Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Media Problems

This Josh Marshall post demonstrates three problems with the media today.  I quote:

I know Mike Allen, the author of today's Time interview/article with DeLay. So I'm sure this was no more than an error made under tight deadline pressure. But, still, it's important to set the record straight.
Mike writes ...
DeLay was forced to vacate his post as majority leader because of a House Republican rule (known as "the DeLay rule," because it was enacted amid concern about his legal situation) that requires a leader under indictment to step down.

The first problem is the one of relationships.  Josh knows Mike.  And because of that, he has to give a benefit of the doubt on this one; one that probably isn’t warranted.  Now, perhaps he was just vouching for Mike, showing that he’s not some GOP hack journalist.  But that wasn’t an assumption that I’d make from this.  My assumption was that Mike was too lazy to do research.  But Josh can’t say that, because they have some sort of relationship.  And because of that, Josh downplays the significance of Mike’s mistake.  

That’s one big reason why I’m against friendships: Because they’re expected to take priority over business, politics, and the other important things in life.  People are expected to do favors for friends and bend rules and whatnot.  And that’s exactly how the modern media works.  It’s just a big network of friends.  You’ve got friends like Josh Marshall who forgive bad reporting based on friendship, and friends like Karl Rove who can count on getting their untainted words reprinted directly into our nation’s newspapers.  While the right continues to complain about liberal bias, it’s obvious that the much stronger bias is towards the friend network.

And then there’s the bigger problem: Mike Allen didn’t know what the DeLay Rule was.  I could understand if this was a typo or a badly worded paragraph, but that’s not the case here.  He was fairly clear with what he wrote, and it wasn’t even close.  Rather than the DeLay Rule being this sleazy move to help a sleazy guy, Mike writes of it as a positive move by Republicans with ethical concerns.  Not only that, Mike doesn’t even seem to know that the DeLay Rule was reversed because it was such a political embarrassment.  Then again, it’s possible that Mike just confused the DeLay Rule with the original rule that the DeLay Rule was supposed to overturn.  But in any case, it’s obvious that Mike just wasn’t very familiar with this part of the story.  But that didn’t stop him from writing about it.

And that’s the thing: I can understand minor errors and whatnot, but Mike Allen wasn’t even fucking close.  Sure, tight deadlines and whatnot will lead to mistakes, and a reporter might not always have the time to do necessary research on everything.  But what research was required?  How can any political person not already know what the DeLay Rule was?  It was a big deal.  This wasn’t some obscure insider thing; this was a major story not too long ago.  I can understand why Joe Public might not know about it, but a reporter who covers politics for one of the most important news magazines in America?  How is that possible?  

And it’s my theory again that these people really just don’t care about politics.  It’s just a job.  And at the end of the day, they don’t eat/breath/sleep politics like most of us do.  And perhaps that’s the reason why they do such a poor job of covering politics.  And so they have trouble covering topics like the DeLay Rule or the Nuclear Option, because it’s a foreign language to them.  And just as you can’t really learn to speak a language until you immerse yourself in it, you can’t really cover politics unless you enjoy the topic and really get into it.  Yet these guys don’t even know the basic vocabulary.  So how can we expect them to understand the intricacies of what’s going on?  They think they can just quote a bunch of people and call it a day.  Why reinvent the wheel if you can just quote someone else’s?

Finally, while researching this, I saw the headline: Exclusive: Tom DeLay Tells Why He’s Quitting.  Why he’s quitting??  Uh, duh.  Because he’s totally screwed, that’s why.  Anyone with a brain would know that.  And yet if you read the whole piece, you’ll see that it’s just a giant blowjob to the guy.  Of course, I guess that’s what they had to agree to in order to get this “exclusive”.  But the question is what exactly is so great about getting an exclusive that’s entirely based on half-truths and outright lies?  Does objectivism mean nothing?  Is it perhaps that politicians get a free pass once they announce that they’re quitting politics?  Probably.  But I don’t think that’s why this story got written.  This was written solely so Time could announce that they had an exclusive.  I’m out of time right now, so I can’t really tie this up like I might like to, or even edit it properly.  So just count this as my fancypants ending.


trilobite said...

"objectivism" does not mean nothing. Objectivism means, a philosophy promulgated by Ayn Rand, characterized by a belief in the preeminent importance of property and contract rights.

I suspect, however, that the word you were after was "objectivity."

Which I wouldn't bother noting, except that it's actually a similar sort of mistake to getting the DeLay Rule confused with the rule it attempted to replace. Pretty dumb, yah. But basically a brain futz, nothing more.

wtf said...

Brain 'futz's should not make it past the editors in a major national weekly.

Here I am willing to acknowledge a possible power spike in the Biobrain.

I like TPM as much as anyone but you raise a great point. Cult of personality and proximity to power seem to be the thing driving most mainstream reporters today, rather than attention to their crafts.

I think that every six months sports reporters and political reporters should have to switch jobs. The political reporters actually might learn something about reporting facts and with sports reporters we might actually get some facts...

But then maybe sport reporters just eat/sleep/breath sports...and political reporters just SUCK.