Yes. Be careful.
written by Bill:
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“A note to the notably angry, sarcastic American, the ‘snarlygaster’ who … expresses glee at the troubles of the U.S. newspaper industry
and the hope that the nation’s dailies disappear:
“Be careful what you wish for. You may end up with Andrew Breitbart.”
quoted text was written by Dan Rodricks, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.
Breitbart, for those who may not follow such things, is
an angry right-wing blogger. He’s been involved in a number of questionable dust-ups, most recently the one which resulted in the
fouled-up firing of Shirley Sherrod by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Breitbart took comments out of context, which made Sherrod
look racist in a reverse black-against-white way. The smear was further compounded when Sherrod’s employer, the ag department, fired
her without doing the due diligence necessary to determine if the accusations were true.
As everyone now knows, it was not
true. And everyone from President Obama to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to news organizations that picked up the story without
proper backgrounding, is properly and deservedly embarrassed.
And Ms. Sherrod? She’s the celebrity of the day.
to Rodrick’s comments. His thoughts mirror my own.
As someone who has spent nearly 40 years in the study and practice of journalism,
I am stunned by what masquerades as news these days and by the naïve acceptance of that environment by so many people.
are many factors involved, of course, but let’s discuss a few.
• As to the charge that traditional (or “mainstream”) journalists are
liberal and biased to left-wing causes … guilty. Sort of. I have known hundreds and hundreds of journalists over the years, and it
is true that many are more liberal than the general public. But not all, certainly; I’m conservative myself. The idea that journalists
are biased in favor of left-wing causes is occasionally accurate, though far less often than the journalist-haters would have one
believe. The vast majority of journalists I’ve known — liberals, conservatives and others — are only biased in favor of a good story.
They do not ask if it fits a certain narrative. If it’s a compelling yarn, they go for it, and do their best to tell it like it is.
And then, in traditional media, news pages and opinion pages are clearly labeled and separated.
• Regarding the digital revolution’s
death blow to traditional news … that jury remains out. It’s true that fewer people want dead-tree journalism, the ink on paper sort.
But readership of news in a variety of formats remains high — on paper, on Web sites, on mobile devices, on social media networks.
The problem is not so much the size of the audience as it is an inability — so far — to figure out a way to monetize these new means
of delivering content. I’m both an optimist and a believer in the value of good factual reporting. Given time, the news industry will
figure it out.
• Finally, about that phrase “good factual reporting.” As Rodrick suggests, “be careful what you wish for.” The tenets
of professional journalism hold as almost holy the quest for impartial presentation of the facts. Yes, I agree, absolute impartiality
is probably impossible. Every decision, every question asked, every word chosen has a connection to the life experiences and worldview
of the reporter. But the principled quest for impartiality is not impossible. Ethical journalists never stop trying.
traditional news industry has imploded and fragmented, those seeking to take its place are often far less ethical or wedded to following
where the facts may lead. Think Breitbart.
The blogosphere clearly is the worst example. Its practitioners, for the most part,
do not pretend to impartiality or claim to be engaging in an ethical search for objective truth. They produce almost no original reporting.
Mostly, they spin and opine and twist a partial set of facts to fit whatever ideological narrative drives their bus.
cable news cycle is only marginally better, regularly blurring the line between reporting and opinion. Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann
are no more paragons of journalistic truth than Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. They are commentators, picking and choosing the facts
they will present in order to press a particular viewpoint.
Talk radio? No one who believes there are at least two sides to
every argument can take talk radio seriously.
As a conservative, by the way, I absolutely believe the news business is just as subject
to the rules of the marketplace as your local grocer or shoe store. If, ultimately, the customer doesn’t want what we’re selling,
we cease to exist.
So be it.
But, as Rodrick wrote, “be careful what you wish for.” An America in which an avalanche
of digital information arrives pre-shrunk through ideological filters, appealing strictly to audiences of the rigidly like-minded,
leaves scant room or resources for the independent thinking required for effective self-government.
Traditional reporting of the news
is not perfect. Reporters aren’t perfect, either.
But what happens when the search for truth is replaced by ideological propaganda?
Be careful what you wish for.