Saturday, February 10, 2007

News for Sale

Something I don’t understand about the media’s penchant for pimping propaganda is how often they seem to be willfully ignoring the truth and only want to repeat what others say; even if it means their story is less interesting.  I was thinking about this while reading Brad DeLong’s takedown of Mike Allen’s anti-Barack propaganda piece.

Allen’s piece is a rundown of what Barack’s numerous, yet unnamed critics suggest are weaknesses in Barack’s armor.  And he has a largish section on Barrack’s name.  You see, Barack once said that his name is an Arabic word for “blessed”.  Yet he now says it’s a Swahili word for “blessed by God”.  And DeLong goes ahead and spoils the joke by pointing out that it’s the same word that means both things in both languages, as well as being a similar word in Hebrew that many Jews say as part of a standard prayer.

But the thing is, why did Allen leave it at that?  He implies that Barack is being deceitful about his name, but the better story would have been to prove it.  If it’s worth mentioning that Barack has contradicted himself, it’s even better if Allen could tell us what the word really means and prove to us that Barack is being deceitful.  That would turn a fairly lame story into a slightly better one.

But Allen doesn’t go there.  It wouldn’t have taken much research at all, yet Allen would prefer to just recite what Barack’s critics are saying, without doing the least bit of work.  Yet had he done a little work, he would have realized how foolish the whole thing was, and not made an idiot of himself.  And beyond that, he would have had a slightly better story, had the criticism been correct.  

So in either case, it behooved Allen to do the five minutes of research to settle the matter.  But it seems this happens all too often with reporters.  They’d be better at their jobs and not look like idiots, were they to do the least bit of investigating.  I’m not even talking about fact-checking, so much as digging out the bigger story.  After all, if Allen’s claims against Barack’s supposed name-change were correct, then it’d be even better for him to have told us what the name really meant and settled the matter.

But no.  That doesn’t happen and I don’t even know why.  Could they just fear that further research might undermine their lame story?  Is it just laziness?  It seems more likely that they just don’t even understand how to do their jobs and have been trained as stenographers, because they never seem to want to do any research.  Again, if Allen believed these claims had merit, it’s only natural that he’d take one tiny step further and prove it.

And I suspect this might be the fault of editors, who are supposed to make their reporters dig deeper (ala Perry White, and that dickhead editor of Spiderman), but are perhaps more concerned with deadlines and getting out product.  And in that regard, extra research only means extra delays, even if it can be done in a matter of two minutes on Google.  So perhaps at fault is the corporatization of the media, and the conflict between doing their job and making profits.  And it’s far more profitable for them to outsource their research to Republicans who will do the work for free.  Not only is it easier, but it’s more pleasing to their corporate masters.  

On the whole, I’m not one to bash corporations and the profit-motive, but when it comes to journalism, profits shouldn’t be a consideration.  The free-market system is more efficient in many cases, but journalism should be about truth, not efficiency.  And in this case, not only have journalists allowed themselves to be played like suckers, they’re not even doing their jobs.  But I guess gossip and empty smears are easier and more fun.  Perhaps someday they’ll all just accept jobs at the tabloids they want to work at and leave our newspapers to the real journalists.

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