October 02, 2004

Michael Kinsley Is Evasive

Michael Kinsley talks to CJR Campaign Desk about the problems of American journalism in a way that strikes me as highly evasive. He says: "The biggest problem is -- and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle -- is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie." But he does know what the solution is. We all know what the solution is.

Let's make this concrete. Let's consider the Bush administration's statements about the deficit. Take the vice presidential debate, where Richard Cheney said that :

The fact of the matter is, the president and I will go forward to make the tax cuts permanent.That's good policy.That's what we ought to do.But with fiscal restraint, we'll also drive the deficit down 50 percent in the course of the next five years.

Now this meets Kinsley's definition of a lie: the projections that show the deficit falling steadily over the next decade as a share of real GDP do not include cutting back the Alternative Minimum Tax--a necessary step if you are "to make the tax cuts permanent"--or, indeed, the extension of other expiring tax provisions that it's administration policy to extend. Yes, there are projections that show the deficit falling in half over the next decade--but the policies in those projections aren't George W. Bush's policies, at least not his current ones.*

This is the type of situation where the press corps is supposed to have great trouble because "the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality.... And then they always need to pair it with something else. 'Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever.'"

But this is "not a criticism, as much as... a puzzle" because he doesn't "know what the solution is."

But he does know what the solution is. The solution is obvious. Here is the New York Times's Edmund Andrews dealing with Bush administration propaganda on the budget outlook:

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Economic View: Whoever Wins, More Taxes May Be the Only Way Out: If President Bush is re-elected, he and the Republicans face a big agenda, including an unfinished war in Iraq, and virtually all of his tax cuts will be financed with borrowed money. Unless the government defaults on its debt, that money will eventually have to be repaid.

Faster economic growth will not do the trick. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office already assumes that the economy will grow at a solid pace in the years ahead and that tax revenues will climb even if President Bush's tax cuts are made permanent. But if military spending in Iraq continues and President Bush prevents the alternative minimum tax from raising taxes on some 30 million families, the budget office estimated that federal deficits from now through 2014 would total $3.5 trillion. Federal interest payments alone... would... amount to 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product....

Stuart Butler... Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group... no choice but to raise taxes if they do not cut back on trillions of dollars in unfunded commitments - most of them associated with Medicare....

Administration officials remind audiences constantly that the federal deficits are largely a result of economic shocks.... But those problems have almost nothing to do with the budget challenges ahead... cyclical economic problems contributed only $47 billion of this year's anticipated deficit of $422 billion. Next year... no impact... the deficit is expected to be $348 billion.

Going forward, virtually the entire federal deficit will be a result of structural causes - tax and spending policies set down by the president and Congress. President Bush has called for freezing the level of nondefense discretionary spending over the next few years, which would result in real cuts for many programs, like housing assistance, after adjusting for inflation. But those cuts affect less than one-fifth of the federal budget and would barely nick future deficits....

See? It's very easy. A bunch of sentences of the form: "Politician says X, but the reality is Y."

Now Edmund Andrews has a bunch of things working for him here: (1) He's smart. (2) He's hard working. (3) He's acquired considerable substantive expertise in covering economic policy. (4) He knows that he's in the news business to inform his readers. (5) He has lots of things he could write about, and he has an established position, so he's not scared of alienating sources by being too hard on them. (6) Here he's writing the "Economic View" column, so the editors are saying, "Write something interesting and informative that will give readers a reason to buy our newspaper," rather than shrieking, "Be sure you are 'balanced'!"

With these six edges, Andrews does a good job. So the solution to the problem is obvious: it is to (1) hire smart reporters, who (2) are hard working and (3) have considerable substantive expertise in what they cover. (4) Make sure that they are rewarded for informing readers rather than pleasing sources, and (5) provide editorial backup so that sources feel a need to please the reporters rather than vice-versa. (6) Finally, have editors who are smart and creative enough to want to see their reporters produce stories that are informative and truthful rather than 'balanced.'

The interesting question--given how many people would love to be Washington correspondents for our major newspapers--is how we have wound up with an elite press corps in which many reporters (1) are not particularly smart, (2) are lazy in checking things out, and (3) have no and have no interest in acquiring substantive expertise in what they write about. Why is it that so many reporters feel that their job is (4) to please their regular sources rather than to inform their readers and (5) feel that their editors won't back them up if they do try to change the insider source-reporter dynamic? And why are there (6) so many editors who are greatly irritated if their news pages aren't "balanced" but are unconcerned about being megaphones for lies?

The puzzle is not how to fix it, the puzzle is how it became so broken in the first place--and why it stays so broken.


UPDATE: *It has been pointed out to me that the Bush administration has *not* committed itself to a permanent rollback of the AMT--in which case the tax cuts for the rich could be made permanent in the sense that the rich would get them *if* the normal income tax law applied to them, but most won't get them because the AMT will apply instead.

Posted by DeLong at October 2, 2004 12:14 PM | TrackBack
Comments

i don't think the so-called "conventions of objectivity" are really about objectivity at all... more about providing excuses for doing a lousy job and not addressing your solution list of six issues/fixes.

steven jay gould's description would serve as a better guide...

"Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do)."

Posted by: selise at October 2, 2004 12:53 PM

Is Fox News literally making stuff up out of whole cloth about John Kerry?

I don't expect much from this Republican operation. But this does seem to break new ground....


Rallying supporters in Tampa Friday, Kerry played up his performance in Thursday night's debate, in which many observers agreed the Massachusetts senator outperformed the president.

"Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" Kerry said Friday.

With the foreign-policy debate in the history books, Kerry hopes to keep the pressure on and the sense of traction going.

Aides say he will step up attacks on the president in the next few days, and pivot somewhat to the domestic agenda, with a focus on women and abortion rights.

"It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," Kerry said.

Kerry still trails in actual horse-race polls, but aides say his performance was strong enough to rally his base and further appeal to voters ready for a change.

"I'm metrosexual he's a cowboy," the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent.

A "metrosexual" is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.


Did Kerry really say that stuff? Stuff that sounds like classic winger parody? I looked around on google and no other reporters seem to have gotten those choice quotes from Senator Kerry. A source on the Kerry campaign told me Kerry certainly didn't say anything remotely like that.

So what's the story from Fox? Are these quotes real? Made up? Unidentified parody? Straight-up fabrications?

-- Josh Marshall

Posted by: lise at October 2, 2004 12:54 PM

Brad, these are not enough if your EDITORS (or perhaps its the management) become ideologically blinkered. I don't know that _The NY Times_ is that way (except perhaps when it comes to Israel), but _The Economist_ certainly is. They had all your pieces in place to perform this sort of analysis, but they voluntarily threw them all away a few years ago.

Posted by: Maynard Handley at October 2, 2004 12:55 PM

Given a choice between "being neutral and non-partisan" and "telling the truth as they know it" -- both valid professional standards -- the media have allowed themselves to be gamed. If someone deliberately lies, to say so would be non-neutral. So what they do (at best) is write superficial truths about what the two sides claim: "Democrats, however, claim that the world is round". In a feeble way they meet both standards, while failing on a third which is equally important, but not often stated: "Try to be smarter than a bag of rocks".

Professionalism often requires that the beliefs and convictions of the laity be ignored. No one knows this better than economists. Thus a committed professional will be unembarassed by the fact that lots of people disagrees with what they're doing. "I'm sorry, but I have to follow professional standards, rather than be a political partisan. Journalism has its own rules, and ivory-tower academics fail to understand these rules."

And unfortunately, not being dumber than a bag of hammers (and not allowing oneself to become complicit in fraud) are not among the rules of journalism.

Why is this happening? My theory is that at the "professional" level of the reporter it's success positivism. Writing dishonestly and stupidly for the NYT or WaPo is more prestigious and pays better than writing honestly and intelligently for the Nation or even the New Yorker. To a lot of people Seymour Hersh is a gut whose big booboo threw his career off track.

At the management level, the owners of the big media have agendas. They're smart enough not to tell people exactly what to say (except at Fox), but sharp cookies can look at the patterns of hiring, firing, and promotion and see which way the wind is blowing.

Intimidation by trolls of the Freeper type is also a factor for owners and publishers who haven't totally bought the hard-right agenda.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 2, 2004 12:58 PM

I will spare you any pretense of mock surprise that Fox News is ridiculously biased against the Kerry campaign. But it's one thing to know it and another to get such a blazing and undeniable example of it as a story with fabricated Kerry-bashing quotes put together by the Fox News reporter covering the Kerry campaign.

(Carl Cameron, the reporter in question, according to Fox spokesman Paul Schur, is Fox's 'chief political correspondent'.)

But it brings up a point raised in an article by Howie Kurtz a few days back.

On Monday Kurtz discussed a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs that showed that Fox News coverage of Kerry was overwhelmingly negative.

Kurtz got these quotes from Cameron's boss Brit Hume ...

Brit Hume, Fox's Washington managing editor, whose "Special Report" was examined by the study, says he's surprised by the anti-Kerry findings. "Our day-in, day-out coverage by Carl Cameron has been extremely fair to Kerry, and the Kerry campaign has recognized this," he says.

"We did a lot on the Swift Boat Veterans. We thought it was a totally legitimate story and found it an appalling lapse by many of our competitive news organizations that were treating that story like it was cancerous." But even there, Hume says, "we were abundantly fair to John Kerry's side."

-- Josh Marshall

Posted by: lise at October 2, 2004 12:59 PM

It's actually sort of easy to tell if something is a lie. First, we have to see if it's true. Second, if it's not true, then we have to see why it's false. If it was a mistake, we have to correct the person who made the mistake and move on. If it's not, we have to slap them silly, and warn them to not do it again.

Posted by: Brian at October 2, 2004 01:07 PM

"Did Kerry really say that stuff?"

Joke, son.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at October 2, 2004 01:07 PM

How objectively to communicate that a candidate is lying.


"President Bush today said, "John Kerry is unfit to be president because he is a Yale-graduate Ivy-leage elitist." He added, "I never went to a school like Yale; I'm a regular guy."

Bush, who is listed as a member of the Yale class of 1963 by the Yale yearbook, previously stated, while speaking in June, 2001 at the Yale comencement, "I had a great time while a student at Yale, Yuk. Yuk. Yuk."

Posted by: Horace Greely at October 2, 2004 01:13 PM

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/

A few questions and points about Carl Cameron's Kerry-bashing fabrications on Fox, or A Guide for the Perplexed (media reporters) ...

1. How long did the fabricated quotes run on the Fox News website?

2. Fox News says Cameron has been 'reprimanded.' How? Are there any consequences? What happened to him? How was he reprimanded? Fox spokesman Paul Schur, who first spoke to TPM yesterday afternoon, told The Daily News "We're simply moving on from this, we have no further comment." And that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that the 'reprimand' is anything more than a 'Carl, Don't post any more fabricated quotes on the website.' Meanwhile, Schur declined to tell the LA Times what if any discipline Cameron faced.

3. Just for the sake of discussion, can there be any question that Carl Cameron has contempt and disdain for John Kerry -- contempt and disdain that he has great difficulty keeping a lid on?

4. Shouldn't Cameron be taken off the Kerry campaign beat? Assume for the moment that Cameron's fabricated story wasn't supposed to run on the site. If Cameron sits around writing up phony news stories only for Fox News colleagues which portray Kerry as a swishy fool, can he really credibly cover the campaign as a straight news reporter? The answer is obvious, I think. Of course, he can't.

-- Josh Marshall

Posted by: lise at October 2, 2004 01:21 PM

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,134268,00.html

October 2, 2004

Some Voters Still Flip-Flop After Debate
By Jane Roh

.... Of course, there were some Kerry supporters in attendance who had no doubts whatever about their candidate.

"We're trying to get Comrade Kerry elected and get that capitalist enabler George Bush out of office," said 17-year-old Komoselutes Rob of Communists for Kerry.

"Even though he, too, is a capitalist, he supports my socialist values more than President Bush," Rob said, before assuring FOXNews.com that his organization was not a parody group. When asked his thoughts on Washington's policy toward Communist holdout North Korea, Rob said: "The North Koreans are my comrades to a point, and I'm sure they support Comrade Kerry, too."

It is unclear whether the Kerry campaign has welcomed the Communists' endorsement.

Posted by: lise at October 2, 2004 01:45 PM

Brad,

I'm wondering about your question, "How did we end up with an elite press corps in which many reporters are not particularly smart"?

Was there a time when reporters were smarter, on the whole? There are lots of smart journalists at work in Washington now and there were lots of dimwits at work back in the old days, by which I mean the days when I started reading newspapers and paying attention to politics. I believe that the reporters I read and watched on TV were smarter, but I was a kid then, so what did I know? (Just going by the anchors, though, Walter Cronkite was and is smarter than Rather, John Chancellor was so much smarter than Brokow that a whole movie was made about how dumb Brokow was---Broadcast News. For the life of me I can't remember who had the job at ABC before Jennings.) But I don't really *know* this is true.

I'm not sure how it could be gauged. I think what can be gauged is how less smart the elite media is than the people they cover.

The task would be to find a way to compensate for that or attract smarter people to the job. Since most of the elite media are graduates of Ivy League and sub-Ivy schools nowdays though, that would seem to be a tough nut. If the people now going into the job are already among the best and the brightest and they're not smart enough, what can you do? Start recruiting on Mars?

Unless that's the problem.

Hollywood is run by Ivy League grads nowdays, but it's generally agreed that movies were better when they were made by a bunch of immigrants who hadn't graduated from high school let alone college. Sitcoms were funnier when they were written by high school grads like Larry Gelbart and Carl Reiner.

There was a time when most journalists didn't have college degrees. Maybe the media should do what the NBA does and start recruiting right out of high school.

Posted by: Dave Reilly at October 2, 2004 01:48 PM

If you could get the very brightest high school grads, or even the brilliant drop outs who were too smart to tolerate high school, that might be a plan.

However, there are so many fields like economics or ecology where some kind of formal background would be useful, I dunno.

What are these supposedly Ivy League journalists learning in the IL? Do they learn outside the classroom that "you've got to go along to get along?"

Posted by: sm at October 2, 2004 02:04 PM

From Drudge this afternoon:

NYT KERRY ROBUST HEALTH: X-RAYS SHOW METAL SHRAPNEL FROM WAR; CANCER-FREE; HIV - ... DEVELOPING...

Posted by: Roger Bigod at October 2, 2004 02:14 PM

To even mention Walter Cronkite in the same cyberspace as that Fox scum is distressing. Walter Cronkite was and is the true journalist - a man who went along on B-17 missions in World War II and perfected his craft long before the television camera changed everything. With TV news there are so many ways to corrupt the reporting - if there are no pictures, there is no story, CNN's eternal looping of scenes, the use of old footage inserted into new footage to enhance continuity. And self-censorship, like the BBC's decision not to show certain scenes in the aftermath of an attack on Samarra or Falluja because they are "too distressing". Unfortunately, when the news has to meet family viewing requirements we are living in Fantasyland.

Posted by: Steve at October 2, 2004 02:16 PM

I really think, as I effectiovely said, that the professionalization of journalism made things worse. And I think that reporters today are plenty smart, but just opportunistic and cynical. If they thought that writing intelligently was the way to success, they would be able to do it.

Since 1983 (two specific individuals that year) I've noticed that a lot of Ivy League types are more interested in "playing the game" than in any sort of content. A lot of them really despise uptight people with integrity. "Emotional intelligence" of the manipulative type, closely linked to the "street smarts" that help you rise in large organizations, are more important to them than actually getting anything right.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 2, 2004 02:20 PM

"Upright" for "uptight". And above, "guy" for gut".

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 2, 2004 02:27 PM

I haven't looked it up, but I'd bet that Judith Miller, War Whore of Times Square, attended good schools. If we could quantitate these things, there is probably little correlation between quality of education and performance as a reporter. Particularly the kind of performance that abets an unnecessary war.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at October 2, 2004 02:53 PM

Unfortunately there are a lot of instances in which something the Bushies said turned out not to be the case, but you can't quite say they lied. I'd advocate the standard that if you affirm something that is convenient for you, and it turns out not to be true, then you told a lie even if you technically did not know it was false at the time. "Reckless disregard". And indeed, to assert certainty when you are in fact uncertain is dishonest on its face.

But since journalists probably won't adopt this standard, it might suffice merely to point out how unreliable the Bush admin is. Things they say have a funny way of turning out not to be true, time and time again. But you don't have to call them liars, you can merely point out how useless it is to put any stock in what they say.

Posted by: son volt at October 2, 2004 02:54 PM

Reporters take the lead from publishers or news directors and editors or producers as well as playing to supposed readers or watchers. Why are we surprised that that there is a particular bent to much reporting? Fox News has a special bent and happens to have a ratings edge on CNN. CNN is no longer owned by Ted Turner. Should we be surprised that CNN looks longingly at Fox?

Though I am not pleased by much reporting, I understand. What is especially annoying of late is what I take to be a more and more conservative PBS. Why this should be puzzles me.

Posted by: anne at October 2, 2004 02:56 PM

What you are asking for is that all reporting become analysis, that daily newspapers and hourly radio reporting becomes like The Economist (when the Economist gets it right, of course). What youa re asking is not that the local paper report that: "two people died in a car accident on rte 1 yesterday" but that "the two people who died in a car accident on rte 1 yesterday were only 2 of the 32,828 people who died in car accidents worldwide yesterday and represent part of a declining trend in car accidents not only locally but nationnally and globally".

But the news business serves different audiences and that's why you have TV, newspapers, magazines, radio etc handling the news different. It's why you have the NYT doing "straight" reporting (which you as a reader don't really care about) as well as the analysis and opinion columns that they also have, and the magazine type stories in their Sunday magazine.

If the NYT turned into the Daily Analysis which you seem to prefer, it would lose a hell of a lot of readers who want a little more of the basic "facts" to sort things out themselves, or just because analysis is tiring. "The News Hour" after all only has a 3% audience share.

It's imperfect, as you constantly point out, but, after all, it's a business and a trade trying to be a doctor-lawyer type profession. Doctors and lawyers don't do their perfectly either.

Your six points at the end are all justified, but , how to begin changing? The source dynamic is the alternative to reporting only press releases, and politicians and businesses know how to manipulate it, and play the various news organs -- commercial businesses, again -- against each other.

Yeah the media fell down, massively, on the Iraq invasion, and all the post-9/11 hype. Most Americans did. But the media they are not as bad and reporters not as stupid as you allege -- commercial television news excepted.

Posted by: paulo at October 2, 2004 03:03 PM

A digression, but here is a story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/02/opinion/02topol.html

Good Riddance to a Bad Drug
By ERIC J. TOPOL

Cleveland After three years of denying that the arthritis drug Vioxx could induce heart attacks and strokes, this week Merck bowed to reality: it withdrew Vioxx from the market.

The impact of this decision is far-reaching, and not only because tens of millions of people have tried Vioxx. It also highlights the absence of Food and Drug Administration oversight of the pharmaceutical industry as well as the lack of comprehensive long-term studies of not only Vioxx but its entire class of arthritis drugs.

In 2001, I was part of a team from the Cleveland Clinic that published a paper demonstrating the significant heart attack risk of Vioxx. Our research, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that compared to naproxen, a commonly used over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug with similar benefits, Vioxx has a five times greater heart attack risk. In response, Merck claimed that early conclusions about the risk were flawed, and attributed the comparatively high heart attack rates to an unproven protective effect of naproxen. Our study was followed by several others demonstrating Vioxx's dangers. Each time Merck had a similar reply: the study was 'flawed.'

Merck finally had to acknowledge the truth, but only by accident. The company undertook a large, randomized trial of 2,600 patients with colon polyps in hopes of proving that Vioxx could help their condition. In the process, though, Merck discovered that 3.5 percent of patients taking Vioxx suffered heart attacks or strokes as against 1.9 percent taking a placebo. Merck at last did the right thing by voluntarily and abruptly taking Vioxx off the market.

There are two important issues to consider here. First, the risk of heart attack or stroke found in the Merck study, at 15 cases per 1,000 patients, may be greatly underestimated. Merck's trial did not include anyone with known heart disease - patients who might be expected to have the highest risk.

And the problem may extend beyond Vioxx and its users. While it's true that when compared to the other Cox-2 inhibitors, Vioxx has repeatedly carried a far greater risk of heart attack and stroke, none of the manufacturers of Vioxx's class of drugs, called Cox-2 inhibitor agents, have studied patients who already have heart disease. The number of patients who may have sustained heart attack or stroke as a result of using these drugs could be tens of thousands. It would be premature to conclude that the other drugs still on the market, like Celebrex and Bextra, do or do not carry some risk of heart attack until sufficient testing is done.

While we remain in this zone of uncertainty, people with arthritis should remember that conventional over-the-counter agents like naproxen (as in Aleve) or ibuprofen (as in Advil) work extremely well, are much cheaper than the Cox-2 agents, and are not known to have any risk of heart attacks. In addition, one of the most-cited benefits of the Cox-2 agents - that they are less likely to cause stomach ulcers than over-the-counter drugs - may ben grossly exaggerated.

Second, and what may be more alarming, is that despite studies showing the magnitude of the public health problem, for several years Merck did nothing to investigate. This surely represents a conflict between the interests of the public and the interests of a company with a blockbuster drug that had sales of $2.5 billion in 2003.

Instead of doing the requisite research in patients with heart disease - who frequently have arthritis as well and are thus prime users of anti-inflammatory medicines - the company undertook studies that avoided them. At the same time, Merck spent at least $100 million a year for direct-to-consumer Vioxx advertising, while the company's employees and their consultants published several papers in medical journals rebutting studies reporting Vioxx's heart attack risk. The Food and Drug Administration could have forced Merck to do the appropriate research studies, but instead it was a bystander.

As the Vioxx debacle shows, we have a long way to go in this country to get on track with prescription medications. Most important, we need a stronger regulatory agency to compel pharmaceutical companies to do the proper studies and force these companies to stop direct-to-consumer advertising unless a drug has major benefits for patients and negligible increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Our two most common deadly diseases should not be caused by a drug.


Eric J. Topol is chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

Posted by: anne at October 2, 2004 03:04 PM

What's puzzling is why Kinsley feels bound by the silly convention he cites. Isn't the solution simply to defy it?

I do suspect that too few journalists covering national affairs these days have a good background in basic reporting. How many have ever had to check the facts in obituaries?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at October 2, 2004 03:16 PM

P. Sullivan's post helps explain the phenomenon of the corrupted media. If it isn't a lie, it's a joke. And when it comes to politics, P. Sullivan and his crew think it's always a joke to lie to the folks who aren't part of their gang.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at October 2, 2004 03:17 PM

This did not happen over night it took years for the Right-Wing to build its Alcoholic Billionaire funded/ Think Tank/ Right-Wing Media/ AM Radio/ Publishing Empire/ Corporate Public Relations/Lobbist/Right-Wing Academia/Internet gossip/FCC Bribed/ ulternative universe revolving door

According to the former Dark Sider David Brock, joining the Dark Side means never having to worry where your next pay check is coming from. However the Dark Side means writing or printing whatever the machinne wants. "Journalism" has nothing to do with this job, it is not even part of the job criteria. This is the subversion of Journalism.

But if every journalist today is constantly either rubbling elbows, socializing with, working for, or having to interview folks who have sold their soul to the Dark Side is it any wonder. If more than half our J-School buddies work for the dark-side and make more money than you wouldn't you be liable for seduction.

And once you join the Dark Side, can you ever go legit. Its like an ex-Porn Star going into legit acting, everybody is going to giggle about your past life and only the truely shameless like Robert Novak can pull it off David Brock is the rare exceptions to make it in the legit world of journalism but only in the role of the pick-pocket who now trains the cops.

I remember reading in The Washington Monthly 20 uears ago Charles Peters complaining how buck raking became the now mantra of the journalist profession. Celebrity and big money has played a big role in this decline.

Liberals sat back and watched it happen. With out a dedicated Liberal Media like the infant Air American and liberal blogosphere, who was their to stop them. The Right-wing does what it does because they know they can get away with it. There is nobody to get in the right-wing's face or demand better journalism..

If there are 10,000 freepers , some of them payed, working the refs what do you expect.

Well that is starting to change and it is not going to stop with this election.

Posted by: llamajockey at October 2, 2004 03:36 PM

This did not happen over night it took years for the Right-Wing to build its Alcoholic Billionaire funded/ Think Tank/ Right-Wing Media/ AM Radio/ Publishing Empire/ Corporate Public Relations/Lobbist/Right-Wing Academia/Internet gossip/FCC Bribed/ ulternative universe revolving door

According to the former Dark Sider David Brock, joining the Dark Side means never having to worry where your next pay check is coming from. However the Dark Side means writing or printing whatever the machinne wants. "Journalism" has nothing to do with this job, it is not even part of the job criteria. This is the subversion of Journalism.

But if every journalist today is constantly either rubbling elbows, socializing with, working for, or having to interview folks who have sold their soul to the Dark Side is it any wonder. If more than half our J-School buddies work for the dark-side and make more money than you wouldn't you be liable for seduction.

And once you join the Dark Side, can you ever go legit. Its like an ex-Porn Star going into legit acting, everybody is going to giggle about your past life and only the truely shameless like Robert Novak can pull it off David Brock is the rare exceptions to make it in the legit world of journalism but only in the role of the pick-pocket who now trains the cops.

I remember reading in The Washington Monthly 20 uears ago Charles Peters complaining how buck raking became the now mantra of the journalist profession. Celebrity and big money has played a big role in this decline.

Liberals sat back and watched it happen. With out a dedicated Liberal Media like the infant Air American and liberal blogosphere, who was their to stop them. The Right-wing does what it does because they know they can get away with it. There is nobody to get in the right-wing's face or demand better journalism..

If there are 10,000 freepers , some of them payed, working the refs what do you expect.

Well that is starting to change and it is not going to stop with this election.

Posted by: llamajockey at October 2, 2004 03:38 PM

This did not happen over night it took years for the Right-Wing to build its Alcoholic Billionaire funded/ Think Tank/ Right-Wing Media/ AM Radio/ Publishing Empire/ Corporate Public Relations/Lobbist/Right-Wing Academia/Internet gossip/FCC Bribed/ ulternative universe revolving door

According to the former Dark Sider David Brock, joining the Dark Side means never having to worry where your next pay check is coming from. However the Dark Side means writing or printing whatever the machinne wants. "Journalism" has nothing to do with this job, it is not even part of the job criteria. This is the subversion of Journalism.

But if every journalist today is constantly either rubbling elbows, socializing with, working for, or having to interview folks who have sold their soul to the Dark Side is it any wonder. If more than half our J-School buddies work for the dark-side and make more money than you wouldn't you be liable for seduction.

And once you join the Dark Side, can you ever go legit. Its like an ex-Porn Star going into legit acting, everybody is going to giggle about your past life and only the truely shameless like Robert Novak can pull it off David Brock is the rare exceptions to make it in the legit world of journalism but only in the role of the pick-pocket who now trains the cops.

I remember reading in The Washington Monthly 20 uears ago Charles Peters complaining how buck raking became the now mantra of the journalist profession. Celebrity and big money has played a big role in this decline.

Liberals sat back and watched it happen. With out a dedicated Liberal Media like the infant Air American and liberal blogosphere, who was their to stop them. The Right-wing does what it does because they know they can get away with it. There is nobody to get in the right-wing's face or demand better journalism..

If there are 10,000 freepers , some of them payed, working the refs what do you expect.

Well that is starting to change and it is not going to stop with this election.

Posted by: llamajockey at October 2, 2004 03:38 PM

What everyone seems to be forgetting is that this type of "journalism" sells. The bottom line is the key for the "news" channels and papers and for talk radio. Because of that, like any other good in a market-based economy, we get more of it. In other words, blame the journalists and journals all you want, but it's the news consumers that are the reason for the sorry state of reporting today. As long as the people who read, watch, or listen to the news want it biased and turn away from objective reporting, it won't be provided to them. It's not that we have a professional news corp, it's that they ahve a bottom line.

Posted by: policywonk at October 2, 2004 03:44 PM

The Professor says, "jump". I ask, "How high, over which dead horse?":

http://flyunderthebridge.blogspot.com/2004/10/controlled-or-otherwise-professor.html

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at October 2, 2004 04:21 PM

I think it's interesting how market forces can cause a media outlet to morph into something else. For example, MTV used to show videos, but, presumably to get better ratings, they've all but abandoned that. What happened to the demand for music videos?

Similarly CNN, in competition with Fox News, has scheduled more and more debate shows, and the rate of information flow during their pure news coverage is pathetically low. Perhaps this change of focus has bettered their performance against Fox, but now a whole category of media consumer, namely those of us who like information, are being terribly underserved. Why haven't market forces brought us such a resource? Is it because we aren't as susceptible to advertising? If so, maybe we need to rethink the whole free, unregulated TV thing. We seem to be getting what we paid for.

Posted by: Matt at October 2, 2004 04:32 PM

I agree with policywonk. I have been driving again a lot lately, and listening to CBS radio news while waiting for the traffic reports. It is unbelievably biased for Bush and GOP. GOP quotes are always longer than Dem or Kerry quotes. Bush gets a lengthy sound bite, while the Kerry report is a tape of Kerry droning incomprehensibly in the background while the reporter summarizes (very vaguely) what Kerry said. If that doesn't do the trick, then the GOP gets a second shot, and misleading White house press releases are quoted as if they were solid fact as a follow-up to the Kerry report. There is weird editorializing about the wedge issue of the moment, that is not sourced, and always along GOP social conservative lines -what it is or where it came from is completely unexplained.

At first I thought that it was pure bias, and there may be bias. But then I noticed that more and more time is spent on human interest stories -usually at least two, sometimes three. There will be two very short reports on the presidential campaign, and maybe a follow-up of unsourced GOP talking points in case the biased campaign coverage is not deemed sufficiently damning to Kerry. But often each silly human interest story will be longer than the total pres camaing coverage. The newest thing is sound effects for the human interest stories. Story on a compulsive coin swallower having surgery to take a pond of pennies out of his pocket -well you need to have the sound of a bag of coins falling on the floor. Human interest story about the Florida hurricanes, need to have some wind and rain sound effects.

I concluded that the brass decided they need to cultivate the young professional male commuter market, which is perhaps deemed a Bush constituency, so that influences the news. But it is surely not anything like news any more at all. It is disguised marketing pitch and puerile entertainment to keep an audience tuned for the next commercial.

As for lying, you never need to call some one a liar. Doing so is counterproductive. I quite watching the pundit interview shows when it became very clear that supposedly high class MCs like Russert and Schieffer (sp?) were more interested in generating "gaffes" and scandals than in substantive discussion. I remember hearing a Kerry interview where Kerry labeled a Bush assertion as being "not true" The MC (I think Schieffer) made a fool of himself trying to force Kerry to admit that this meant he was calling Bush a liar (along the lines of "Well, are you saying that Bush LIED. I mean, that's what you are saying isn't it, that Bush LIED. Are you calling Bush a LIAR!? You are, aren't you?) This cr*p went on until Kerry said that he had no idea what was going in Bush's head and ignored the pleas to admit he was calling Bush a LIAR. After the interview, the MC made a snarky complaint that politicians wouldn't be straightforward anymore.

It is enough to report what so-and-so said. Then report immediately below that a solid discussion of what the reporter's investigation has indicated are the facts, and the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement. Then follow the same steps for the opposing so-and-so. The reader can make up their minds on whether it is lying or not. Such an approach would be much better than the he-said-she-said routine you read and hear so often. Problem is that doing the latter means that the reporter has to stand by his or her own investigation and analysis (ie, be professional) and defend it against those who disagree. Much easier to evade any risk by transcribing campaign talking points

Posted by: jml at October 2, 2004 04:35 PM

In other news, Dr. Warren Smythe, a psychiatrist at Filcrest Health Services, said today at a court-ordered hearing that a Filcrest patient, Arthur Fernbeak, was a paranoid schizophrenic. Fernbeak immediately denied the allegation, screaming from underneath a table in the day room that Smythe was a drug addict and had fathered an illegitimate dark-complexioned child in Transylvania. Meanwhile, Wolf News has learned that a group of Dr. Smythe's former patients, known as Mental Competents for Truth, issued a statement from their Dallas headquarters backing Fernbeak's story and saying that Dr. Smythe has secretly altered Fernbeak's diagnosis twelve times. According to Wolf News polls conducted at the institution over the last several months, Fernbeak is strongly favored by 72% of inmates as the leader best qualified to keep the mental hospital safe from vampires and "those big bugs that flip and flop all over you at night."

Posted by: Ralph at October 2, 2004 04:41 PM

Al Franken (of all people) once pointed out the easy way around the "objectivity" problem in a review of the writings of Pat Robertson (of all people). As Franken points out, Robertson brings all kinds of nutty ideas to the fore but does so in a way that deflects criticism. Roberson poses the nutty ideas, not as statements, but as questions.

For instance, "Could it really be true that Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster?" No one could accuse the "questioner of making a false statement. They are merely asking the question. The question does not "accuse" Clinton of murder, but by merely asking, ascertains that a totally nutty idea has some merit.

In Brad's example, the reporter does not have to say that, Bush Mankiw or anyone is FOS. The reporter merely has to state that many people looking at the numbers are puzzled .

"Why are the projections of the Bush administration so different from those of outside experts? Perhaps additional information from the Bush administration can clarify the confusion."

In the statement above, no one accuses the Bushies of pushing bogus numbers. It does push the ball back in the Bush court to explain the discrepancy.

Posted by: bakho at October 2, 2004 05:46 PM

I will only correct one of the gruesome typos in my post:

Problem is that doing the *former* (not, as written, "latter") means that the reporter has to stand by his or her own investigation and analysis (ie, be professional) and defend it against those who disagree. Much easier to evade any risk by transcribing campaign talking points

Posted by: jml at October 2, 2004 06:02 PM

I think bakho has a very good suggestion, and a version of it would be very useful. But it should be used honestly, which is not the way Robertson uses it. There is a difference between:

"Many experts on social security still believe that Bush has not adequately explained the funding for his proposed reform. They say diverting money for private accounts now will require funding sources for payments that currently go to retirees that amount to about one trillion dollars. Will the Bush campaign explain why these experts' analyses are wrong, or, if it is correct, where the money will come from?"

and

"Is Bush hiding a trillion dollar hole in his social security reform plan in order to fleece poor retirees and enrich his already wealthy Wall Street friends?"

The latter is too much, too Robertson, even if it is true.

Posted by: jml at October 2, 2004 06:10 PM

Paolo's comment is stupid. Among the things that Brad has been asking are that 1.) economics reporters (for example) understand the meanings of the words that they use, b.) that they report actual facts in an intelligible way, instead of garbled spin and misleading factoids, and c.) that when someone makes a claim that a reasonably well-informed reporter knows is factually wrong, the reporter should routinely state that the claim is factually wrong. None of this is hard for a reporter to do, if the reporter is any good, and it does not make the reporting harder to read and understand.

The supply and demand explanation Policywonk so confidently asserts explains only part of the problem.

I will repeat my belief that neither stupidity nor lack of training nor lack of professionalism (in one sense of the word) is the main reason. At the lower levels it's opportunism, cynicism, and success worship reinforced by a corrupt definition of professionalism, and at the top it's a combination of political agendas (the more important cause) and the pursuit of the bottom line. The political agendas are not necessarily aimed at the big ideological picture; often they're very specific issues relating to regulation, taxes, intellectual property, labor law, etc.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at October 2, 2004 09:52 PM

I suspect pressure by the White House using fear of loss of access as a lever is a factor in the rarity of application of the "deLong Solution." I recall "she has great sources" being used by Schulzberger as a defense of Seyle. Reporters considering access to be their competitive advantage is one motivation, at least. How it compares to others named above I don't know.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg at October 3, 2004 10:40 AM

Matt: The answer to your question about why "we" are being underserved is either that there aren't enough of us, there are more or them, or as you surmise, we're not as attractive to advertisers for some reason. This is why talk radio that isn't "Rush-like" hasn't done well. This is one of the big reasons we shoudl all be exploding the myth of "the liberal media." The media--including the new sides of the business--are all bottom-line oriented and that is best improved by pandering to those who watch, read, and listen more. Objectivity has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: policywonk at October 3, 2004 01:44 PM

Zizka's retort to mine isn't stupid, it's ignorant. Brad wants his analysis in every single news report, from a Bloomberg flash to a quarterly journal's scholarly take. Brad gets his own data from the Fed/Treasury/OMB/Bureau of States and so doesn't care when the raw facts are reported. He wants the full analysis and context, or the context going as far as his political view takes it (none of which I disagree with, mind you).

But the news business is many layers for many consumers, and Brad is hardly a typical one. Yes, there is a need for more hard thinking in the context of reporting, as Kinsey points out, but there is also always the need for straight reporting, sans context. There is desire for that, and market for that, and information value in it too. Kinsey sees a difficult dilemma; Brad sees an easy solution, probably because he -- like Zizka -- doesn't appreciate fully the complexities of the news business.

This is no excuse making for the news biz -- pressure like that from Brad and others has already resulted in improvements. But the bias, the stupidity, the laziness that is accused across the board is simply overdone. The press has all the info -- it even did on WMD before the Iraq invasion, if you added it all up -- but you and Brad want it all in one place, in every report.

That sounds like a frustrated Oakland fan who just can't handle coming in second every October without someone's head rolling.

Posted by: paulo at October 3, 2004 04:43 PM

Bernard,

Yes, exactly. That's the worrying part. Why "conventions of objectivity" rather than "objectivity?" Objectivity is no barrier to pointing out the falsity of an obviously false statement. A "convention of objectivity" that avoids doing so is not, in reality, a convention of objectivity. It is a convention of some other kind that journalist sugar-coat to make themselves feel better. Kinsley seems to have let his own objectivity, and his ethics, slip as he protects his turf. I would guess that, in his case, the turf is more similar to that of other editors (whom some of us suspect are major villains in this drama) than of the journalists they oversee.

Is he worried about corporate pressure? Is he worried about his reputation among the (pseudo?) thinking classes as a sharp, fair-minded moderate lefty? As a subtle serious thinker? Can't tell, but he is so far from calling a spade a spade in this case, a case he should have given lots of thought, that we have to suspect he has strayed from the path.

At very best, this may be a sort of Straussian chatter in which Kinsley says one thing to the benighted, another ("you all know that "conventions of objectivity" is meant as condemnation, right?") to the enlightened. If so, Kinsley should be reminded that this is a democracy, that the "benighted" must not to be left in the dark. Straussian misdirection seems often to serve as a comfort to hypocrites rather than a secret message to the enlightened.

Posted by: kharris at October 4, 2004 06:22 AM

Always liked the Daily Show on this:

'On one fake newscast, Mr. Stewart asked a correspondent in the field for his opinion on the Swift Boat veterans claims against Senator John Kerry. "My opinion?" the reporter responded. "I don't have opinions. I'm a reporter, Jon. My job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called objectivity; might want to look it up."'

Posted by: Dan at October 4, 2004 09:20 AM