Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Just-Not-Doing-Their-Job Edition)

Look: Six years ago, every Republican I talked to who would let his or her hair down agreed that George W. Bush was incompetent to be president. It did not matter, they said, that we were electing somebody unqualified for the job. George W. Bush was smart enough, they said, to know that he was a good face man--a good head-of-state--and a bad head of government. He would take advice. Paul O'Neill would contruct a reality-based economic policy, and Bush would approve it. Condi Rice and Colin Powell would contruct a reality-based foreign policy, and Bush would approve it. Rumsfeld would corral the Pentagon and get good money for our defense dollars. Cheney and Card would make sure the trains ran on time, that the policy process was orderly and fair, and that George W. Bush was persuaded by the various consensuses reached by his NSC, NEC, and other policy-forming bodies. That's what they said would happen.

Needless to say, it did not work out that way.

For more than six years, John Harris, Mark Halperin, and their peers have known that George W. Bush was not competent to be president. For six years, John Harris, Mark Halperin, and their peers have dined out in private on stories about the incompetence, malevolence, disconnection from reality, and mendacity of George W. Bush and his administration. But in public--ah, in public things have been different.

Thus for more than six years John Harris, Mark Halperin, and their peers have been two-faced: the stories they have been telling each other are different from the bland "opinions on shape of earth differ" that they have been telling their readers and their viewers.

They simply have not done their jobs.

And they do not care that they have not done their jobs.

Here they are writing to each other in Slate:

Mark Halperin: What most amazes—-and discourages—-me right now is that the mood of both the politicians and the electorate seems so angry. Sure, there is a lot to be unhappy about in a country at war, and that has a lot of people feeling like the nation is on the wrong track, but this level of vitriol seems excessive and a bit scary.

I don't really mind negative ads or messages—in part because there is nothing that the press can do about them, in part because they often have useful information in them, and in part because if voters want to be swayed by them, they will get the government they deserve.

What I don't like is false negative messages. Those, I think, are just bad for the electoral process....

[P]eople who live in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Manhattan should understand that in much of red America, [Karl] Rove is beloved and respected....

John F. Harris: I agree that it is arbitrary to make public a week-long fragment of our regular correspondence, most of which will not be open to scholars before 2025. But as long as we are reasonably alert, we should be able to promote our book and stay out of trouble in these days before the election. (I'm way too busy already to read or answer hundreds of flaming e-mails, or to sit through a long interrogation by the ombudsman.)...

[Y]our instinct for inflaming people on both the left and right into paroxysms of (publicity-producing) anger is, I suppose, a bankable asset for us....

It is our job as journalists to play referee, and I agree that at times, our efforts to call out falsehoods are pretty feeble compared to the volume....

The big journalistic failure of recent years is one also shared by numerous other people and institutions. That was the media's failure--with some prominent exceptions, including several at the Post--to challenge and illuminate the administration's premises for the Iraq war before the invasion. That is not an ideological statement, or even a criticism of the war. It's just a statement of fact....

For what it's worth, I think our failures in campaign and government coverage usually have less to do with ideology and more to do with journalistic conventions. We follow noise, as witnessed by the coverage of the Kerry-Iraq uproar in recent days. (Though please note that this classic freak-show story ran inside the Post today, not on the front page.) And our professional habits and stylebook rules sometimes inhibit us from telling the truth--and from saying that someone is lying--in plain, conversational language. We let it become a matter of controversy whether it is sunny or rainy, when sometimes it's a matter of fact. This is one area of the liberal critique of Old Media that often is pretty compelling...

In my view, John Harris's and his peers' failures have next to nothing to do with journalistic conventions. They have something to do with ideology. They have something more to do with material interest. But what they mostly have to do with is cowardice.


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