Friday, December 7, 2012

Elsewhere: 2016, Republicans, More

A few things from the last couple days:

At PP, I wrote about Tom Mann, Norm Ornstein, and where the press failed in 2012. Yesterday, I brought up election mechanics reform, and urged people not to forget about it. At Greg's place on Wednesday, I noted that if liberals want Senate reform they should actively push for it.

And at PP on Wednesday I did one about early 2016 polling compared with early 2016 reporting. I'm for the latter, but don't see much point to the former.


  1. In other words, if the neutral press refuses to accurately describe what both parties are doing, even when it will have the effect of making clear that the parties are not equivalent, then eventually people looking for the truth are going to flee to the partisan press.

    (Does James Earl Jones impression): THIS... is CNN.

  2. I've always been unsympathetic to arguments that the press should end their pose of neutrality and simply say "we're right and they're wrong". That's not the press's job, whether your hobby horse is Republican insanity, the case against the Iraq war, the evils of neoliberalism, moral decay and un-Godliness, the unsoundness of fiat currency, etc.. It's your job to make your own arguments; there's plenty of channels for that regardless of what the "neutral press" does. Yes, I realize this is somewhat of a heretical position for a long-time reader of liberal blogs.

    I can understand the argument that when it comes to fact-checking, false equivalence is a problem. But for the press make the larger case against the Republican Party as an institution, they would have to stop being the neutral press by definition. I guess one reason why people want journalists to play this role is that "neutral" actors have more credibility for the uncommitted who will discount the usual partisan crossfire. (Assumptions that are pretty obsolete in an era of partisan press, few true independents, and declining trust in the media). But to take sides in such an explicit manner would just cause you to be perceived as just another partisan actor For every example of effective "non-neutral" reporting (Civil Rights, Watergate), you could find other examples where such "fearless journalism" provoked a backlash (Iran-Contra) or apathy (Whitewater) from the unconverted. And in all those cases journalism probably wasn't as good (or bad) as we remember, nor as crucial as the behavior of elected officials and other political actors.

    Would we accept this philosophy of journalism if it was a matter of the press calling out liberals as "objectively wrong"? Of course not! Whoever heard of a sports fan saying "the refs are horrible! look how many bad calls they made! fortunately for us, they're all in our favor!" Wikipedia's article on the "hostile media effect" should be required for those who want to take bitching about the media at face value. Committed activists always think the media is against them, just spend two seconds with someone committed to the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian causes and you'll see what I mean.

    Maybe the partisan press will be closer to the objective truth sometimes--but as liberal Democrats aren't we all inclined to believe MSNBC is closer to the objective truth anyway? The best the neutral press can do in such situations is to make journalism more opinion-centered, provide a platform for a variety of "biased" actors to present their case in a relatively unfiltered manner. Really, "the media should cover things in ways we like" doesn't sit well with everything else I read on here about democracy, legitimate policy differences, etc. What Orstein and Mann said at the end of the piece--forget evenhandedness and advertisers and just report the truth!--is basically a Mr. Smith-ist view of the media.

  3. That’s small ball Jonathan. The biggest failing of the press has been to not actively question our government and other institutions of power, with the first major incident being the run-up to the Iraq war. The government secrecy and infringements on freedom that we’ve seen since then have been rarely commented on, much less questioned. The NDAA would have been repealed almost immediately had the press devoted proper reportage to it. (I’d like to tell you that “only X% of Americans support indefinite detention without trial,” but there isn’t even enough media interest to run a proper poll on the issue.)

    I really don’t know what a “neutral” press is supposed to be. If you only think of the press as being a referee between the Democrats and Republicans, then maybe that term makes sense to you. What the press should be is the eyes and ears of democracy. There are many individual reporters who see their role in those terms, but the institution as a whole has become almost irrelevant to the big issues of our democracy.

  4. The argument that a press that doesn't report the unbiased truth fully will send the public to the partisan press seems to rely on an assumption that the public has a basis for judging bias and truth that goes beyond what they're being told by their main sources of information. For many people, "they both do it" will always be the default standard of even-handedness.


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