Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Journalists Insisting on (Their Own) Right to Privacy

One of the pleasures of digging into MSNBC’s story on the political contributions of working journalists is seeing how people who making a living calling up strangers and demanding answers adapt when they’re on the other end of the phone. Bill Dedman of MSNBC combed through Federal Election Commission records to come up with a list of 144 journalists who have made political contributions in the last three years. It appears he attempted to contact nearly every one of them, but roughly a third of the dedicated professionals defending the public’s right to know either didn’t return Dedman’s calls or messages, or refused to speak when he did reach them.

The refusals include some gems:

"I don’t believe I have to answer that question. Goodbye. Thank you for your call."

"I’m not comfortable being included in the story. Do not publish my name."

"I’m not going to comment on this. I’m not going to have a conversation about this. I’m not going to give you a read one way or another."

"It doesn’t sound like this is going to be a positive story. This sort of story could not possibly be positive for me, so I’m not going to respond. Good luck. Goodbye."

"OK, I’ve been rebuked. Thank you for spanking me in public. Do you hand in all your rights as a public citizen when you do this? I mean — who’s your editor? I’m going to call him right now."

Discussions - 7 Comments

It should not come as a surprise that people employ a double standard. That's a fact of human nature.

In the past being called out on the double standard would elicit at least some embarrassment or shame. No longer.

What I've not been able to figure out is this: when called on it today, do these people ...

  • Not see it because they're just not smart enough to see it? Or,
  • Not see it because though they once did, they've now convinced themselves it doesn't exist? Or,
  • See it and acknowledge it, but have some rationalization for it, however illogical it may be? Or,
  • See it, but flat out don't care that they're employing it?

These quotes are priceless. The punks can dish it out, but they can't take it.

As Edward R. Murrow once said, journalists don't have thin skin. They have no skin at all.

I'm particularly enthralled by the concept of journalist as "public citizen". We lack a definition of this daffy Orwellian concept by its originator.

So much for the public's right to know. At least these guys know how to handle the press. The less said the better.

However, that last quote; does that journalist really think he has done something wrong? Do we all really care that these guys give campaign contributions? To whom is an issue of public interest, but that they give - what's wrong with this?

Some of us call for complete disclosure of political contributions. My take on it has been that if I know who is contributing to a candidate, or to a party or to any political entity, then I have a better understanding of what sort of of politics he has/they have based on that backing. If it is an embarrassment from this angle, that the contributor is embarrassed to know that he contributed to a specific candidate, can this be construed as inhibiting free political expression? Would this keep people from contributing at all?

(I already posted this comment in Joe Knippenberg's post about the MSNBC report outing Dem journalists, but as I also am critiquing this post from Mr. Voegeli, I'm going to repost it here - not that I think anyone will bother to read it!)

I probably shouldn't bother responding to this blog post, as it's already a whopping THREE DAYS old! That's ancient history in the "blogosphere" isn't it? But I have a little time to kill, so here goes...

The first thing that has struck me in Mr. Knippenberg's and Mr. Voegeli's posts on this report is the apparent conclusion being drawn that Democrat = liberal (or even leftist). Surely, as we're often reminded here by both the bloggers and commenters alike (esp. as the Bush/Cheney Administration implodes), there are important distinctions to be made between a member of the GOP and those pols and thinkers who are truly, actually "conservative." Well, the same should go for the distinction between Dem and liberal. Just look at our legislators on Capitol Hill. We all know that America's liberals want the U.S. to get OUT of Iraq ASAP. Have the Dems really put on a serious effort to get this done? No. As we all know, there are Republicans who are slightly left-of-center and Dems who are slightly right-of-center (I would argue that there are more Dems to the right than Reps. to the left, and that the Dems go further to the right than their GOP counterparts, but that's an argument for another day that will probably never materialize, at least on this blog). So, giving to a Dem does not a liberal or a leftist make. I think this is an important distinction, actually a crucial distinction, because we so often hear the phrase, here and elsewhere, that the media is "liberally-biased." I can't say that I've EVER heard the phrase "partial to the Democrats," which actually might contain a kernel of truth, in certain areas.

Further, how did we jump from showing that more reporters give to Dems to determining therefore their actual reporting is skewed and tilted to the left? If that is so, are we to automatically assume that the number of journalists who gave to the GOP skew THEIR reporting to the right? Even I wouldn't necessarily make that assumption. When it comes to pinpointing and highlighting bias, we need to get into the details, get into the nitty-gritty of subjects covered (and not) and the manner in which they are covered. It strikes me as lazy to just say "more reporters vote Dem, so there you have it, the news is leftist agitprop." I suppose we can expect similar analyses of the validity of scientists' work now on any number of research subjects. [If they vote Dem, they are liberal and their science is just pushing an agenda, right? But when a non-scientist at AEI promotes the notion that global warming is a hoax, or not as severe as the scientists say (depending on when we ask him), and this policy guy is a right-wing Republican, what then? Are we to assume that he's just doing his research, with an objective goal of finding the truth on the issue? Just an example...]

I also question this "investigative report"'s overly broad definition of "journalist" for the purposes of the analysis. While I'm sure we could all agree that news writers, editors, correspondents and producers fall into the journalist category, some of the others who were outed here seem to be in the journalism profession in much more of a tangential way, esp. in the sense that their politics might be considered relevant or influential on their reporting. I have three friends who are or have been copy editors, and they described their job as much more technical than substantive. They are/were not editing the real content of the news (what is and is not covered), so much as the formatting, the grammar, and the length of the articles, and the more they might have tried to do such substantive editing, the more they would be at odds with whoever wrote the article. But, aside from that arguably borderline category, there are numerous others in this report that strike me as a real stretch for "journalist" - no disrespect intended for what they do. Sports editors, statisticians and reporters; real estate reporters, travel columnists, technology correspondents, graphic design editors, fashion editors, classical music critics, entertainment reporters, food writers, automobile critics, personal finance columnists, theatre and film critics, at least 10 people from The New Yorker (did they check the contribs. made by the staff of National Review?) 3 guys from Rolling Stone magazine (since when is that considered a news source? Yes, they have political opinions, but does anyone really think they're trying to give equal time and space to both sides?) and a guy from MTV news (who had the final -edited- quote in Mr. Voegeli's post), for God's sake!! Frankly, I don't give a damn if the same guy who describes last night's Cubs game or writes about the Pierre Cardin collection at a Milan fashion show is a Dem or a Repub. Does anyone, truly? And if we're including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and MTV News (!!), then we should also include The Nation, The Progressive, National Review, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, and Claremont Review of Books, among many, many others, should we not? Actually, the more I look at this MSNBC report list, the more it's laughable. Note that Corey Flintoff got busted for his wife's contribution, and since then NPR has tightened their "no contribs" policy (whereas Fox is fine with it). Are the spouses of journalists not allowed to contribute to campaigns? For what reason? What about the parents or children of journalists? This is getting rather silly, already.

But if people do think these contributions are a cause for alarm, I think greater attention should be paid higher up the ladder. Let's look at news editors and publishers. People who actually control and own the news media. Not only is it now controlled by a small and shrinking handful of corporations - that themselves have a variety of biases and preferences for many policies and political outcomes - but those at the top of this corporate news food chain have been identified as having a preference for Republicans. Here is the crucial part (from Editor & Publisher, Nov. 2000):

"The Editor & Publisher/TIPP poll also asked who the editors and publishers plan to vote for themselves next week. In another surprise, those willing to reveal their vote named Bush by a 2-1 margin. Publishers will vote for Bush at a 3-1 ratio, with editors favoring the Texas Governor by a narrow margin. Even those who plan to vote for Gore name Bush as the likely winner of the election.

Asked whether they felt that newspapers have provided biased coverage of the presidential race this year, 25% said yes. Nearly 4 out of 5 who said that newspapers favored one candidate named Al Gore as the beneficiary. The vast majority of this group, however, are Bush backers."

And I think this little Oct. 2004 fact-check from Eric Boehlert in Salon is also helpfully clarifying:

"'Look, the Republican candidate will never win the contest for editorial board endorsements. The major dailies across the country tend to skew liberal,' RNC chairman Ed Gillespie told CNN last week. That spin comes straight out of the GOP handbook that insists the mainstream press tilts to the left, so of course newspapers love Democrats come Election Day.

Only problem is it’s not accurate. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Since 1940 when the industry trade magazine Editor & Publisher began tracking newspapers during presidential elections, only two Democratic candidates — Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — have ever won more endorsements than their Republican opponent. That’s because newspaper publishers, who usually sign off on endorsements, tend to vote Republican (like lots of senior, corporate executives), which means GOP candidates pick up more endorsements. A lot more. In 1984, president Ronald Reagan landed roughly twice as many endorsements as Democrat Walter Mondale in the president’s easy re-election win. And in 1996, despite his weak showing at the polls, 179 daily newspapers endorsed Republican Bob Dole, which easily outpaced the Democrats’ tally by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

In 2000, the overwhelming trend towards Republicans continued."

Of course, competence can be a factor rising above ideology, and thus Bush lost the endorsement race in '04 (but by a rather narrow margin - 208 for Kerry, 189 for GWB).

Well, since few blog-readers will come this far, and fewer still who have figured out that I question the whole premise that the MSM is a big liberal propaganda machine, I will simply sum up by saying that the MSNBC report appears to prove very little, and that where there is bias, and where such bias matters most is that of the owners, the editors (editorial boards), and the corporate publishers/producers of these various news outlets. And MTV News is about as serious of an objective news source as The O'Reilly Factor or The Colbert Report.

(And I'm sorry I couldn't be as concise and pithy as "The punks can dish it out, but they can't take it.")

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