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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does the Media Deserve Liberal Defenders?

Should Democrats "ratchet down their hostility to newspapers and begin crusading on behalf of these imperiled organizations"?:

MSM, RIP, The Editors, The New Republic: ...Thirty-six percent of Americans now say that the press "hurts" democracy. Many others wouldn't express their feelings in ... such ... terms but share the basic disrespectful sentiment. Put another way, the crisis in journalism is even deeper than the crisis in its business model. It is suffering a crisis of legitimacy.

We all know the long list of scandals that has bloodied the profession--from Jayson Blair to Judith Miller to Dan Rather. But to focus only on these wrecks both misses the point and blames the victim. Just as the press has been slammed by the tides of technology, it has been hit hard by the political culture. The master narratives of both the right and the left have come to include the same villain: the hypocritical, biased elite media. And their combined grouching has helped foment the anti-media backlash.

On the right, the history of press-bashing is venerable... But during the Bush years, and thanks to Fox News, the critique of the liberal media was canonized...

A mirror version of this ... emerged on the left. In this telling, it was the timid, lazy press corps that failed to rigorously challenge the president's core (mendacious) claims about his tax cuts and rationale for heading to war. Very valid criticisms. But these specific objections morphed into populist broadsides against what the left came to describe as "the mainstream media"--avatars of establishmentarian groupthink who bend to the latest conventional wisdom emerging from D.C. cocktail parties and neurotically fret that they might be just as biased as their conservative critics allege. On The Huffington Post and its ilk, you would find rants about how "Beltway media really makes no effort to do anything other than parrot totally out-of-touch conventional wisdom--no matter how inane, stupid and ridiculous it is."

This rhetoric creates a poisonous atmosphere. By assaulting the credibility of the press, it destroys its authority in the culture, giving cover to politicians who would rather avoid dealing with reporters in the first place. ... When the administration needed to make its case, it took to the local press or Fox News, where it had no fear of probing questions.

At times, Obama has hinted that he will borrow from the Bush playbook and deal with the press only as he pleases, using new technology to vault over the old arbiters. Fortunately, that hasn't been his methodology in recent weeks... This is fortunate, because Obama is presiding over a turning-point moment in media history.

Obama can help set a tone for liberals, convincing them to ratchet down their hostility to newspapers and begin crusading on behalf of these imperiled organizations. The media deserves liberal critics, who hold it accountable. But it also deserves liberal defenders because a press working toward the ideal of objectivity is often the only means of blunting government or business run amok... Even the press's fiercest critics have been forced to acknowledge and fear its findings--an authority that will never exist in a world consisting entirely of partisan outlets. ...

Many venerable newspapers and magazines will close in the coming weeks and months; the ones that remain will be attenuated. But the old ideals embodied in these institutions must not be permitted to join the carnage.

When the press does its job well, it deserves defenders, and when it does a lousy job, it deserves being taken to task. The complaint seems to be that the criticism is without foundation, and there's some of that, but the fundamental problem is not, in my view, the people doing the criticizing, it's the media companies themselves. The argument also seems to treat "media" as something other than Fox News. I agree that the term journalism conjures up another image, as it should, but presently Fox News isn't clearly separate from other media outlets, far from it, and the commingling of all of these sources of information in the minds of the public is part of the problem. If journalists in the mainstream media want respect, they need to differentiate themselves from the "partisan outlets," including calling foul loudly and in no uncertain terms when Fox or whomever crosses the line, and they also need to do a better job themselves of establishing and maintaining their credibility through solid reporting.

    Posted by on Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (66)

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