Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Press Criticism: Process and Outcome Complaints

Answering the age-old question: what if Darth Vader worked at a newspaper?
This is a good movie, you can buy it at Amazon here. Doing so will contribute exactly zero dollars to this site to help offset our operational costs.

Glenn Greenwald noted that his posting on the media devotion to access was one of his most popular recent entries. Similarly my McCain BBQ postings appear to be more popular than many others. (In the same way that liver and onions is more popular than plain liver) A reasonable explanation for this is that these posts represent complaints about a process rather than complaints about an outcome.

Many political blogs are highly partisan and offer mostly complaints about objectionable outcomes. These complaints are not necessarily invalid but they do tend to appeal only to true believers with similarly aligned objectives. Complaints about process tend to attract a more ideologically diverse crowd because they are divorced from specific outcomes.

The issue Glenn highlighted with Tucker Carlson is not that Tucker is biased or a conservative, it's that he's advocating and excusing poor journalism. Similarly the issue with the McCain BBQ is not that McCain attempted to influence reporters (something all candidates try to do) or that the press is biased towards McCain, it's that the mainstream media's standard operating procedures do not serve the public interest. That the press should avoid conflicts of interest is not a partisan complaint about outcomes, nor is that the press should report stories with real news value and operate independently.

Charlotte Allen brought down a lot of outrage for her recent Washington Post column bashing women, but the fundamental problem with her piece was not that it was "anti-feminist" or mean-spirited, it's that it was poorly researched and supported to the point of being unworthy of publication; the scant facts she used were either irrelevant or contradicted her thesis. Yes, it was "just opinion", but uninformed ill-reasoned opinion has no place in a newspaper. No matter where you stand on FISA issues any honest person should agree that writing misleading or outright false columns about them is not proper journalism. How can it possibly be appropriate to make false claims then defend them with "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right"?

Here at Common Nonsense we obviously object to certain political outcomes, but more importantly we object to certain political and media processes. Poor processes almost invariably lead to poor results.

When reporters blithely chatter without repercussion about how they are part of a certain candidate's team it exposes the rotten core of modern journalism. Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair were rightly fired for fabrication but the effects of their transgressions were localized and minor. Reports about Wen Ho Lee, Jessica Lynch, Saddam's WMDs and anthrax, Iranian IEDs and foriegn fighters, Richard Jewell and others all had major ramifications. These stories were the result of poor processes that continue today unabated.

We aren't going to get better coverage until the press fundamentally changes the way it approaches reporting. That's something we should all be able to get behind. Too many critics complain about the "Clinton News Network" or "Faux News" while ignoring the far more fundamental point that bad practices result in bad journalism.

Jon Stewart on Crossfire. Seemed appropriate.


zoe said...

thank you. excellent post.

cheflovesbeer said...

Wow, that was a great youtube. Tucker has no concept of the press's job.

Margalis said...

Zoe thanks for the kind words.

Cheflovesbeer: yes, and unfortunately Tucker is not some sort of outlier.