June 04, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Atrios-Can't-Take-It and Howell Raines Edition)

Atrios cannot take it anymore (but then, he never could):

Eschaton: One pathology of the elite guardians of our discourse is their tendency to focus on the inane and superficial and then pretend that they're standins for Joe and Jane America. They cover politics like Joan Rivers covering fashion at the Oscars, and then pretend that they're just reflecting the opinion of "the American people." They'll attack candidates (well, Democratic candidates) for not being "serious" about issues and then wonder aloud about the fact that they're boring the people with all those Big Incomprehensible Numbers....

[W]ell educated... from elite schools. I don't know if they're posing or lazy, but I don't believe they're as illiterate and innumerate as they claim. Ted Koppel, who had no trouble counting down the days we had hostages in Iran, professed during the 2000 election that all those numbers Bush and Gore were throwing around were just soooo confusing.... Aside from a bit of education, there isn't really much point in really discussing many policy issues in-depth. This administration obviously isn't interested. And, nor is the 4th estate.

They talk hair cuts and sighs, pretending this is what really matters to the Amurcans they have nothing but contempt for.... Hair cuts and sighs matter to them, the rest of it doesn't. That would be fine if they didn't pretend that people struggling to stay out of bankruptcy gave a shit about this stuff. That people going to court to squeeze out owed child support so they could put food on their families gave a shit about the latest Heatherism of the day....

It isn't cynicism or apathy, it's just disconnect and lack of empathy.... And, the worst of these - the Howell Raines and the Margaret Carlsons - perpetuate the myth of their own "liberalism," shitting on everyone who truly can be described as liberal.

I was going to write something telling Atrios that it really wasn't that bad, when this arrived in my email inbox:

It is a shame this example comes from Taranto's mean-spirited and biased blog.  Nevertheless, it is revealing and interesting that Howell Raines would refer to Kerry as "America's first war-hero candidate since John F. Kennedy."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/comment/story/0,14259,1229376,00.html

It seems to me this is the sort of error that suggests [though it does not prove] five things about many modern liberal journalists:

  1. They spend much, MUCH too much time thinking about JFK. [Thinking unrealistically, I may add, with little sense of how hard-line a cold warrior and how weak a liberal JFK really was.]
  2. They remember what the buzz was rather than what the facts were. [I would say: they were the buzz and never really cared about the facts.
  3. They have utterly NO understanding of the air war in Europe, because it never registered that being a bomber pilot was really, really dangerous. [McGovern and Bentsen were WWII bomber pilots: one of Bentsen's speechwriters and I once had a long conversation about what it must have been like at Foggia Airbase knowing that the odds one would survive one's tour of 35 missions were 50-50 or so.]
  4. They spend much, MUCH too little time thinking seriously about Republicans, because Republicans ran war heroes in '88, '92 [Bush I], and '96 [Dole].
  5. They can rise to very influential positions, such as executive editor of the New York Times, without ever, ever spending any real time with Bob Dole.  No one who has been in Bob Dole's presence for very long could make the error that Raines made.

It does seem to be true that, with a disappointingly small number of exceptions, our elite journalists know (a) how to keep their inside-the-government sources happy, and (b) how to pretend that the camera is a real person and make eye contact with it. But by and large they are the people who do not know (a) law, (b) war, (c) diplomacy, (d) politics, (e) finance, (f) science, or (g) technology. And they seem scared and insecure around--and thus dismissive of--people who do know anything about any of these.

Posted by DeLong at June 4, 2004 09:34 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Well you're certainly right about most/elite journalists knowing little about war and science. As one who has had a more than passing acquaintance with both, I have more than four decades of experience listening/reading journalists with only the flimsiest knowledge of these subjects. Mere babes in the woods so to speak.

Posted by: Lawrence on June 4, 2004 09:48 AM

____

Corporate news has one purpose above all others- to sell advertising time. A very good reason why most industrialized democracies have public supported news networks that are not beholden to ad revenue.

Posted by: non economist on June 4, 2004 10:07 AM

____

Calling Bush 41 and Dole war heroes is a stretch. Yes, one was shot down and pulled from the drink, and the other, grievously wounded, nearly killed, and crippled for life. But the military requires heroism to be something more than simply being the victim of typical war events, as all members of the military are subject to. See Sen. Daniel Inouye's service particulars in his debilitating injuries for the contrast.

Posted by: sofla on June 4, 2004 10:26 AM

____

"Corporate news has one purpose above all others- to sell advertising time. A very good reason why most industrialized democracies have public supported news networks that are not beholden to ad revenue."

Ergo, the Great Unwashed is too stupid to understand that they're being fed sensationalism in order to sell eyeballs? Methinks you didn't quite get the point of the story...

Posted by: Bernard Guerrero on June 4, 2004 10:28 AM

____

I didn't know Bob Dole wrote emails to you. He's got a pretty insightful view of the press. Cool.

Posted by: carsick on June 4, 2004 10:53 AM

____

What's going on here is the necessary waking up to what has been documented by Bob Somerby at Daily Howler for years: "Millionaire Pundit Values," "Good Guy Pundits," and all the rest of it.

Sadly, I fear that Raines is well matched to his new Guardian readership.

Posted by: P O'Neill on June 4, 2004 10:58 AM

____

I live in NJ. In 2000 I happened to catch a debate on local TV between the 2 senate candidates (Corzine and Franks). They were questioned by 3 print journalists, one from the NYT, 2 from NJ papers. The journalists asked serious, probing, insightful questions that showed a detailed knowlege of the issues. I was flabbergasted. Compare this with the unfailing vapidity of the questions journalists ask in the presidential debates. On the national scene, and especially among TV journalists, I believe the cult of "objectivity" results in selection for journalists who are willing to conceal any serious opinions they have (which might be inadvertantly revealed by asking a serious question on the issues) or who have no political opinions at all. But what serious person can cover politics for 20 or 30 years and be willing to conceal their opinions?

Posted by: Phil P on June 4, 2004 10:59 AM

____

Or history... how could you forget history? Especially U.S. history. And economics.

Posted by: jml on June 4, 2004 11:24 AM

____


"The TV camera is an x-ray for picking up attitudinal truths, and Kerry's lantern jaw and Addams Family face somehow reinforce the message that this guy has passed from ponderous to pompous and is so accustomed to privilege that he doesn't have to worry about looking goofy. It's as if Lurch had gone to Choate."

"Kerry has to understand that when a cure is impossible, the doctor must enter the world of the deluded."

"Using that promise as disinformation, he must now figure out a creative way to become a redistributionist Democrat. As a corporation-bashing populist, I'd like to think he could do that by promising to make every person's retirement as secure as Cheney's investment in Halliburton."

"Not being a trained economist like, say, Arthur Laffer,...."

Forget about whether he knows law, war, diplomacy et al - the man can edit....

Posted by: Joe Mealyus on June 4, 2004 11:24 AM

____

Of course you're right, Brad. How else could Tom Friedman win the Pulitzer Prize -- thrice!

Posted by: General Glut on June 4, 2004 11:42 AM

____

"'Corporate news has one purpose above all others- to sell advertising time. A very good reason why most industrialized democracies have public supported news networks that are not beholden to ad revenue.'

Ergo, the Great Unwashed is too stupid to understand that they're being fed sensationalism in order to sell eyeballs? Methinks you didn't quite get the point of the story..."


Naturally, I would tend to disagree. I would say that these sprayed-hair know-nothings are doing precisely what they are paid to do, nothing more and nothing less. Of course there are plenty of brilliant, well-educated, energetic journalism grads in the US who could run intellectual circles around the current class of buffoons. However, that's not what pays the bills.

Posted by: non economist on June 4, 2004 12:12 PM

____

One of the more disgusting aspects of this current war and the coverage of it is the degrading of the word "hero" by the media. Getting killed by an RPG out of nowhere or a roadside bomb makes you a casualty of an ugly war, not a hero.

Posted by: Steve on June 4, 2004 12:20 PM

____

I agree with you that the quality of our newspapers as exemplified by the New Yor Times, is appalling. Yet a number of its jurnalists write well received books. So perhaps the problem is not the stupidity of journalists, but rather the institutional set-up of newspapers. They lack disciplie of the right sort. If they misspell someone's name they have to write an erratum; if they totally minunderstand what is going on, that O.K., who cares. When you read the Times you are supposed to send your mind on vacation. Also, do readers really care about knowing the truth; wouldn't they find newspapers too boring to read if it were not for psychological benefits, such as seeing one's prejudice confirmed, finding an outlet for moral indignation, etc.

Posted by: Thomas Mayer on June 4, 2004 12:22 PM

____

"But by and large they are the people who do not know (a) law, (b) war, (c) diplomacy, (d) politics, (e) finance, (f) science, or (g) technology. "


'Eats shoots and leaves' being freshly in mind, let's edit the above.

"But by and large [journalists] are the people who do not know (a) law, (b) war, (c) diplomacy, (d) politics, (e) finance, (f) science, (g) technology, (h) history, (i) elementary education, (j) algebra, (k) statistics, (l) geography, (m) religion, (n) non-European cultures, (o) agriculture, (p) shopkeeping, (q) hunting, (r) classical rhetoric, (s) handicrafts, (t) navigation, (u) sailing, (w) construction, (x) medicine, (y) logistics, (z) game theory, (1), the Peter Principle, (2) charity, (3) chastity, (4)... "

I dunno how far you have to go before you stick in the "or".


Interestingly many journalists seem quite up to speed on the topics of fine cuisine, wine making, fashion, theater, music, sports and poetry.

Posted by: Pouncer on June 4, 2004 01:23 PM

____

A succinct summation of what knowledge/skills journalists lack, Brad. Sadly, in my view, the knowledge they lack is pretty much what they need to pass on to the public. Pouncer, above, hints at that too.

D

Posted by: Dano on June 4, 2004 01:38 PM

____

"... Of course there are plenty of brilliant, well-educated, energetic journalism grads in the US who could run intellectual circles around the current class of buffoons. However, that's not what pays the bills...."

Where are those grads, then? Are most of them journalists any way, however in relative obscurity? Or do they do something other than journalism?

Posted by: Bulent on June 4, 2004 02:36 PM

____

This goes far beyond Raines. Back in the early 90s Jeff Gerth got Whitewater all wrong from his Duke and the Dauphin sources in Arkansas.

Fahrenheit 9/11 trailers show in theaters soon. Hunting of the President will show this summer. I understand that some Kerry buddy will distribute a Kerry bio movie. If other media like the NYT cannot get us the truth, they will be bypassed.

I learned long ago that the NYT is unreliable as "the paper of record". If the NYT stories cannot be backed up in the blogosphere they are probably bogus. The NYT has lost most of its credibility. It will be difficult for them to get it back. And newspapers wonder why they are becoming irrelevent.

Posted by: bakho on June 4, 2004 03:52 PM

____

"'... Of course there are plenty of brilliant, well-educated, energetic journalism grads in the US who could run intellectual circles around the current class of buffoons. However, that's not what pays the bills....'

Where are those grads, then? Are most of them journalists any way, however in relative obscurity? Or do they do something other than journalism?"

For a pithy answer, these days a lot of them have blogs! Kevin Drum, ex Calpundit, current Washington Monthly, e.g.

Many of them probably went to Law School, Business school, sell real estate as well.

Posted by: non economist on June 4, 2004 05:16 PM

____

"...these days a lot of them have blogs..."

Don't you guys think internet publishing is as significant as Gutenberg's print machine?

Posted by: Bulent on June 5, 2004 12:30 AM

____

Re: Bush I and Dole as war heroes.

Early in Mark Katz's book _Clinton and Me_ he repeats a nice Kennedy story. Supposedly a young boy once asked JFK how he became a war hero. Kennedy's response:

"Involuntarily. They sunk my boat!"

Great line.

Posted by: Brandon Claycomb on June 5, 2004 10:35 AM

____

What’s with the NYT bashing? In the Saturday edition alone, I saw articles that brought to light outrageous actions on the part of the military (“Beating Specialist Baker”), the FBI (“Spain and U.S. at Odds on Mistaken Terror Arrest”), and Kissinger and the Council on Foreign Relations (“Kissinger Assailed in Debate on Chile”)—all stories that highlighted the ongoing mendacity practiced by our elite institutions. By contrast, the W Post featured a piece about what a psycho Graner is—a story straight from the “bad apples” school of thought.

Posted by: geaurilla on June 5, 2004 09:15 PM

____

JFK as liberal hero. Some years back it occurred to me that JFK and RR were a lot more alike in attitude and even in policies (foreign policies) than most people would like to admit.

OK, shoot me down. It's an idea that can be discussed.

Posted by: sm on June 9, 2004 08:37 AM

____

Inadequacies of the press. Isn't most of the good stuff (not all) in the blogosphere from the press? Just not in the press you had access to before there was the web and search engines?

For the last few months I've been a religious reader of the Guardian, whose take on things I've found far superior (less delusional) than the US press of whatever stripe. Presumably those stories are created by journalists and even printed on paper. It's my access that's new.

And the info that comes up on blogs is often hunted down by bloggers willing to comb the whole world press for the significant story.

Posted by: sm on June 9, 2004 08:41 AM

____

industrial catalogs gas heater b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs gift box b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs hand tool b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs storage container b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs truck part b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs water filter b2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs water pumpb2b supplies business buy industrial catalogs b2b supplies business buy

Posted by: business resources on June 21, 2004 05:35 PM

____

nice site order ipods

Posted by: gold ipod on June 25, 2004 01:11 AM

____

nice site mini ipods

Posted by: mp3 players on June 26, 2004 12:10 AM

____

nice site really good content

Posted by: dental plan on July 13, 2004 07:51 PM

____

my friends and I really enjoy this

Posted by: police equipment on July 14, 2004 09:40 PM

____

Post a comment
















__