On journalists and Governor Palin

What is the one thing that will anger a journalist faster than anything else?

Telling him that he is not important.

Last night Governor Sarah Palin said, “I am not going to Washington to seek [journalists’] good opinion.” No line could be more calculated to set off a flurry of fluster and flummery among the elite media. This means war.

She should have done what the other guy did and coddled reporters, sweet-talked them, gave them the precious gift of “access”.

Obama was more savvy. And lo, He gathered them—every major “non-biased” journalist in the country—and brought them on his victory tour of Europe. He gave them then and gives them now minute-by-minute access to his Grand Personage.

Obama’s master move, however, was to tell the media exactly what it wants to hear: “You guys are smart. You know what is right. Your ideas are important.”

See, what happens is something like this. A newly fledged reporter starts covering events. She writes down what has happened at some function so that others can read about it. The events and functions are important, so the reporter begins to feel that she is important. As time passes and more events are covered, our journalist begins to second guess the actions of those on whom she reports. She supports some of those actions, and disapproves of others. The temptation to interdict between the truly important people and her audience becomes overwhelming and she gives in. She begins to editorialize, to selectively include and exclude, and finally to advocate.

Because reporters cover weighty, influential, and serious matters they come to believe that they themselves are weighty, influential, and serious.

The fallacy is obvious.

The reason the media is now so apoplectic in its uncivilized, sexist, and ridiculous attacks on Governor Palin is because of just one thing. Petulance.

The main stream media is having a tantrum. They want to be told again that they are as important as they think they are. They are livid that anybody could not see this and they won’t stop screaming until they get their way.

Is it any wonder, then, that more and more people are switching them off and turning to alternatives?

14 Comments

  1. And to add to your comments, Peggy Noonan of WSJ had this interesting paragraph about the media in her latest column http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html
    “The mainstream media, which has been holding endless symposia here on the future of media in the 21st century, is in danger of missing a central fact of that future: If they appear, once again, as they have in the past, to be people not reporting the battle but engaged in the battle, if they allow themselves to be tagged by that old tag, which so tarnished them in the past, they will do more to imperil their own future than the Internet has.

    This is true: fact is king. Information is king. Great reporting is what every honest person wants now, it’s the one ironic thing we have less of in journalism than we need. But reporting that carries an agenda, that carries Bubblehead assumptions and puts them forth as obvious truths? Well, some people want that. But if I were doing a business model for broadsheets and broadcast networks I’d say: Fact and data are our product, we’re putting everything into reporting, that’s what we’re selling, interpretation is the reader’s job, and think pieces are for the edit page where we put the hardy, blabby hacks.

    That was a long way of saying: Dig deep into Sarah Palin, get all you can, talk to everybody, get every vote, every quote, tell us of her career and life, she may be the next vice president. But don’t play games. And leave her kid alone, bitch.”

  2. Probably explains why most of my college friends got their news from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Presented in a self-depracating and smart-assish manner.

  3. When I was a teaching assistant I taught introductory physics courses for non-technical students (that is, very light math). Inevitably I would get around to talking to them about why they chose the majors that they chose. Psychology students would say things like “I’m interested in how the mind works”, education students would reply “I really like to teach”, etc. But journalism students ALWAYS had answers like: “to cause change”, “to make a difference”, “because it’s the most important job in the world”, stuff like that.

    Interestingly I did not hear any of these students say anything like: “I want to be a journalist because I want to report what happens in the world”.

    So I stored that information in my memory banks and I retrieve it whenever I am baffled by the media.

  4. See, it’s funny how a different lens can let people come to the same conclusion but from a completely different path…

    I completely agree, first off, with this statement: “Because reporters cover weighty, influential, and serious matters they come to believe that they themselves are weighty, influential, and serious.”

    This is nowhere more present than in the Tom Friedmanverse, where taxi cab drivers are the perfect sample for any population. Need to argue a half-baked hypothesis? No problem! Find three or four English-speaking cabbies, three or four English-speaking business executives, and then you can declare the truth to be found. Friedman has managed to puff himself up as an “expert” on global economics and trade without actually having to do all that silly “economics” stuff. Kind of like how most science reporters couldn’t tell you the difference between a mole in zoology, a mole in chemistry, and a mole in dermatology.

    However, I don’t think that the media is being driven by its self-importance in this case. In this case, I think it’s simply that they’re incapable of handling complex issues without resorting to platitudes and stupidity. It wouldn’t matter if Palin were GOP, Dem, pro-choice, pro-life, anti-life, anti-choice, or whatever. Complex issues call for oversimplified and bombastic “coverage,” rather than careful and intelligent analysis.

    I suppose I just tend to chalk it up to incompetence than a concerted effort to be anything.

  5. For some time now, the most important question I ask of any politician is, “Do you take the New York Times seriously?”

    If the answer is “Yes,” take a hike. You don’t even have a chance of being useful.

  6. Interesting, because I don’t generally listen to the pundits & reporters. If it’s a major political speech, I go tune to the station with the least commentary.

    But I did stick around at a local (Denver, CO) PBS station for a while after Palin’s speech to hear two journalists – make that three, I think the moderator was also a reporter – and a guy from Colorado Young Republicans, disucss her speech.

    When they came to the part about Palin not going to D.C. to win the favor of journalists, both reporters just grinned and ruefully admitted that their profession ranks below Lawyers right now in the popular estimation.

    IOW, I didn’t see any signs of ruffled feathers, so my question is, where are all the nose-bent journalists? (and mind you once again that the foregoing was the only commentary I’ve read or listened to – I’m asing for links here).

  7. Palin probably wants the MSM to be as blatantly obvious in its partisanship as possible. The fact of partisanship is undeniable. When it is way over the top (see e.g. Us magazine cover), it helps her a lot.

    Of course, the MSM is capable of helping Democrats least during political campaigns. The GOP runs ads to counter the stories and the voters are more attuned to the partisanship because of the impending election. The MSM is far more effective when the electorate isn’t involved in an election. During those times, far more people think they are just getting the news.

  8. Rumor has it that the Operation Pink protesters at the Republican Convention got into the hall with credentials from MSNBC. Just one more blatant example.

    I disagree with the thesis that journalists start out unbiased but slip in that direction gradually. In my experience with journalists, the bias came first in every case.

  9. I haven’t seen any excessive attacks on Palin, sexist or otherwise, in comparison to what has been flung at other candidates.

    Al Gore comes to mind, with the feeding frenzy the media showed agaist him, with ridiculous stories such as he claimed to have invented the internet.

    And much of the stuff is fair game. If she lies about the bridge to nowhere, shouldn’t the MSM expose this?

    If she sends out a press release were she praises her daughter for choosing to give birth, isn’t it relevant that Palin wants to make sure that the government takes away that choice in the future?

  10. No he didn’t. But someone supported the lie that he had claimed that he did. As we both know he never did such a thing, a fact that is easy to check, and yet the media has hounded him with it ever since.

    Meanwhile Palin lied, and continues to lie about her support for the brudge to nowhere, and yet where is the hardhitting stories on fox exposing her lies?

    Or Mccains add lying about sex education for 5 year olds, or the stupid attempt to whine about Obama calling him out (lipstick on a pig), which is suddenly of limits? Why wasn’t it of limits when Mccain was using it against Hillary, but it is when it is used against Mccain? And the media runs with it, helping the republicants make a story where there is no story.

    The MSM have been handling Palin with kids gloves.

  11. I am glad we agree!

    So lets hope that the press starts to call out politicians on their lies, no matter the politicians gender or party affiliation.

    That would mean that Mccain and Palin’s rides would be a lot bumpier, but so it is. They are grown ups, they should be able to stand up for themselves.

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