April 8, 2008

Liberalosis: The Newsroom Disease


This is the full text of a comment by "Been There, Done That" that was appended to today's item, More Good News: Seattle Times Axes 200 @ AMERICAN DIGEST . It has the voice of bitter experience and I thought it would be a shame to leave it as a comment.

The problem with most US newsrooms (let's not limit this to newspapers) is that it is simply impossible to express a different (conservative) view about most subjects, in a story or even in conversation in the newsroom.

It's not just that you will encounter disbelief, suspicion and even some outright hostility for your views, it's much worse. If your 'take' on the story is different from those of a liberal bent, it's not just that you have a different view that many of your colleagues think is odd: that wouldn't be so bad if that were all.

It's that you don't get what's 'news' about the subject. Your professional ability in itself is called into question.

In essence, you're no good at what you do, which justifies pressuring you to shut up or eventually leave the industry. After all, there's no room for incompetence, is there?

To give just one possible example: if you were to wonder why a right to life march of 1,000 people didn't get the same type of coverage as a pro-choice rally of maybe 200 people, or perhaps was totally ignored, that would in most newsrooms be interpreted to mean that you 'didn't get' what was newsworthy on that particular day.

And since every day presents a new combination of possible events to cover ('news'), every day will offer a new combination of reasons to ignore the right to life march. There will never be room in the newspaper. There will never be enough staff on hand. There will be more important things, etc. The people who want the story to be ignored will, on any given day, always be able to find a 'professionally justifiable' reason for ignoring it.

It's not so different from the guys you used to hear claiming that they really wanted to hire a woman ... they just couldn't find the right one. There was always a good reason for rejecting any particular woman. The fact is, this behavior was a pattern that was only (at least partly) broken through recourse to the law. Sadly, there is no way to do that with news coverage.

Your colleagues will not let you do your job dispassionately. You must hate Republicans. You must have certain views on social issues. You have to despise most people in any position of power or leadership (a large part of the daily talk in most newsrooms is mocking the people you cover) who are assumed to have totally venal motives for anything they do.

In kind of the way that somebody like Clarence Thomas is not considered to be really black because he is a conservative, you are not really a "professional journalist" if you hold conservative views, as this in itself shows you don't understand what is news.

Since news judgement is a subjective issue, this attitude works its way through every step of the process: what you cover, how much space (air time) it gets, how it is displayed and packaged; who you call, what you ask, how much of their comments you use, in what order, who you call for the 'opposing' view and also what they're asked etc. ... Every one of these steps is subjective in most cases (leaving aside such examples as calling the police about a crime story and the like). Even the words you use are subjective. Identifiers are subjective; thus, the propensity to label conservatives as such but not liberals.

Anything you do in this process can be justified by 'news judgement' which is nothing more than the consensus opinion of the newsroom (and in the industry) on any given day -- and since most of those people think virtually alike ... there you are.

Posted by: Been there, done that at April 8, 2008 7:56 PM

Posted by Vanderleun at April 8, 2008 8:55 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

This article brings to mind those occasions when NPR moderators are forced to interview conservatives: it's fun to hear the trajectory of those mellowy hushed voices turn reedy and then ratchet up to tense until they spring hysterical.

This article provides the background for that sound arc.

Posted by: Das at April 8, 2008 9:24 PM

As no doubt you realise, the same phenomenon obtains in the UK - perhaps throughout the Western media. But can anybody source the origin/s of this scourge? I suspect it's all part of the Gramsci-inspired culture war, organised within the halls of academe during the last half-century. The mind set has been assimilated by osmosis through three generations and it's doubtful that many so affected are aware of the roots of their affliction. How to reverse it and it's irrational consequences? Seems irrevocable to me; the disciples are now inextricably intertwined in the vital organs of the body politic. It may mean the end of Western civilisation as we know it, Jim, because its side effect is the facilitation of Islamic Jihad by the treasonous Western media. That and the demographics will do for us. One hoped for a while that the blogosphere could reverse the trend, but as the MSM has now invaded it in force, together with the overload of WWW caused by video and music download means that the polemical force of anti left-liberal blogs has been diluted. But we shall see. In the meantime, keep soldiering on Gerard; you are one of my main sources of hope, slim though that hope remains.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at April 9, 2008 4:25 AM

How to reverse it?

Dan Rather has a news job.

I don't think there's much more to say about "reversing the flow" just yet.

Something's got to give. There are too many "shouldas" behaving as objective influences, and the system will not sustain them forever.

On a related note, I awoke to my ABC radio network news to hear that Alan Greenspan considers it "right and proper" that the Feds (the Government, not THE Fed) intervene in and "ease" the mortgage/credit disaster.

Thanks, Mr. Greenspan. You are a classroom demonstration that people who actually lived through the depression didn't learn shinola about economics from it.

Good day to you, sir.

Posted by: TmjUtah at April 9, 2008 5:01 AM

It all gets down to this: The left is simply the most intolerant political body. And intolerance stems from fear.

In the case of the left, fear that the world they have built since FDR will be exposed as the ruinous government construct that it is if one measly conservative view is heard.

When this fear started to ratchet-up to the ridiculous levels we have now I’m not 100 percent sure but it seems to me that it started in earnest with the Clinton era and Republican control of Congress. When Newt and his buddies got Bill to sign welfare reform and when they started to take aim at fixing Social Security the alarm bells and red lights went off in Leftyland.

Up to that point, the left was comfortable in their belief that their worldview was universally accepted and safe from the marauding hordes of the right. Shortly after, McCain/Feingold brought us 527s and the Daily Kos era of blitzkrieg politics.

The newsrooms are simply echoing these political realities. In fact, I’m sure they see themselves as keepers of the flame or protectors of the leftist status quo.

I ended my subscription to the Times when they went to morning delivery. I had been dissatisfied with their reporting view for some time and this was a good excuse to say goodbye.

On a lark I took out a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. At that point I realized what I had been denying myself by reading the Times. That was about 12 years ago or so and I don’t even miss the comics.

When the P.I. and Times finally fold, I’ll be waving a dry-eyed goodbye. See ya!

Posted by: G Jiggy at April 9, 2008 10:11 AM

I still say it's more than anything else because American journalists are shitty writers.

Posted by: ninme at April 9, 2008 2:18 PM

WaPo is reporting that CBS execs Moonves and McManus 'are not sure what else can be done to close the ratings gap'. Speaks volumes about the mindset, does it not?

Posted by: feeblemind at April 10, 2008 8:03 AM

Reminds me of the Washington Post's radio ads, their elitist liberal jingle:

The Washington Post, If you don't get it, you don't "get it".

Posted by: eagle40 at April 14, 2008 12:26 PM

Great comment and post. I imagine you could apply the same template over the academic world, and make all the data points line up the same way.

"Tolerance Fever - Catch It, Or Else!"

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 15, 2008 7:14 AM