why."

I think they know why. Cable and satellite as the means of video delivery have reached the point (about 65% of households) that the over-the-air networks are in deep competitive trouble. An over-the-air network trying to be all things to all people cannot compete with the array of cable networks available. Two or three news summary shows per day cannot compete with the cable news networks and speciality news shows (eg, business and sports). Disney and Nickelodeon can provide kids' entertainment all afternoon and into the dinner hour where an all-in-one network cannot. Cable networks can cater to the fans of a particular show that has gone into syndication (for example, the USA Network's current daily overdose of "Law & Order: SVU") that an all-in-one network cannot.

The broad availability of many channels, and the ongoing decrease in the cost of a television set, means that households are watching more different content at the same time. During peak viewing hours, the average number of channels being watched in cable households is above 1.5. The availability of content on recorded media, first videotape, then DVD, and now on Tivo-style personal video recorders, has also increased consumer choice. Finally, the business model that over-the-air broadcasters make money from third parties (advertisers) rather than from the viewers themselves creates considerable distortions in the type of content they find most lucrative in the increasingly competitive market.

This has had an interesting effect on the way that over-the-air stations have treated digital television. The government's hope, of course, was that they would move to high-definition video for everything. The stations appear to be much more interested in the ability to deliver four or more standard-definition channels within their bandwidth allocation for most of the day.

Posted by: Michael Cain at August 27, 2004 10:14 AM

ChristianPinko wrote, "I'm thinking in particular of that type of 'liberal' journalists who are so concerned with being "independent" and contrarian that they cannot bring themselves simply to state that conservatives are fanatical wack-jobs..."

But _The New Republic_ ceased being liberal a couple of years after Peretz bought it (mid/late 1970s?).

Related point: Must congratulate Brad on his phrasing, "Even the _New Republic_...," a clever inversion of the old right-wing trick of citing _TNR_ to back them up, prefacing their remarks as "even the liberal _New Republic_..."

Posted by: liberal at August 27, 2004 12:32 PM