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Friday, December 16, 2005

Twenty-Three Skidoo and CJR Too

Although I'm quite flattered to have my blue line about penis-shaped ornaments on the Clinton Christmas tree quoted in a respectable publication like the Columbia Journalism Review (Hey, Mom, guess what?, no need to go read it...) I am a bit disconcerted to find such an august periodical dismissing the Froomkin flap and the GOP extortion of the Washington Post as a figment of the overheated liberal imagination:
[T]he brouhaha has some liberal bloggers revving their engines (froom, froom, frooooom ...) and chasing down what they imagine to be yet another right-wing conspiracy.
As Anonymous Liberal says quite well, this position wholly misstates both the nature of the problem at hand, and the quote-unquote "liberal critique:"
In other words, we don't think the media is actively pursuing conservative interests; we think that the media, through its rigid adherence to certain journalistic conventions, has unintentionally contributed to the cheapening of political discourse. Put another way, unscrupulous partisans have learned to game the system. They've realized that the painfully formulaic structure of today's mainstream political reporting allows even the most dishonest and misleading talking points to gain currency.


Conservatives already dismiss all the reporting they don't like as the work of liberal critics. They've been doing this for over two decades and to great effect. In fact, it is this very allegation that has led political reporters to adhere so religiously to a format in which accuracy is routinely sacrificed in the name of "balance," and neutrality is valued above even truth. What a sad irony it is that Harris thinks these journalistic conventions make life more difficult for the White House. The truth is that the White House's political strategy entirely depends on this style of reporting. The key to Karl Rove's political success was his realization that he could count on mainstream journalists--who now fear, above all, the dreaded 'liberal bias' charge--to present almost any talking point, no matter how ludicrous, in a dueling narrative format free from any independent editorial judgment. Fear of the bias charge has essentially tied reporters hands behind their backs, making them unwilling or unable to do more than present differing narratives. The beauty of this strategy for the White House is that it's self-reinforcing: the more conservatives yell "liberal bias," the more rigid the balanced format becomes. And it certainly doesn't help matters when people like Harris contribute to the problem by accusing colleagues of liberal bias. The reality is that the White House has absolutely no desire to do away with this system. Why should they? It has served conservative political interests remarkably well over the years. As it stands, conservatives can dismiss reporting they don't like as the work of liberal critics while at the same time using the self-imposed neutrality of the press to facilitate the spread of misinformation. And those two strategies actually reinforce one another.
That the analysis of the situation by "the country's premier media monitor" is that glib and shallow and seemingly lacking in any appreciation whatsoever of the political dynamics working to hobble modern journalism is quite sad. I don't want to get on a high bloggy horse about the whole thing but I haven't seen anything that didn't come out of the blogosphere worth a damn on the whole topic.

The CJR wants to dismiss this as a "liberal blogosphere" phantom? Fine. They can just go spoon in the rumble seat with their Wilkie buttons, we'll wake them when the war's over.