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Journalism

The Objectively Lefty Press

One aspect of the Journolist controversy that bears noting is what it reveals about the mind of the Press.   For one, I found it interesting that Ryan Avent, now an editor at The Economist was a Journolister.  In one post about Governor Palin, he :

complained that Obama's supporters were missing a chance to attack. "If we were the GOP, we'd be taking this opportunity to shout long and loud how unprepared Palin is--'She doesn't even know what Fannie and Freddie are . . . . That's the difference in the game as played by us and by them.

When I subscribed to The Economist, I often found it interesting that their American coverage tended to lean to the Left, even as I found their European coverage more even-handed (at least on most issues).  Avent's presence on the list confirms my suspicion.  He was hired by like-minded folks, or to serve the same agenda.

Then there's Chuck Todd's lament.  He said:

"I am sure Ezra had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don't practice activist journalism.

"Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

"This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It's very depressing."

Todd was not on Journolis.  He is upset that the mere existence of Journolist will seem to confirm what conservatives have long been saying about the press.   What I find interesting is that Todd thinks it is relatively easy to distinguish advocates from journalists.   It seems to me that the the reason why the list grew to be so big is that it is often hard to tell the difference.  The trouble is not that good and well intentioned reporters like Todd are deliberately biased.  The trouble is that objectivity is impossible.  The key questions for journalists are what story to tell and how to tell it.  Does one begin a story about the war in Iraq with the body count (American or Iraqi?), with Saddam's tyranny? With government corruption?  With a story of good work by U.S. doctors there?  Etc. There's no objective way to answer that question.  It is a lie to pretend there is. 

Science does not tell us what is a fact or what facts to study.  That's, ultimately, a moral judgment.  And morals cannot be studied scientifically, at least not if we define science after the modern fashion.  One might even say that it is the belief, on one hand, that only modern science can give us truth and, on the other, that moral judgments can be made better by experts, trained with the modern scientific method that, combined with the abstract acknowledgment that science does not teach morals, that is the foundation of modern liberalism.

Categories > Journalism

Discussions - 11 Comments

When I was a liberal, did I know I was a liberal?

Probably journalists know what they are, but I am not sure everyone in America knows if they are a liberal, conservative, or a moderate. Just observing, after a luncheon with a whole lot of people after the funeral of a really nice man.

As I tune in, one woman turns to another and asks, "Aren't you a Democrat?'

The other, younger (blonde) woman says, "I don't know. That's the 'D' one, right? I am whatever my husband is."

"Oh," says the other, "I thought you were a free thinker."

"I am. What's Obama? I don't like him. I'm the other kind. I don't like what Obama says."

"You're a Republican, then."

"I don't know what I am. I just know I don't like Obama. Whatever he is, I'm the other."

Oh, I thought. There's American politics for you. I went around listening for that kind of conversation, joined in, in a observing sort of way. I am thinking, this evening, anyway, based on an afternoon after an Irish Catholic funeral, that maybe a large number of Americans don't know if they are "D" or "R" or liberal or conservative, or anything. They aren't even "Moderate" or "Independents" because that means something they don't think they are, either. They aren't political in that way. They listen to this guy or that guy on the evening news and they make judgments. They like him or her or they don't like them.

Journalists might influence those decisions with how they present the facts -- or don't. But most of the time people decide based on what they see and hear of the people in office or running for office. They don't read. They barely listen to the commentary. They don't care about that stuff.

I am really concerned here. Has any member of the Journolist come up with the answer to the most important question of the century - Is Trig Palin Sarah Palin's son or Bristol Palin's son? Or will the Journolist leave that all important question to Andrew Sullivan who knows more about Sarah Palin's motherhood than Sarah Palin.

Good lord, Kate, what you are describing are people with a really bad case of the stupids. No wonder the country's in trouble.

I don't know that they are stupid. They just don't pay attention to politics. They even vote; it's a duty, and I wonder how they make their choices, based on what kinds of impressions. The older woman in that conversation has told me she loves everything Obama does. He's so cool. Other people were talking about Obamacare and the split there seemed based in those who wish to make decisions for themselves and those who wish (or think they wish) not to have to think about such things. What was funny to me was that education or intelligence (or stupidity) didn't even seem to apply in terms of where they stood in that.

I don't know, Redwald. Looking at my life, I might be better off if I didn't think about politics or the world so much. There are plenty of other things to think about.

All the individuals on Journolist had to be invited by Ezra Klein - Tucker Carlson, for example, heard about the Journolist when it first came out and asked to be let onto the listserv but was told he wasn't allowed (invite only, you see).

The problem Journolist presents to the MSM is that they did, in fact, collaborate on not reporting stories that would be harmful to the Obama campaign, among many other things (one journalist thanked everyone for the varied attack lines they provided for him to use against Sarah Palin when he went on an evening news program).

So yes, Kate, they would have an effect on the disinterested public you describe because the little political news the Moderates do take in is saying/not saying the same things across the board (not mentioning Jeremiah Wright, hammering Sarah Palin, etc).

I had a student many years ago who informed me, after several weeks of class, that she was dropping the course. Why? Something like this: "This course is getting me interested in what's going on and I don't want to know about that stuff." Go figure.

As to journalism, I believe that the notion of objectivity that informs the media today is essentially nihilism, as there are no criteria of relevance other than the five W's and H, as well as prominence, timeliness and controversy. That kind of "objectivity" is madness, but it has worked to shield journalists from public accountability for their reporting and editing decisions. For an extended analysis of this problem, see my work at http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Journalism-Seriously-Richard-Reeb/dp/076181275X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281109454&sr=1-1.

Yes, I know that what is echoing around American media has an influence on what people think in an "Everyone knows ...." kind of way. I think adult people do watch the news. How do you get away from it these days? I find TVs tuned to it as a distraction from boredom (or something) everywhere from doctor's offices to restaurants to airports to grocery lines. It may take more of an effort to tune it out than than to tune in.

Modern journalism is all about entertainment and modern politics reflects that more than journalism reflects modern politics. Maybe you are what you watch, these days. Journolist or not, there is a kind of group think built into media participation, either from the dispensing end or the receiving end.

I really find myself more in sympathy with that young blond because she is only listening for someone to say what she likes rather than listening for someone to tell her what to think, when she listens at all.


Richard Reeb, I can figure what your student meant and almost cannot blame her. Sometimes a heightened awareness of the world is just enervating. You must have been doing a good job.

I'll tell you what our ultimate duty is -- to be fully human, OBSERVING and THINKING are requisite. Kate, these people you describe aren't doing either, and that makes them stupid in my book. Why? The only real difference between us and other animals is our greater ability to perceive and manipulate the environment. Dumb animals can't anticipate large-scale changes in their environments, but we can/should. That's why we are still around, despite our less-than-stellar physical/anatomical characteristics.

I have no respect for such "moderates." They are dooming this country with their ignorance, their refusal to use logic and commonsense, and their intellectual laziness. It's really a form of narcissism -- they make decisions based on how something makes them feel. Essentially, they are just navel-gazing children.

I agree with the sentiment Kate, and I disagree in part with Redwald.

Its too much to assume that these folks aren't observing or thinking. Especially since in your next sentence you say: " The only real difference between us and other animals is our greater ability to perceive and manipulate the environment."

The more I pay attention to politics the more I realize that my ability to manipulate the evironment is drastically limited. There is so little agency involved, that in part ignorance is bliss or at least a certain measured serenity about the things one cannot change. You make political decisions based upon the mood of friends, you appease your husband by sharing his political views, or side with friends, then at least you can employ your agency to make folks around you happy. Making political decisions on the basis of how they make you feel while potentially narcissitic is also a form of modesty. Political decision making for others often times boils down to maximizing utility or good feeling. If you don't feel good doing so you are actually deceasing your utility, which decreases aggregate utility, especially if your proximate cause or influence is slight.

Your ultimate or natural duty is to happiness, excessive observation and thinking are often times not suited to this end. Justice Ginsberg says that being hard of hearing and selectively unobservant are keys to a healthy marriage. If strictly speaking you moderated your observations and thinking and made these serve those areas of life in which you had a measure of agency my guess is that you would be happier.

There is nothing contradictory in theory about a level of participation that served up diminishing marginal returns. In fact such a point is mandatory. It is entirely possible that there is a policy that is better(that would generate more aggregate utility) but would cost in terms of participation more anger and general frustration. So says Ginsberg about utility, utopia and marriage. Her general message was that you can't make people perfect, you can't make society perfect and you can't make the laws perfect.

She then transitioned into a conversation about picking your battles generally. Picking your battles isn't far from the over sensationalized problem that Objectivity is impossible. That's life really. Picking your battles, seperating the wheat from the shaft. Making a determination about relative merit, and eventually pulling the trigger, or deciding to act, deciding when additional thinking or observing will yield diminishing marginal returns. The reporter asks how much more do I need for my story, given writting/editing time, word limit. It's always a question of "good enough".

Good enough never gets to "objectivity", but a good rule of thumb in my book is that whatever is impossible doesn't exist. Still it seems ridiculous to say that some approximations aren't better than others.

There is good faith objectivity, and purposeful slant.

Thank you, John Lewis. Redwald, I know what you mean. However, "The more I pay attention to politics the more I realize that my ability to manipulate the environment is drastically limited. " is certainly true and why I say what I do above about being in sympathy with that girl and all those other people I have listened to lately who are maybe more involved where they live than with the wide world they can do so little to effect.

I have heard since that the conservatively inclined blond is a dental hygienist because she thinks it is something good she can do for mankind. I'm sorry, but I have to love that. There are people like Mother Theresa and there are blond dental hygienists in Mentor, Ohio and they are giving of themselves in their own way to help mankind. She's got a point. I have met people with mouths that resemble the slums of Calcutta. I would be afraid to go there.

Anyway, as I said, she votes and I don't see what else she could do to effect political change in America. I like her political instincts since she doesn't like what Obama says even if she cannot articulate exactly what that is.

Redwald, neither of those women are "moderates" One is a blindly dedicated liberal. The other is an apolitical conservative. I prefer the latter. Political moderates, people who want to see all sides of the argument and insist on the luxury to not make up their minds, are something else. We all know people like that who think they are above partisanship, but are really beneath the ability to make a good, well-reasoned decision.There are a lot of those people in America, but fewer than there were. Good for good old polarizing Obama-style politics.

Di you guys read Peggy Noonan this week? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703748904575411713335505250.html?mod=igoogle_wsj_gadgv1 She says America is about to boil over. I think she is wrong about that, since I am currently thinking that many people are not truly engaged with events. She is right that those people who are paying attention are pessimistic. Of course, Redwald, you are right that people are going to have to be aware for America to return to its former promise, and that it's a pity if they aren't aware. Democrats in DC and some old-line Republicans are counting on an America that does not really pay attention.

I wish those folks who just live busy, peaceful lives didn't have to get upset about the state of the country. I don't think some of them are up to it.

Last week I was talking to a young man of a good family who is mostly aware of the world around him, but not at all sure what to do about it. He had recently learned that he has an IQ of 90, which explained quite a lot. Is ignorance an excuse for people whose problem is not that they are intellectually lazy, but that they haven't got much intellect. This young man was raised to think he was going to have to work hard to do anything with himself, and, God bless him, he is now aware that he will have to work really hard just to keep up. I think he is being objective about that, or at least exhibiting common sense.

Most people are not taught common sense any more. I know a lot of intellectual people who will tell you there is no such thing. Does it exist or is it impossible? Why don't journalists seem to have it?

So, you both are saying that frustration leads to apathy, and apathy in turn leads to ignorance? I'm not buying it. Most people in America feel politically frustrated, but not everyone abandons their obligation to understand and act on political questions. Those who do turn away do so for reasons of laziness or to avoid "pain" (i.e., frustration). It's pure selfishness/narcissism, and while their is little "agency" in our political system, there is enough to justify an active interest in our political system.

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