Thursday, August 17, 2006

Comments on the Air America thread.

(Since the original post was getting pretty far down, I thought I'd make a new post.)

I am delighted that Air America is not claiming to be news. That should cut down on the “I didn’t hear it on Air America so it must not be news” problem significantly.

FWIW, I don’t particularly mind “rant” programs existing, though I don’t listen to them myself and don’t completely understand why other people would. (John Stewart’s objections to them as mentioned on his somewhat infamous “Crossfire” appearance pretty much parallel mine.) My big concern is trying to keep news as mainstream as possible.

Someone stuck up a quote:

"In general, the press now sees its role as covering an issue like world hunger and commenting on it editorially, rather than being a participant in trying to alleviate it."
-- Katharine Graham, Personal History

I own that book, I've read it, I liked it. I’ve been a Katherine Graham fan since I was in Junior High School

But I think Katherine Graham is wrong there.

I don't recall that the press EVER did much to solve world hunger with slanted reporting.

However, William Randolph Hearst's newspapers did much to start the Spanish-American War with slanted reporting.

The way to be a good, active, press is to report more facts, not just the ones you like. (After all, who knows what might have happened if Howard Dean's people had listen to what the non-Dean-voters NPR interviewed had to say and retooled their campaign accordingly.)

If the facts when fairly presented show that an action should be taken, people will come to that conclusion themselves. That's Democracy and why an informed press is a crucial peice of who we are. If you think the people are too dumb to look at the hard facts and conclude that something must be done, write an editorial and spell it out there.

Don't write slanted news on purpose and try to take out any slant that gets in there accidentally. It's just that simple.



Doug Muder said...

I fall somewhere between the "be objective" and the "state your bias openly" positions. I don't believe it's possible to be truly objective, because translating events into language is necessarily a subjective process. In order to make the news understandable, you need to present it in a context, and your context is always biased.

This shows up most obviously in the words the reporter uses. Take Iraq. At the outset, was the war an "invasion" or a "liberation"? When resistance continued, at what point was it proper to call it an "insurgency"? Is it correct to call it a "civil war" yet? In a sound-bite world, you have to call it something. And the people we're fighting, are they "terrorists" or "insurgents" or "freedom fighters"? Any label you can think up has a collection of subjective implications.

Interviews are even less objective. Everybody lies to interviewers. When do you call them on it? Maybe the interviewer doesn't know the facts well enough to challenge the lie -- that's a bias in itself. When you package the interview for broadcast, how hard do you work to present the facts contradicting what the subject just said?

Back in 2003 I started covering the New Hampshire primary campaign on my web site not because the mainstream coverage was biased, but because it was lazy. The reporters already knew the story they wanted to tell, and they went to events looking for the material to tell that story. And they always found it.

Dean, for example, was the "angry anti-war" candidate. But every Dean rally I saw was a fairly jovial event, and he'd spend maybe three minutes out of 20 talking about war -- supporting the Afghan War and denouncing the Iraq War. He talked as much or more about the health care system in Vermont, and how the same things could be done nationally. But in the papers the next day there would be a photo of Dean looking angry -- they must have thrown away 20 jovial photos to get that one -- and a quote against the Iraq War. All true. They didn't doctor the photo and they didn't invent the quote. But it wasn't objective.

I went to a Gephardt rally. He talked mainly about his health care plan and how it would help local small businesses. Afterward, the national reporters badgered him to say something negative about Dean. He didn't. I thought that was noteworthy, though none of the mainstream reports noted it. If he had, though, that would have been the headline -- not the message the candidate planned and came there to give, but the comment the reporters badgered him into making.

Anyway, when I do journalism (as I sometimes do under my Pericles identity on Daily Kos), I tell you my bias as best I understand it, and then I TRY to be objective within the constraints of that bias. It's the best I know how to do.

Bill Baar said...

Dean, for example, was the "angry anti-war" candidate. But every Dean rally I saw was a fairly jovial event, and he'd spend maybe three minutes out of 20 talking about war -- supporting the Afghan War and denouncing the Iraq War.

Maybe sczhio candidate would have been more apt. He did say as DNC chair he hates Republicans; who are also fellow Americans.

That must reflect some level of anger.

Doug Muder said...

Did he really? I did about two minutes of research: The NY Daily News attributed this quote to him: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for."

The conservative media got hold of this attribution and morphed it to "I hate Republicans." Which is a significant change. "The Republicans" is shorthand for the Republican Party. "Republicans" are individual people who happen to be Republicans. That's a big difference.

This example is pretty typical of the Dean "gaffes". They almost all are creations of the conservative media, who change a word or two to make them into something they weren't in reality.

I've never seen any evidence that Dean has supported hating individual people, and stand by my characterization (based on the three rallies I attended) that the "angry candidate" image was a distortion.

Chalicechick said...

"I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for" sounds plenty angry to me.

You can argue that Dean said that and not something slighly worse, and that's fine, but if he's saying he hates even THE Republicans, his anger is not an invention of the press.