You get to color this one in yourself

To start off, a provocative post about the media by John Emerson:

Everyone talks about the media, but no one has been able to do anything about it. I share the common opinion that the disaster of contemporary American politics is in large part the result of the corruption and dishonesty of the media, and I also believe that this corruption is deep-rooted and unlikely to change, and that as a result we are between a rock and a hard place somewhere up shit creek.

Now, some comparison exercises. How many links are on the front page of nytimes.com right now about the Middle East? How many about this story, broken by The Guardian this week, in which the man code-named “Curveball” admits in an interview that he completely fabricated his stories of WMD in Iraq — and claims that his fabrications could have been exposed with ease by Western intelligence services if they’d cared to do so? Compare British and U.S. article counts on the Curveball issue.

Finally, a couple of recent local stories. Tragically, in December, a man who’d recently been paroled here in Massachusetts was involved in a shoot-out with police officers during a robbery; one police officer and the suspect himself were killed. The media coverage has been nearly non-stop; the entire parole board was forced to resign; and we’ll see if anybody gets paroled ever again in this state. Not long afterward, a 68-year-old retired African-American man was in bed, wearing his pajamas, at his girlfriend’s house when a police SWAT team busted in, looking for a couple of her children on drug charges. For reasons still unclear, a police officer shot Eurie Stamps dead. Here’s the cacophony of Boston Globe coverage; somehow, I can’t seem to find a statement from Governor Patrick on the matter.

4 responses to “You get to color this one in yourself”

  1. SG says:

    About 6 months ago in our local paper there was a brief story regarding crime. It was about a paragraph long and buried on page 6. The story: crime in Long Beach was at lows not seen in over 30 years.

    Of course, however, the front page was a hodgepodge of crime related articles — ah, the media narrative…

    Hide your kids
    Hide your wife
    Cos they’re raping everybody out here…

  2. Former journalist says:

    Let me tell you a little story.

    When I was in college, back in the 80s, journalism was a widely respected profession. Newspapers and TV news were generally regarded as being on the side of the people. “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” was a motto many journalists seemed to take seriously.

    In the 90s, the right wing mounted an attack on what we now refer to as MSM – the mainstream media. The campaign was a smashing success – in a single decade, the general population’s perception of reporters went from “people trying to uncover and report on stuff” to “dishonest people with an agenda.” I’m generalizing here, but please stick with me. This is generally true.

    In the 70s and prior, depictions of journalists in pop culture were largely positive. Redford and Hoffman played the courageous real-life journalists who brought down Nixon. Reporters in movies were occasionally meddlesome, but more often they were fighters for the common good.

    After the successful right-wing smearing, it became nearly impossible to find a positive portrayal of a journalist, anywhere. In movies and TV, journalists are either those packs of crazed people pushing microphones into the face of someone who’s suffered loss, or narcissistic blow-dried talking heads. Even kids are taught that journalists are craven – witness the execrable Rita Skeeter and her shenanigans in the Harry Potter series.

    News outlets such as newspapers, CNN, network TV news and newsmagazines are widely dismissed now, especially by people under 30. Instead, they tune in to the Daily Show or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Conan O’Brien. This in itself is not necessarily terrible. But here is the problem.

    Those outlets don’t have the resources or the desire to do the kind of digging and reporting that are so vital to a functioning democracy. The more newspapers shrink and go out of business – a process that began in the 90s and has decimated the news business, the less light is shone on corruption, waste and a thousand other problems. Yes, you can argue that the MSM don’t do a good enough job of this as it is. You can argue that many journalists are not good and not honest – but then in what profession are 100% of the people good and honest? When the left joins the right in demonizing journalists, it serves only to further entrench those in power, as fewer and fewer people see journalism as a good career option, or even a career option at all.

    If I could change one thing about the national discourse on journalism, it would be this. Yes, encourage your news sources to spend time focusing on the things that matter. Write a letter to your newspaper. Call your local news affiliate. But stop with the wholesale, “The MSM is the problem” rant. The MSM didn’t create the problems we face. Sure, they can and should do a better job covering (and uncovering) them. But pummeling the entire profession into irrelevance, IMHO, only makes the problem worse.

  3. lane says:

    amen to that, especially those people outside nyc. a strange sink hole world of corruption, complicity, corporate interests … and community… what ever that sentimental alliteration might signify…

    : ) thanks dave. bleak, but fun. so you…

    : – ))

  4. Dave says:

    I don’t think it’s the left-wing critique of establishment journalism that’s causing trouble for establishment journalism. Old media’s situation is jeopardized mostly by structural economic issues — ownership consolidation, media-owning families getting sick of owning a newspaper and deciding to cash out, the generally ever-more-rapacious demands for increased profits — and by a shifting technological baseline — Craigslist killed the classified ad, all sorts of other changes.

    But honestly, I don’t think there was ever a golden age when the press actually was a non-biased, public-interested institution. There have been some great journalists, and some good ones, and there still are. But there have always been really bad institutional constraints, and plenty of incentives to serve as a propaganda organ for the powers that be.

    I fundamentally disagree with an approach that says “don’t complain about the maggots in the soup because you might be stuck with nothing but gruel.”