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midtermmockery in polibock

“A Rosetta Stone of Jaundiced Journalism”

On Wednesday’s edition of his nightly news program, Keith Olbermann referred to Fox News as "a Rosetta Stone of jaundiced journalism" (in front of a mock Fox graphic that reads "Faux News Channel") among reports that the network sent directives to their staff to "be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled congress." Olbermann went on to report that, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, hours after the memo was issued a Fox News host, Martha MacCallum, reported that there were ". . . reports of cheering in the streets on the behalf of the supporters of the insurgency in Iraq, that they’re very pleased with the way things are going here and also with the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld."

Was I the only one who didn’t get the memo that "liberal media" = bad, but conservative scripting and talking points issued under the guise of 'news' = good? Am I alone?

Looking back, Dan Rather was shown the gate after the whole Killian memo scandal right before the 2004 Presidential Election. For those who don’t remember, CBS ran a story in September 2004 about then-Lt. George W. Bush receiving preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and then failing to meet certain requirements when he was accepted. The basic thrust of the report was to show Bush used his connections to get into the Guard solely as a way of getting out of being shipped to Vietnam. Dan Rather, a then-CBS correspondent, interviewed people and presented documents purporting to back up these claims, but ran into a little trouble when he went to authenticate them. Rather interviewed the secretary, Marian Carr Knox, for Bush's commanding officer (Lt. Col. Jerry Killian) who detailed Bush’s performance problems.

Most people remember this part of the interview:

RATHER: So with these memos, you know that you didn't type them.
KNOX: I know that I didn't type them


RATHER: Few, if any, things that I ask you about will be more important than this point: you say you didn't type these memos, definitely you didn't type these memos.
KNOX: Not these particular ones.

This became the big scandal. Dan Rather lied about President Bush as part of a left-wing smear campaign against his military record, cried the Right. What they, and seemingly most other people, left out were the following parts of the interview:

RATHER: So with these memos, you know that you didn't type them.
KNOX: I know that I didn't type them; however, the information in those is correct.

RATHER: Did you type ones like this?
KNOX: Yes.
RATHER: Containing the same or identical information?
KNOX: The same information, yes.


So I know it's not Free-For-All Fridays, but I have to ask you from a non-partisan point of view, what's worse journalism: producing documents that have clearly been touched up in a word processor program but contain the same information as the originals, or what Fox News did with this memo?

The long and short of my opinion is that while touching up a document seems disingenuous, the Fox memorandum is at best poor journalism and at worst outright propaganda. It's one thing to tell your reporters who's covering which stories, but it's a completely different thing for anyone to manufacture news stories for the purposes of scaring your audience, advancing an agenda, and demonizing your political opponents.

And to top it all off, Fox News released a statement yesterday saying "Fox News Senior Vice President John Moody stands by his editorial note." I think it's easy to dismiss this as another example of Fox News being Fox News, but at what point does there come any accountability at all? Is anybody at all as frustrated as I am? Bueller? Bueller??

Or does my frustration come out as whining? You know, that kind of "Mooooom! I want Skiiiitllllllllessssss" from the little brat in the shopping cart in front of you at the grocery store whose mother thinks the best way to parent the kid is to ignore him and leave the rest of us to deal with his little tantrum because she's too busy doing her new age let-the-child-express-himself-in-whatever-creative-outlet-they-desire-to-help-foster-their-development garbage but doesn’t have the common sense to realize the kid is nothing more than a little monster who needs to be told 'no' once in a while and I'm sure it's no surprise here that she lacks the common decency to get in the regular line when she’s got a cart full of groceries and the sign clearly says "10 Items or Less" which means you’re stuck behind her when all you want to do is buy a gallon of milk and a pack of Skittles that the demon spawn has been trying to snatch out of your hands for the last 15 minutes becau.....


....I think I blacked out for a second. I should probably go.


Hmm. Objectivity in journalism. Also known as "balanced" journalism. Wow. See, this falls under the same category for me as "democracy". It's an almost purely idealistic myth, but one which bears striving towards. No pure democracy can exist, thanks to the human condition. However, this doesn't mean we shouldn't strive towards it... because we will find ourselves in between extremes, and we always fall towards chaos.

Journalism will always be slanted by three viewpoints: the opinion of those being reported, those doing the reporting, and those consuming the news "product". I can't begin to footnote the occasions in recent memory when established news agencies have been busted for introducing partisan angles, failing to adequately cover the counterpoint, or otherwise putting a color/flavor/spin on their product. And each time, there will be someone out there to cry foul.

I work in an office comprised by politically conservative Catholics. I am the only left-winger in the joint. However, my co-workers exhibit the tragically rare quality of openness in conversation, and thus, we discuss politically sensitive matters from time to time. They are all fans of Fox News, and though I disagree with much of their views on social restrictions, I pay attention to their opinions. I do this because they do the same for me.

They love Fox News, and consider it to be utterly fair and balanced. Though I tend to cringe at this, as to me it is obviously a red-tinted news agency, I know these people are intelligent and capable of circumspection. It just proves to me to what degree our opinions slant our stance. I'm sure my emotional reaction to opinions which I don't share tend to emphasize, if you will, the inescapable subjectivity and conservative slant that Fox News provides. To me, it's laughable. To them, it flies beneath their radar.

So, should greater accountability be called for? To that, I'd say that the word "should" implies a moral foundation which transcends party politics. In this political climate, I doubt it's possible. Moreover, news agencies are selling product in a capitalist economy. By that token, would accountability be considered "regulation"? And if so, who's doing the regulating? In our system (taken to an extreme for the sake of argument), it would be an agency under the Executive Branch, which will always be the leader of one political party. Otherwise, it's just common horse-sense that should rule, and we're basically leaving it up to the better angels of those who own and operate the broadcasting companies.

So, no. From this liberal's viewpoint, I resist greater "accountibility", as I see it as the first gentle decline that leads to the slippery slope.
I have to disagree with you right out of the gate. I wouldnt equate objective journalism with balanced journalism. Balanced journalism could entail the rantings of a completely biased party for two or three minutes so long as an opposing party got an equal two or three minutes for his or her rant. Both advocates get the same time to share their viewpoints and then we have a balance.

Objective journalism, however, would be something akin to the phrase often attributed to a character on "Dragnet": just the facts, ma'am. The outsider's perspective on the events and details of a current event.

I also take the position that objective journalism, like pure democracy, is possible to attain. I dont believe it's the human condition that renders us incapable of realizing these ideals; it's the human condition that causes many people to willfully reject them. Sometimes there's no sizzle in a fair fight, and objectivity isnt always sexy. So when the stakes are high and power is up for grabs, many people see ethical standards as negotiable. This is true democracy, and it is certainly true for journalism -- control the flow of information and you can control the masses.

I can appreciate that both you and your colleagues can have respectful and open dialogue on hot button issues; we'd all be better off if more people could do the same. What I dont understand, and refuse to accept, is how Fox News can be considered either fair or balanced. There is a clear, and in some cases open and acknowledged, conservative bias that goes on at that network. Fox News isnt the only culprit of slanted journalism. There have been some pretty aggregious violations, so to speak, at the favorite whipping boy for the Right -- the New York Times. Liberal or conservative, it's wrong when it happens.

I dont say that as an ideologue, I say that as someone who knows reality has no political agenda. That's not to say reality cannot, nor is not, viewed through a partisan goggles. But whether you see the absence of WMD in Iraq as a blatant manipulation of intelligence by the Bush administration, or clear evidence that Hussein moved those weapons out of Iraq before the U.S. military arrived, we are still left with the reality of the situation -- no weapons were found. It's not slanted, it's not biased, it's reality.

Additionally, I take issue with the unfortunate fact that "news agencies are selling product in a capitalist economy." I accept this as fact, but this is part of the problem I spoke of above. People have turned the news into a power grab, into chattel that is to be bought and sold. That this is not a new occurrance does not excuse it, however -- when something is wrong once or twice, it's still wrong if it happens over a period of a week, a year, a decade, a century, etc. The difference between now and, say, twenty years ago is that the general public is more aware it's going on.

And as for "should" implying some sort of moral imperative and accountability leading to regulation, I think we should walk that back to the beginning before we go off track. I think 'should' is less a moral concept and, if anything, an ethical construct. 'Should' is an obligation or a duty. When I asked "at what point does there come any accountability at all?" I wasnt thinking about Fox News in a good vs. evil paradigm; I was more interested in whether individuals had any desire to demand news outlets Do Their Jobs -- report the facts, let the individual decide. But then again maybe I answered my own question with the comment about straight reporting having no sizzle.

On the point of accountability being considered regulation, I think it's helpful for most people to resist the "we need a law" mentality. That thinking, if anything, is the bigger concern for me when we talk about a slippery slope -- someone says 'accountability,' accountability and regulation get lumped together, there's a debate about the government regulating the field/industry, and then nothing positive gets done about the original problem. Accountability and regulation arent always the same, and in most cases linking the two seems to be the beginning of the end of a meaningful resolution.

But that's just my opinion and, really, who the hell am I, anyway?
In which case I think we disagree pretty much across the board.

Ain't America grand?

Have a beer on me!
The clearest definition of a journalist's job is to report the facts. Unfortunately, this is difficult because of semantics: language is, by nature, biased, and no matter how much one tries to keep one's biases out of reporting, one's word choice in reporting will hint at, if not reveal, his or her personal feelings. I agree, however, that there is a BIG, FAT GLOW-IN-THE-DARK-LINE between rushing to air a piece about something that is believed to be true, and using prejudicial yellow journalism to flat-out make up stories about how the Democrats are EVIL AND SUPPORT TERRORISM.

In theory, journalists should attempt, insofar as is possible, the facts of the matter and not present their personal opinions (unless they write opinion pieces or editorials). The ideal journalist presents only the facts and allows the reader or viewer to judge for him/herself. Unfortunately, there is been a definite tendency since the 1980's and possibly before toward "infotainment," where the idea is to "shock and awe" people, if you will, so they'll watch your program/read your publication. This trend toward infotainment has meant that simple presentation of the facts no longer flies. It's easier for people to be told what they should think, or be manipulated into thinking a certain way, or to hear news that already supports their point of view, than it is for them to have to process facts and form their own opinion. BOTH SIDES are guilty of consuming news that "preaches to the choir," although it should be pointed out that there are precious few journalists and news programs anymore that simply present the facts, and speaking personally, if I have to listen to slanted news, I would rather listen to news that's slanted to the left because right-slanted news makes me want to punch things or bite Bill O'Reilly in the face (although he might enjoy that).

That said, I find it highly amusing that "red-tinged" now refers to "conservative". Anybody else remember when it meant Communist? (Not that I really do because I was born in 1979, but I'm sure Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy are rolling over in their graves, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me very, very happy.)
Well, reading your post, I see I need to either learn how to type faster or keep it short and sweet, because a lot of what I wrote seems like a repeat of your point. You kids and your damn new fangled internets!

And "red-tinged" referring to "conservative bias" is not just amusing, it's deliciously ironic. What kind of beating do you think a right-winger would put on someone 50 years ago if you called them "red-tinged," I ask? Oh, there's never a shortage of comedy in our daily events, is there?

And I'm glad Cohn and Sen. McCarthy rolling over in your graves makes you happy...sorry, 'very, very happy,' because I used to feel guilty about things like that. Now I know I'm not alone in my joy.

Sorry, ask Jessi, I usually just make some silly comment because I, um...don'ttendtofollowpolitics *cough*. But I did take a journalism class, way back when I was an English major, from a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, so I know a bit (about this much, | |, quantitatively speaking) about journalism. One of our assignments at the time was to go around and interview people from different groups about how they felt about the war in Iraq, and I was assigned to talk to-brace yourselves-the ROTC. I am a flaming hippie socialist, so I went, "CRAP." Then I went and interviewed the head of the ROTC and two ROTC members who were training to be Airborne Rangers, and they were all very nice people. I mean, the future Airborne Rangers kind of reminded me of Todd the surgeon from "Scrubs," but they were still nice. The thing that struck me, though, was the fact that they were very suspicious of me, and were very much on the defensive until I told them flat-out, "Look, I'm not here to put words in your mouth or to try to get you to say that you don't support the war. I just want to know what you THINK." That made a HUGE impression on me and really made me start thinking about how prejudicial the media can be, and how people these days have come to EXPECT a certain level of bias. My job was not to try to trick the ROTC into saying they didn't support the war; my job, flaming hippie socialist or not, was to accurately report what they honestly THOUGHT.

Incidentally, and completely off-topic, I read a lot about McCarthyism in general and Cohn in particular when I was a senior in high school, and it actually got me into a relationship with a Communist. I suppose that was because when he asked me what I was reading I said, "I'm just fascinated by the hysteria surrounding Communism that occurred in America, and Cohn just seems like a disturbed and evil individual." I would probably have gotten a very different reaction had I said, "Yeah, I support the whole 'better dead than red' thing, and I'm trying to figure out how I can recreate that sentiment in modern-day America."
I think that goes back to the main point I made about objective journalism being completely within our reach as a society. It's not a matter of impossibility, it's a matter of whether courageous and professional people are doing their jobs. Kudos for not letting your personal beliefs seep into your professional (...ok, quasi-professional) obligation.

And between the "red-tinted" comment and your involvement with Communist after reading up on McCarthy/Cohn, the Ironic Comedy Festival keeps on rolling. Thank you for putting a smile on my face!
Not to mention the use of the term "pink". Certainly rarely refers to ones political views, anymore.