Why your media sucks pt II
Taking him seriously has been
a grave error in judgement
If you've noticed Mark Halperin's recent grovelling, you'll have to read this. His writing partner, the WaPo's John Harris, begs him to shut his trap
The reason Harris wants Halperin to shut up is that during the course of his promotion tour for the book, Halperin has courted right-wing talk and radio hosts and in so doing has disintegrated into a 10-year-old boy begging the bullies to like him. Glenn Greenwald has the awful details of Halperin’s behavior with right-wing talker Hugh Hewitt — the worst example to date, but not the only — which Billmon likens to the desperate self-criticism sessions common in Soviet Russia and vividly described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
It isn’t just Halperin’s character or his ability to provide rational coverage of politics in this country that his courtship of Hewitt, and Sean Hannity before, calls into question: it’s his mental acuity. At one point he tells Hewitt that “I am beginning to think you are intellectually dishonest on a few points.” He is, mind you, writing to a man whose very trade is intellectual dishonesty and demagoguery. Maybe Hewitt is capable of intellectual honesty off the clock, but when he’s on duty it has no part in his performance.
The public disintegration of Halperin’s character, in both the critical and psychological senses, is extremely unpleasant to watch. Harris is clearly uncomfortable with it: throughout his exchanges with Halperin he hints at that discomfort, telling Halperin in regard to “freak show” politics that “you know my view of the freak show, because I learned it from you. It should be marginalized. What incentives induced you to not follow your own advice?” When Halperin doesn’t respond, Harris gets more specific.
These are chaotic days for political reporters and editors, and you have made them more so for me by your sensible but inflammatorily stated comments on various conservative television and radio platforms. I’ve been getting tons of e-mails from the liberal side of the spectrum, all quite upset with my famous co-author and wondering if I share his views.
As a general proposition: I do. On specific points of emphasis: not always.
In particular, people get lathered up by the way you describe point No. 3 in the Halperin (and Harris) journalistic canon. You said we should be scrupulously fair and “conscious of conservative complaints about media bias and liberal complaints about media softness on George W. Bush.”
What could be wrong with that? My problem with the way you state it is that it tends to give credence to a popular view among ideologues of all stripes that the key to dealing with Old Media is “working the ref.” Partisans, disguised as media critics, believe that by howling loudly enough, they can intimidate us into pulling punches. As a practical matter, I should say, I just don’t think the “work the ref” strategy works, since in most Old Media newsrooms, we tend to dismiss the howlers as nut cases, even when they might have decent points. Beyond that, I fear that your injunction to be conscious of conservative complaints inadvertently creates the impression that coverage is a negotiation and critics should feel free to come to the table with loudspeaker in hand.
In no other country would a Mark Halperin be called anything but a government spokesmen.
This bastardized idea that journalism means neutrality in the face of fact is insane and strikes at the hear of this democracy.
Journalism is supposed to afflict the powerful, not comfort them.
I first noticed this covering dotcoms. Looking at the way business reporters were too lazy to look at 10Q's was an indication that something else was going on. Stories was about looking good, not actually performing an act of journalism. Because then if you did the story, the real one, the people you were covering would look like shit.
With Bush, the right simply exploited an opening they created. They played on the issues of fairness and journalists played along. It was groupthink in the extreme. Time could laud the assclowns at Powerline because they had no clue or they simply disregarded the work of the people they privately agreed with
One of the things outsiders don't get is the emotional investment journalists have in their work. It is a work for passionate, dedicated people. And one of their expectations is that liberals will get what they do. The fact that they don't get that they're being used by the right alienates them from their natural allies.
So when journalists are criticized from the left, they simply don't get why it happened. They assume we understand them, so when they're attacked, they react like scalded cats. I don't think the media understands how much they have alienated the left with their "objective" reporting.
One of the reason left blogs have exploded is that it challenges journalism on it's own ground and doesn't accept the community agreement that the right has valid points. Journalists are shocked at the hostility they are facing from the left, they never expected it and they never got why it existed. By being "fair" to animals like Rush Limbaugh, they never got the growing contempt that was earning them.
Now, I can't tell you what's wrong with Mark Halperin, but something is. Even John Harris wonders why he grovels to a worm like Hugh Hewitt, the right's Alan Colmbs. Halperin has so ingrained "objectivity" that he can't see that his credibility is now a joke, just like that of the right wing.
Because of the way that Bush ran the government, the media followed, forgetting that the country was politically divided. And now, five years later, the media is going to pay for not doing their job.
But this is nothing new. No story, from McCarthy to Vietnam to Watergate was ever accepted by the media establishment. At every turn, reporters have had to fight to tell the truth. This time, Judy Miller fought to lie and it took Maureen Dowd to call her out as the liar she was. In an era where there are few journalism heroes, Dowd, Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman did what the reporters should have done, challenge the obvious lies of Bush. And their reward was scorn from many people, including some of their peers.
We're building a new journalism because clearly the old one has ceased to work for us.
posted by Steve @ 2:57:00 AM