Sunday, June 27, 2010

Big Government, Bad Journalism and Manipulating the News

Glenn Reynolds linked to a post at Hot Air by Doctor Zero discussing the Dave Weigel/Journolist scandal that unfolded this week. If you missed it the short version is that Weigel was a columnist for the Washington Post whose beat was coverage of the conservative movement and the TEA Parties. In fact he was not the neutral observer he pretended to be but a virulent hater of conservatives, a fact he let slip on a listserv known as Journolist. Someone leaked some of his posts over there, rendering his job at the Washington Post untenable. 

That brings us to the second and probably more important  part of this story. Journolist (now taken down) was a liberals-only forum for journalists with some 400 members. It's purpose was to provied a formum where they could discuss and shape stories for the purpose of advancing a particular narrative. Here is Doctor Zero's summation of the Weigel affair:

"Weigel has spent the last few months working as an observer of the conservative movement for the Washington Post, whose readers must wonder about the identity of the vast Tea Party crowds occasionally blocking their view of the IRS building. As it turns out, Weigel really hates the people he’s been covering, and sees himself precisely the way conservatives see most dinosaur-media reporters: as a partisan operative of the Democrat Party. He expressed his hatred, and loyalties, in a series of communications posted to JournoList. These emails became an embarrassing burst of digital flatulence when they were made public. Weigel is out of a job at theWashington Post, and JournoList is gone."

And here is what the issue boils down to:

"Here we cross the line between editorial decisions and bias. Why would an unbiased newspaper be afraid to honestly report news that makes one side of a political debate look appealing, instead assigning a reporter to highlight fringe material to cast them in the most negative light possible? Of course, they are biased, but it’s even worse than that. They’re subjective. They pretend to be commentators, but they’re actually players in the game… just like everyone else. Our fates are all controlled by the immense central government worshipped by the Post. They have a vested interest in ensuring its sustained growth, so they can make their fortune writing epic tales of its heroic deeds."

This is the issue with the mainstream media, and you've heard me banging on about it before, but things really appear to be coming to a head lately as the conservative side gains strength in the polls and the left becomes ever more desparate to cling to power in November. I'll leave you with a few questions  one of Glenn's readers asks:

"Why is no one calling for the outing of the 400 JournoList members and an investigation of whether there were any other attempts to collude and to coordinate the media narrative? Is no else as disturbed by this as I am? We’re constantly told that the media are special, that they’re the Fourth Estate, and that their proper functioning is vital to the health of the Republic. Well, is no one else profoundly disturbed that no one is watching the watchers? Or that the watchers are actually colluding in a virtual smoke-filled back room to massage and frame the narrative?

Imagine if a conservative listserv were discovered, and that it included Rupert Murdoch and 400 conservative pundits and journalists. Imagine if it were disclosed that the participants actively discussed coordination in framing stories so as to benefit the Republican Party. Do you think there would be a ho hum “Oh, it was just a private list” response? Of course not, the liberals would be howling to the rafters about the existential threat to the Republic.

So why all the frivolity here? Even now, the Weigel story is breaking down into stupid distractions like whether Weigel actually wished death on Drudge, or whether people on a listserv have an expectation of privacy. Seriously, why is that even remotely important compared to the fact that 400 of this nation’s most prominent journalists and pundits were having discusions about killing or promoting stories based on whether they hurt the Democratic Party agenda? If there is any justice or sanity in this world, this should be bigger than ClimateGate. I want to see an archive of the JournoList postings and then compare them to any contemporaneous stories written by participants. Once that is done, we can tar and feather the bastards for betraying their profession and the people of this country."

All very good questions, ones I hope a lot of us will be demanding answers too. Go read both posts. There are lots of good links from the Hot Air post too.
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