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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Problems with the New Journalism, or Why I Miss Uncle Walter.

Uploaded: Oct 29, 2013
As a naturalized netizen, I grew up in a paper-and-pencil world with only three TV channels. We were actually a Huntley/Brinkley household, in the same way folks were Ford or GM families in the pre-history before The Age of the Terrific Deal. H&B leaned right, as I recall, whereas Walter Cronkite trended leftish on the political spectrum – but neither wandered very far from the center. It was a simpler time -- there was some level of trust in the reportage. In this new age of "affinity news" and unlimited choices, how do we know we're getting anything approaching the Real Scoop?

I recently read an open exchange on "the future of news," between Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times, and Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story for the UK's Guardian. It is found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/28/opinion/a-conversation-in-lieu-of-a-column.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131028&pagewanted=all#commentsContainer In it, Keller takes the traditional, hard-bitten newsman's stance that a journalist must strive for impartiality, unless that work is clearly labeled "Opinion." He believes that the way to ensure against dreaded slanting is to assiduously hew to the center line – lest the writer be unconsciously seduced into a lazy dismissal of the contrary view.

Greenwald starts from the premise that objectivity is a myth -- all writing is biased by the views of author, so why try to hide it? If readers know where you come from, then they can decide whether they need to seek an alternative viewpoint. Further, he suggests that, even if one could write a perfectly balanced article, such choices as whether to run it, when, and where it's placed reflect a "corporatist" bias that prefers the status quo to other voices in the culture. Keller counters that while The Times may be seen as 'liberal,' it is most often viewed as 'fair,' which is his goal.

Both commentators deride the lazy journalism of false equivalence – where the writer simply presents both sides, even when one side is demonstrably wrong. Neither participant believes that the Flat Earthers deserve much ink. Amen to that. We readers tolerate way too much utter nonsense, some of which will be believed by somebody, to everyone's detriment.

But they again part company on the crucial issue of the Fifth Estate's relationship to government. Keller has much more respect for the role of national security interests in deciding on what information to publish, and when. Greenwald has some concern for the innocents who might be hurt, but would err on the side of transparency over claims by those in power, who may benefit from opacity.

I think Greenwald has the better argument here – and this is the most important issue they covered. I am deeply suspicious of the use of "embedding" journalists with troops, for instance, when the scribes know that their card can be pulled for unflattering content. Further, no journalist should ever self-censor, especially in today's Washington DC, out of concern that s/he will lose access to newsmakers. Just such a thing has happened to Messrs. Mann and Ornstein in the wake of their scathing critique of the contemporary GOP. To them I say, Bravo – it's a badge of journalistic honor.

There is simply no more sacred duty of journalists than to expose misdeeds of government. That interest underlies First Amendment press freedom protections. Anything that compromises that fearless approach is the worst problem faced by the field.

I think Greenwald understands that even better than Keller (the NYT DID publish The Pentagon Papers, after all, but in other instances it has soft-pedaled or delayed stories like NSA snooping, at the behest of government). Greenwald believes that entrenched power too often objects in knee-jerk fashion, too strongly, and without sufficient explanation. For him, that appears to be Exhibit A in the need to expose the arrogance of power. He also notes that it gets harder to be an investigator when, as the TV show imitates life: "the government has a machine that sees everything." Those who can stand up to that pressure deserve plaudits for a hard job, often well-done.

I have gotten accustomed to seeking the by-line of anyone's stuff I read, so that I can understand from whence it comes. I subscribe to the Times, but I'll seek out other voices to try to avoid the "echo chamber" problem. I stop short of Fox News, however, which is that network's most sadly consistent sitcom. But what I really want to be able to trust is that the writer didn't become a willing dupe, pulling punches to go-along-to-get-along.

I just don't know how to fail-safe that trust. Any ideas will be welcomed -- Uncle Walter is unavailable.

Comments

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Tom says, "I'll seek out other voices to try to avoid the 'echo chamber' problem."

Ha ha. Now THAT is funny. Tom is Mr. Echo Chamber.

Have you ever encountered a person so unaware of his own confirmation bias?

Tom, I will get down on my knees right now and pledge allegiance to the United States of Obama if you can even NAME a news source that doesn't support your existing positions.


Posted by Max Peachman, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Your premise is wrong, Tom, as is your methodology.

Let me begin with methodology: you take two newspaper men at their word, and assume their somewhat opposed views are representative of something serious. They are not, unless you consider systematic obfuscation serious.

Keller's proclamation that The NYTimes is somewhat liberal but 'objective' is ridiculous. Because of it's corporate ownership, advertisers, and readers, it is anything but liberal. Oh, okay, Paul Krugman is given some real estate on the opinion page. Any other indicator of its liberalness that you can think of? Or are you simply taking Keller's words at face value? Have you, for example, EVER seen a NYTimes piece that reports/analyzes conflicts around the world in terms of social class strife? Didn't think so. It doesn't happen. Any journalist who tried to even smuggle in the CONCEPT social class into an article will soon find himself/herself without a job.

And Keller himself. Now there's a laugh. You recall when a former NYTimes journalist exposed the Bush admin of domestic wire tapping? The NYTimes 'broke' the story only when their former journalist's book was about to be published. Fact is, Keller and others at The NYTimes knew about the wiretapping three weeks before the Bush-Kerry election. The story was snuffed. Why? Because, stated Keller, it might have had a profound effect on the election. Well, did he think maybe NOT running the story might also have had a profound effect on the election? As it stands, to this day, there is an internal gag order at the Times that prohibits ALL of its employees from discussing that stretch of time in the Newspaper's recent history, including when the newspaper knew about it, and the deceptive gymnastics the editors applied in order to keep the American public in the dark. Liberal? You make me laugh. The newspaper is about as liberal as you are.

Grunwald's idea that newspaper stories are subjective is almost as twisted as is Keller's. Whose subjectivity? You reading the by-lines of individual journalists is also something of a laugher. Do you really think one Times writer is different from another? You haven't discerned the ridiculously heavy handedness of the papers' editors? Read the paper's Style Manual to get a dose of what is NOT permitted to appear on their pages, beginning with slang and profanities, which sort of leaves witnesses on the street corner without much of a voice. (E.g., after yet another brutal cop shooting of a young African American.) But don't for a minute think that censorship only occurs at a third-rate newspaper like the PW. It probably happens more so at The NYTimes, though you can expect its editors to be smarter and more consistent in their applications than the scattershot antics of the PW.

Those who stand up to the rigors of editorial, advertiser, owner, reader, peer pressure? There are none. You're fantasizing. Among the very few that get past professors, deans, editors at lesser newspapers, they are either let go, or they find they must walk away.

You seem consistently to write using the terms of pop culture. Have you taken any time to do any serious reading about the media? You offer no evidence of having done so. Such, I might suggest, is a prerequisite to saying anything substantive about media practices and how people are to best interpret them. You use concepts like objective, center, liberal with no apparent conception of what they might mean OUTSIDE of corporate-media-dictated terms of discourse. What, for example, is the real meaning of 'center' when you probably cannot name a single socialist journalist who writes for any major American newspaper?

Assignment: Use some search engine and look at a few articles written in the (black owned and operated) NY Amsterdam News; find 'equivalent' stories in The NYTimes -- say, stories about any recent NYC police shooting. I'll give you a clue as to what you'll find. The Amsterdam News' set of stories will be written from the people's perspective: lots of quotes from family members, close friends, witnesses on the street, community activists, college historians. The NYTimes will be written from a dominant class-institutional perspective. Lots of quotes from cops, chief of police, the Mayor, the DA's office. Liberal, eh? Not enough reading, Tom; too much Fox News replaying itself behind your eyelids.

By the way, on Parks and Recreation where you play Jerry. Is Christine Brinkley truly your wife?


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

S-P: I liked you (even) better when you were quoting others to crib their content. In those instances, the material tended to go more to the blog, and less to its writer. Picking on me is boring – take a lesson from ol' Max: there's obviously plenty to talk about without aiming to pot-shot the messenger.

Wow, uh Max/Mike/? – it's not often that there's a comment as long as the blog – thanks.

I think your comment stands for the proposition that your political spectrum is a lot wider than mine, such that you'd place all so-called mainstream media far to the right right of where I (and many others, I'll wager) would put them. I tried to give some credence to that paradigm in the material about editorial choices; apparently for you that's a much bigger part of the story.

As for the attacks on Keller personally, I'm not sure what they add – they certainly do not disqualify him as an important and thoughtful voice in opining on the profession he's served successfully, if conventionally, for a career. Apparently you don't like Greenwald either, but that appears to be founded more in just free-floating hostility than any specific perceived sins. You seem to believe that they are both dissembling in their expressed opinions, but again, that appears to relate back to your contention that the corporatist media have been captured by their stakeholders and are thus inherently unworthy. I have to say that your preoccupation with status (e.g. third-rate PW, or your puffing your credentials in a prior comment) betrays a kind of outsider's envy – have you looked at that?

You've also repeatedly expressed pedantic disappointment at the aim of this blog, as too shallow, or pop-culturey, or not well-enough read. This "third-rate" paper is not a scholarly journal, Max. What I'm trying to do bring forward issues I find to be interesting – the editors have graciously allowed me considerable rein and range (conventionally speaking) in my choices. The blogs are intended to provoke conversations, so again, thanks for that. I hear you on the difference, but I'm just not prepared – intellectually or time-wise, to accept your assignments. I do hope you'll stick around – you raise the level of the conversation.

Finally, who's Jerry? And do you mean Christie Brinkley? That part of the snark is lost on me – I'll try to read-up.


Posted by Max Peachman, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:26 am

When Keller, 2-3 weeks before a national presidential election, orders his staff to suppress all information about Bush\'s domestic spying program, you call this success; I call it systematic deception, the result of which meaning that the American public went to the polls in 2004 without any clue of Bush\'s domestic wiretapping program. I guess that\'s a key difference between us. I find this stuff noteworthy. You call it part of what needs to be done in order to be a "success" in the business of corporate journalism.

I don\'t know Greenwald personally. When he makes the case that much reportage for the corporate media is \'subjective\', he\'s either being nave or he\'s a liar. Either way, he\'s turning a blind eye to the reality of corporate ownership and control of media messages, and how individual journalists must either conform or be left out in the cold. Subjectivity? Hardly.

I do not apologize for the length of my responses. Nor will I attempt to dumb myself down and discuss at the same level as those who haven\'t done much reading in the area. I tried to emphasize how corporate media reportage is tied to corporate purse strings and its felt need to maintain and control corporate domination. You, who have claimed repeatedly to be interested in following the money, conspicuously ignore how money works in the shaping of the media and media messaging. Your original blog, and your rather personal comment to me (Freshman psychology?), indicates you simply haven\'t read or thought much about this issue.

I\'ll think of your comment about my envy when I\'m doing my 3-week lecture series in Europe in a couple of weeks.

Yes, I do operate with a broader political spectrum than offered by Fox News and yourself. There are lots of socialists in the world, as well as lots of fascists. To embrace the latter (as the corporate media has done -- of course) while systematically excluding the former, is something that warrants comment, even if your blog suggests otherwise.

Yes, your blog and the PW are not academic journals, clearly. What should concern anyone with a brain is the insistence that ideas taken from academic journals should not be given much play, either in articles or opinion pieces. When the opiners start defining their ideas as being apart from academic journal ideas, and reminding readers that "we don\'t do that here," we\'re all in trouble. I would argue that such dumbing down is perfectly consistent with corporate aims.

I should have known you\'d be unfamiliar with the black press, and that you\'d express a disinclination to familiarize yourself with it. A rather telling comment, Tom, especially coming from a professed liberal who lives in a state where the ethnic minority press has a readership larger than all the corporate newspapers combined.

My Christie Brinkley comment was aimed at your strong resemblance to a character -- Jerry -- on a t.v. comedy, Parks and Recreation. It turns out he\'s married to Christie Brinkley. That\'s all.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

Are you lecturing on arrogance? Vendettas? And to think we get it for free.

Clearly it's not on the perils of unwarranted assumptions. To wit:

1 -- I never called Keller's handling of any one incident "success." Most of us, in our careers, have a few-or-more incidents that we'd like to do-over. I don't even know how Keller feels about that one, but I do know enough about him to call his career a conventional success. I am not willing to consider his opinions worthless, based on your repeated harangue of one such incident.

2 -- No one complained about the length of your comment -- to the contrary, I intended to welcome it. Thanking you twice wasn't enough?

3 -- I don't think I ignore The Money -- but it's not the whole story for me, every time. We'll always have you, I hope, to inveigh against the corporate media -- against which every other issue obviously pales.

4 -- my invitation to a bit of self-reflection obviously fell on self-important ears. That it provoked yet another attempted condescension is unsurprising.

5 -- nowhere did I insist "that ideas taken from academic journals should not be given much play." Rather, I was indicating that this blog is not required to become a leading authority in order to state an opinion, and, hopefully, incite conversation of it. You might think of it as a conversation at a dinner party, hopefully among friends at some level. Feel free, as I'm certain you will, to claim to be that authority, and bring your ideas. They are welcome, even if your tone is often overly, aggressively pedantic -- it gets in the way of those ideas, and may cost some folks their appetites for them.

6 -- never did I indicate, in any way, any "disinclination" toward the black press. I made no statement about it, telling or otherwise.

7 -- thanks, anyway, for the pop culture reference. Now I'll have to watch.


Posted by Max Peachman, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:48 am

Re. Keller, you've done nothing but offer ga-ga praise for him. I've suggested his active cover-up of Bush's domestic wiretapping is a microcosm of his overall duplicity -- i.e., his tendency to lie in order to deflect away from his newspaper's (corporatist) mission. You have offered nothing about him except his opaque reference to "objectivity," which would be funny if it weren't so demonstrably false.

You say I'm condescending? So? What of it? Is that supposed to undermine my views, or is it your way of deflecting conversation away from substantive issues -- that YOU raised in a public setting? You suggest there is envy somewhere implicated in my post; my reference to invited lectures in Europe was not dropped out of the blue, but was offered in refutation to your zany, unfounded suggestion. I don't recall "dinner party conversation" being part of the rules. (Perhaps that's why some consider talk about politics at the dinner table to be impolite?) You raise the issues; I'm responding in what I think is an intellectual manner, with defensible validity claims.

Recap: over the past several days you've accused another poster of being overly concerned about race (he reduces everything to such!), of being overly concerned about social class (working-class hero), of being overly concerned with corporate control of the media, and of being too concerned with academic articulations of political issues. Quite the liberal you are!

I profess no authority on this matter of corporate control of media and its messaging. But I have read enough critical works on the matter to feel confident in my claims. By the same token, I see little evidence of you having read much in this area, at all. I may be wrong. If you disagree, you might try actually refuting my arguments. Calling someone a reductionist, or accusing them of waging a vendetta (a screamer, that), is fine. I doubt you're going to convince many folks of much of anything if those are the options you repeatedly choose.


Posted by Correction, a resident of Blackhawk,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Glenn Greenwald is who you are writing about.

Michael Grunwald fantasizes about drone warfare.

C'mon Tom, sort it out.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Max: "offers of gaga praise" – really? If you look back, there's actually only one of us with a Keller obsession. It's not me.

My concern for your condescension habits is that they detract from your message. They are noise in the system. I fear they may incline some of the proletariat to dismiss you as a jerk – is that what you want?

It seems to me that the primary point you've made amidst the cacophony is that corporate media is a Big Problem with journalism. I didn't try to refute it because we're in violent agreement that it's a concern. I alluded to it briefly in the blog, but didn't develop that notion because I think the media's relationship to government is a bigger problem. I'm glad you brought it up. But all this crap about me suggests that you feel the need to win at the internet. Okay, carry on, but we're playing different games here. BTW, the vendetta poke was not about me – I was referring to your sustained attack on all things Keller.

One more thing – I did look around a bit regarding 'Jerry.' At the risk of setting-off S-P again about my self-delusions, let's just say that I actually look more like Rob Lowe – and Ms. Brinkley would be my fiancee's homelier sister. I really don't have a lot in common with Jerry, except, you know
___

@ Correction -- you're right -- I will fix it -- thanks!


Posted by Ms. bunny, a resident of San Ramon,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 9:14 am

Unfortunately? I have to side with the other comments made here...Tom's "15 minutes of fame" on the Express have lllllllllllooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggg expired due to what invariably turns out, each and every time, to be long and drawn out verbose rambling as opposed to being succinct. That's NOT a "quality" of ANY good journalist. I keep wondering when the Express will 'get' that very real point!


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Tom pines for a time when our only choices for TV news were three channels, when reporters had some level of public trust.

As we now know, the public's trust was severely abused by reporters in those days. Reporters regularly mislead the public. e.g. U.S. involvement in overthrowing democratically elected leaders in Iran and Chile, underreporting on the dangers of DDT, Agent Orange, smoking, JFK's raping of teen interns, environmental degradation, and much more.

In those days, hearing alternative viewpoints was nearly impossible.

The good old days weren't so good.

Today, if the government commits an atrocity or other misdeed, chances are it will get leaked on the internet somewhere and the mainstream media (both in the U.S. and abroad) will have a difficult time ignoring it.

The problem today is NOT the media. The problem is the public. They're lazy.

Most Americans don't pay attention to the news. Of those who do, most get their news primarily from TV. TV isn't news. TV is entertainment. And 70% of the Under 30 crowd get their news from social media. Web Link Bunch of lazy, uninformed, good for nothings. No wonder Obama won.

Being politically informed requires work. It requires a daily reading of many volumes of articles from a wide variety of sources, particularly sources that challenge your viewpoint.

For decades, I have subscribed to Mother Jones, The Atlantic, Time, and other liberal media. I also regularly read Al Jazeera, Citizens for Tax Justice, readersupportednews.org, etc. I read them not because I agree with them, but because I want to understand my opponents' points of view. It's kind of like reading the opposing team's playbook before the big game. I can see their plan of attack and their flaws.

That's why I poked fun at Tom's comment that he, "seeks out other voices to try to avoid the 'echo chamber' problem." Tom inserted himself into his column. If he hadn't made this wild claim, I would have left him alone. But Tom epitomizes what is wrong with the American electorate. He just doesn't realize it.

Like most Americans, Tom seems to have a severe case of tunnel vision. Tom doesn't strike me as a person who actually seeks out news sources with opposing points of view. That is why I challenged him to name one. I don't think he can.

It's easy to find a multitude of liberal viewpoints: NYT, Washington Post, Time, etc. But where do liberals go to find an opposing point of view?

Most liberals get their "news" from The Daily Show or other TV sources. Or maybe they subscribe to a single liberal newspaper. That's why they sound terribly uninformed, in my opinion.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hiya Bunns – thanks for sharing. Brief enough?
___

S-P: Lunch hour at your desk, again?

'They' say a true Liberal is able to appreciate that there are Conservatives. I'm not sure the same can be said about Righties. Your posts reflect a certain disbelief that anyone could lean left upon exposure to the received wisdom of your peers. Like the following: locally, CCTimes and nationally WSJ, WashTimes and CS Monitor. National Review and Weakly Standard for mag sites, and also Breitbart, AEI, Cato or Drudge depending on the subject. Faux and NewsMax for especially comic relief.

You may choose to follow-through on your promise and 'swear allegiance' for wasting my time, but howsabout making a contribution to Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter, instead? Web Link


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Congratulations Tom. You know how to do a Google search for: "Conservative News Sites."

You don't read any of those sites, though, do you. Not on a regular basis. Come on. Admit it.

Just be honest.

And why did you have to be such a killjoy for that nice Max Peachman fellow?

You know you were filled with envy when he told you he'd be doing a "3-week lecture series in Europe in a couple of weeks." My guess is no one has ever invited YOU to do a three week lecture series in Europe, have they? Am I right?

Why can't you just be exited for him? Let him have his moment.

He's obviously impressed. I would be too. No one has ever invited me to do a three week lecture series in Europe.

I have often read your column while traveling abroad. I've gone to Europe six times this year. Just a couple weeks ago, I was staying at the Hyatt in London, reading your column while sitting on the toilet. I've just been trying to figure out a way to work it into the conversation. I think I just did.

By the way, I'm not going to pledge allegiance to Obama. Sorry. A guy who steals other people's quotes can't be trusted.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 2:44 pm

You're letting me off-easy, S-P. I expected you to demand the contents of my browser cache. For the record, I don't subscribe, but I do go there, as I said, to see what I'm missing. Often not much -- but sometimes! I even venture into the alternative press on occasion -- and no, not just for Dan Savage's column, but probably because I am a Myers Briggs "perceiver." Finally, I continue to believe that a bigger problem than L-R is whether reporters are pulling their punches. And despite your failure catalog, I do suspect that true investigative journalism was better and more common, back-in-the-day.

Anyway, I am glad you take me along with you when you travel -- and trust you found it inspirational in London. You should take a photo -- they run those on the front page of this fine publication!

I don't know who Max/Mike really is, which is okay and just further proof of my relative ignorance of important things. Perhaps we'll find out, in case one of his lectures is in Oslo. I do hope it was instructive to you to recognize that I'm way too-conservative, among many other sins, for some folks' tastes. I hope ol' M comes back.


Posted by Ms. bunny, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:57 am

-Another "double yawn" for Tom......zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 11:22 am

Here's the thing, Bunns: if I stabbed myself repeatedly with a fork, and it hurt EVery time -- I'd just have to stop blaming the fork.


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