“Depends on your point of view…” These are weasel words for political journalists.

I often comment on the absurdity of the relentlessly down-the-middle approach cultivated by CNN, PBS, NPR and other "mainstream" news organizations. I don't trust this style. I think it is practiced in bad faith.

18 Mar 2016 11:25 pm 41 Comments

Last night I came upon a new exhibit in my running critique. I will show it to you, and then try to interpret what it means. It happened on a program where he said, she said and “we’ll have to leave it there” are a kind of house style: The Newshour on PBS. (Link.) Let’s set the scene…

* A big story: the poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water supply— a major public health disaster.
* Latest news: the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing at which Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarth, an Obama appointee, both testified.
* Outcome: They were ritualistically denounced and told to resign by members of Congress in the opposing party. (Big surprise, right?)
* Cast of characters in the clip I’m about to show you: Judy Woodruff of the Newshour is host and interviewer. Judy_Woodruff_at_Spotlight_Health_Aspen_Ideas_Festival_2015David Shepardson is a Reuters reporter in the Washington bureau who has been covering the Flint disaster. (Formerly of the Detroit News and a Michigan native.) Marc Edwards is a civil and environmental engineer and professor at Virginia Tech. (“He’s widely credited with helping to expose the Flint water problems. He testified before the same House committee earlier this week.”)

Now watch what happens when Woodruff asks the Reuters reporter: who bears responsibility for the water crisis in Flint? Which individual or agency is most at fault here? (The part I’ve isolated is 2:22.)

Here is what I saw. What did you see? The comment thread is open.

The Reuters journalist defaults on the question he was asked. He cannot name a single agency or person who is responsible. The first thing and the last thing he says is “depends on your point of view.” These are weasel words. In between he manages to isolate the crucial moment — when the state of Michigan failed to add “corrosion control” to water drawn from the Flint River — but he cannot say which official or which part of government is responsible for that lapse. Although he’s on the program for his knowledge of a story he’s been reporting on for months, the question of where responsibility lies seems to flummox and decenter him. He implies that he can’t answer because there actually is no answer, just the clashing points of view.

Republicans in Congress scream at Obama’s EPA person: you failed! Democrats in Congress scream at a Republican governor: you failed! Our reporter on the scene shrugs, as if to say: take your pick, hapless citizens! His actual words: “Splitting up the blame depends on your point of view.”

This is a sentiment that Judy Woodruff, who is running the show, can readily understand. He’s talking her language when he says “depends on your point of view.” That is just the sort of the down-the-middle futility that PBS Newshour traffics in. Does she press him to do better? Does she say, “Our viewers want to know: how can such thing a happen in the United States? You’ve been immersed in the story, can you at least tell us where to look if we’re searching for accountability?” She does not. Instead, she sympathizes with David Shepardson. “It’s impossible to separate it from the politics.” But we’ll try!

For the try she has to turn to the academic on the panel, who then gives a little master class in how to answer the question: who is at fault here? Here are the points Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech makes:

* Governor Snyder failed to listen to the people of Flint when they complained about the water.
* Synder trusted too much in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA.
* He has accepted some blame for these failures, calling the Flint water crisis his Katrina.
* EPA, by contrast, has been evading responsibility for its part in the scandal.
* EPA called the report by its own whistleblower “inconclusive” when it really wasn’t.
* The agency hesitated and doubted itself when it came to enforcing federal law. WTF?
* EPA said it had been “strong-armed” by the state officials as if they had more authority than the Federal government.

Who is responsible? That was the question on the PBS table. If we listen to the journalist on the panel we learn: “it depends on which team you’re on,” and “they’re all playing politics,” and “it’s impossible to separate truth from spin.”

Professor Marc Edwards, more confident in his ability to speak truth to power, cuts through all that crap: There are different levels of failure and layers of responsibility here, he says. Some people are further along than others in admitting fault. Yes, it’s complicated — as real life usually is — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to assign responsibility. Nor does responsibility lie in one person’s lap or one agency’s hands. Multiple parties are involved. But when people who have some responsibility obfuscate, that’s outrageous. And it has to be called out.

Now I ask you: who’s in the ivory tower here? The journalist or the academic?

I know what you’re thinking, PBS Newshour people. Hey, we’re the ones who booked Marc Edwards on our show and let him run with it. That’s good craft in broadcast journalism! Fair point, Newshour people. All credit to you for having him on. Good move. Full stop.

What interests me here is the losing gambit and musty feel of formulaic, down-the-middle journalism. The misplaced confidence of the correspondent positioning himself between warring parties. The spectacle of a Reuters reporter, steeped in the particulars of the case, defaulting on the basic question of who is responsible. The forfeiture of Fourth Estate duties to other, adjacent professions. The union with gridlock and hopelessness represented in those weasel words: “depends on your point of view.” The failure of nerve when Judy Woodruff lets a professional peer dodge her question— a thing they chortle about and sneer at when politicians do it. The contribution that “not our job” journalists make to unaccountable government, and to public cynicism. The bloodlessness and lack of affect in the journalist commenting on the Flint crisis, in contrast to the academic who is quietly seething.

In December I wrote something on how journalists and their bad habits are implicated in our hyper-polarized politics. (“Tone poem for the ‘leave it there’ press.”) Please excuse me for quoting myself:

Every time you asked each other “what’s the politics of this?” so you could escape the tedium and complexity of public problem-solving. Every time you smiled weakly to say, “depends on who you ask” before launching into a description of public actors who dwell in separate worlds of fact. Every time you described political polarization as symmetrical when it isn’t. Every time you denied that being in the middle was a position so you didn’t have to ask if it was a defensible one.

This has to stop.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

Big thanks to Max Larkin for technical assistance.

Ron Fournier of The Atlantic writes about the same moment and completely ignores the Reuters reporter, as if he wasn’t there. Also:

One of the reasons that journalists default to “depends on your point of view” when asked where responsibility lies is that they are wary of enlistment in partisan politics. And that is a valid concern. But it is false to equate holding people accountable with taking sides. That’s just lazy, formulaic thinking. Here’s a portion of the “About” page for ProPublica, an investigative newsroom in New York that does nothing but accountability journalism. Watch how in defining what they do they carefully distinguish it from joining up with the political circus:

In the best traditions of American journalism in the public service, we seek to stimulate positive change. We uncover unsavory practices in order to stimulate reform. We do this in an entirely non-partisan and non-ideological manner, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality. We won’t lobby. We won’t ally with politicians or advocacy groups. We look hard at the critical functions of business and of government, the two biggest centers of power, in areas ranging from product safety to securities fraud, from flaws in our system of criminal justice to practices that undermine fair elections. But we also focus on such institutions as unions, universities, hospitals, foundations and on the media when they constitute the strong exploiting or oppressing the weak, or when they are abusing the public trust.

It’s possible to hold power to account journalistically without “taking sides” in a political dispute. But you have to actually think about the best way to do that for your newsroom. My objection to “depends on your point of view” is that it is thought-less in precisely this way.

This “reporters notebook” item by Lindsey Smith of Michigan Public Radio answers the where does responsibility lie? question very well. And it clearly shows that the journalists involved in reporting on the Flint water crisis had to deliberate — think hard about what they uncovered — to get there, because the answer is complicated. Lindsey Smith writes that in making a 50-minute documentary on “how did this happen?” they came to a conclusion:

By not requiring Flint to treat the river water in a way that would’ve helped keep lead out of the drinking water, MDEQ became the most important focus for the “accountability” portion of this documentary.

Through months of research and lengthy, recorded interviews, my editors and I came to the conclusion that, had the water experts (specifically officials at MDEQ and the engineering firm Flint’s emergency manager hired), done a better job, then who made the decision to go to the Flint River shouldn’t have mattered. If they would’ve required corrosion control treatment, treatment any normal large city in America uses, treatment that the federal government has now made completely clear is absolutely required, the lead problems Flint has faced may not have ever happened.

That’s not to say all the responsibility lies there. Rather: accountability begins there. And that does not depend on your point of view. It flows from actual reporting. (Hat tip, Dustin Dwyer.)


Isn’t “this has to stop” a weasel too, though? The implication is that (a) the stopping of this is inevitable, because it “has to stop”, or else that if it doesn’t stop, some event will occur, when really what will occur is just that this practice will continue. And because it’s stated in the passive voice, there is no actor who is responsible for stopping it.

You could say Woodruff should stop it. Actually, you should say that, because that’s who has to stop it. But she won’t, because she doesn’t agree. So the real question is how we hold her to account for failing to do the job of journalism the way we think it should be done.

But what we definitely should not do is say “this has to stop,” because that statement very thoroughly excludes everything important about the process of this stopping.

Oh, bull. “This has to stop” is an expression of outrage. It’s just a less bloodless version of ” people should stop doing this” which is actually what’s required, because we’re talking about a more widespread phenomenon than what Judy Woodruff did or didn’t do.

“a more widespread phenomenon”

Yes, one can observe a lot just by looking. When a problem is observed it’s natural to next ponder a solution. If a solution is elusive, it’s often wise to reconsider and redefine the problem.

Mr. Rosen and others have long chronicled the enduring deficiencies in much of journalism, especially TV journalism. Solutions remain elusive. Institutional and personal incentives seem to lead journalists astray– changing incentives is likely the core of a solution.

PBS (and journalists like Woodruff) were originally the intended solution for observed deficiencies in commercial media and journalism… by removing the crass profit incentives. That solution obviously failed.

What alternative variations in the journalism incentive structure remain?

Wesley Rolley says:

This story also has implication for the current presidential campaigh. It is clear that, in this case, the EPA was not effective, if they were doing their job at all. On the other hand, one of the current list of candidates, Sen. Cruz, claims that he will eliminate the EPA if elected because their “job killing” over regulation is hurting American industry. I would love to have heard any one of the Republican Debate moderators raise the question of how much regulation is too much, given what we have learned via the Flint catastrophe. But, we did not and never will. It will not become an electoral issue, partly because the media will not ask those questions when they easily could.

Note: I am registered as a member of the Green Party and once served on the EcoAction Committee, Green Party US.

Just because the answer to a question is complex, that does not mean the question has no answer. Just because responsibility for a decision or a situation rests on more than one person, that does not mean it rests on nobody. To prevent the recurrence of a bad situation, it is necessary (said my engineer mother) to locate, identify, and document every source of failure…and in the case of such failures as the Flint, Michigan lead poisoning via public water supply, and its political background, that means finding out exactly who said exactly what and then apportioning responsibility among them–not removing it from all of them.

It is not true that “there are two sides to every question.” There are not two sides to the question “Is lead in the water harmful to children.” That it is harmful is a fact.

Facts do not have “two sides.” If it’s your opinion that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4 in base 10 (which is what we use in ordinary life) than you’re wrong; your opinion doesn’t have any weight in public discourse and should not be reported as if it does.

When the question arises from “political reality” or “morality,” we can refer to both law and social values for an answer. This requires formulating the question in a way likely to generate an answer. For instance: “Is it legally and morally acceptable to poison children to save a buck?” has only one right answer: No, it is not acceptable to poison children to save a buck.

Truth does not “depend on who you ask.” Some actual person took some actual action for some actual reason. It was their choice to make and they made it. It was some other specific actual person’s choice and the person who took the action was ordered to take it. Some individuals who are not qualified are elevated to positions of responsibility by specific other persons for a specific reason. Truth exists; responsibility exists. To create “accountability” from responsibility is the duty of journalists when other citizens cannot do it.

The idiocy of the political “debates” in which candidates are handed soft-ball “questions” and allowed to yammer around them with canned sound bites without answering even the softball is part of the same mess as contemporary journalism. Citizens never find out how the candidate reasons through their answer (generalities don’t count as reasoning.) (We often find out that they don’t think at all, but that’s another issue. Shouting “liar” at each other and discussing the size of their junk is…puerile.) The media channels and “journalists” who allow this circus to go on without doing their duty are failing the nation.

Beautifully said:

Just because the answer to a question is complex, that does not mean the question has no answer. Just because responsibility for a decision or a situation rests on more than one person, that does not mean it rests on nobody. To prevent the recurrence of a bad situation, it is necessary (said my engineer mother) to locate, identify, and document every source of failure…and in the case of such failures as the Flint, Michigan lead poisoning via public water supply, and its political background, that means finding out exactly who said exactly what and then apportioning responsibility among them–not removing it from all of them.

The ‘bomb-shell’ was Edwards’ report that the EPA systematically evades its responsibility to protect the water supplies ( and properly inform the public about lead contamination) in more than 150,000 communities across the nation. That the testimony of the director of the EPA before Congress was ‘outrageous and Orwellian”. A good discussion would have been Edwards and a comparable ‘expert’, perhaps one of EPA’s own engineers willing to contest this assertion. This might have taken a few days to prepare and produce and shifted the focus from the ‘wrangling’ and ‘disfunction’ of Congress. But this focus on a dysfunctional political establishment, which is paradoxically balanced on a routine basis by Newshour analysts with assertions that criticisms of the ‘dysfunctional political system’ are reactionary or illiberal – as in the case of Trump’s campaign-is fairly typical of most network news coverage. It’s more than timid, its a fundamental reluctance to challenge the status quo, a very difficult position to sustain these days, which Judy and Gwyn often do this a humor which is not quite ‘snarky’ but betrays a certain degree of cynicism,in my view.

Even in the case of PBS’s acclaimed investigative reporting there is a marked reluctance to properly expose the worst aspects of the situations they cover, as in a recent Frontline study of the paucity of qualified medical examiners in the U.S., posing it as primarily a problem for law enforcement and the Courts, whereas most of the research on Medical Examiners point to the problem that there are too few autopsies being performed at Hospitals, and autopsies are important for determining if the diagnosis and treatment given by doctors are proper, in the light of the CDC”s and the Institute of Medicine’s estimate of @40,000 unnecessary iatrogenic (Dr,induced) deaths in the U.S every year.

“lack of focus, continued distraction and poor investigative perspectives in the media contributes to a general decline among Americans in any interest in the news at all”, as Anthony Dimaggio wrote in “When the Media Goes to War.”

I am tired of spending (like money) time watching a promising program only to watch a television reporter move on to the next prepared question, rather than following up on an outrageous lie or statement.

Classic example was Rep. Todd Akin made his remark about “legitimate rape.” The interviewer at the time just went on to the next question, without flinching.

The fundamental problem is the binary forced choice nature of how issues are discussed.
D versus R
Fed versus State
Political versus Technical
Rich versus Poor.

The secondary problem is a failure of critical thinking.

Take the issue of EPA responsibility.

I want to emphasize the authors point…. it is of secondary importance to the initial actions by the city and state and their self reporting to the EPA. However, the debate structure itself equated them as of equal import in process of assigning blame.

A failure of critical thinking occurred. What expertise does either the moderator, the reporter OR the academic technical expert bring to that specific issue of the EPA’s responsibility? This is a legal and political question… The academic ignores these fundamental issues and opines about the moral context of the EPA’s actions. He is willing to pass judgement on the moral basis of EPA action as horrific failure. Of course the non critical thinker (AND PBS) will conclude… the EPA is 50 % at fault here…

The reporter conflates legal and political factors without parsing the issues under the weasel words… well it depends… Placed in context of 2016, the EPA is the political whipping boy of the Republican Party and Conservative interests who want the agency eliminated. Now they can pile on IF they can make the charges stick, that the EPA is evil and incompetent. The EPA employees know this. In reporting on the responsibility question you have to recognize the EPA has been constrained by 40 years of politics and with explicit limits on their legal authority and autonomy. The reporter’s lack of critical thinking allows him to conflate legality and politics along with morality here. BUT he can get off the hook by opining.. Well… it depends”

This news story should have been constructed around what was the specific responsibility each group was tasked with. The state and city responsibilities are clear. The issue of accountability failure of the EPA is not because this is complex. WHAT is the EPA authority and responsibility and what are they allowed to say. It is simply assumed that the EPA is all powerful and allowed political, legal and moral authority and so is free to save us from ourselves.

Do you really think that lefty leaning EPA employees were willing to look the other way on a lead poising issue?

This is not the first time that a lack of critical thinking and binary forced choices tags the EPA as being at fault. Take another example of the EPA being blamed for a bad outcome not caused by their actions.

Do you really think the EPA did not warn city state and federal officials and workers about the toxicity of ‘the pile” and air contamination at the NYC twin towers 9/11 attack? Their NYC headquarters are three or so blocks away from the site… Politics and Nationalism required the feel good “Heroic American Response” of cleanup and human remains recovery that we saw. The EPA could be the fall guy months down the road and that was OK by all of the powers that be. …. (At least the powers that be finally agreed to pay for the health costs for those poor workers.) The EPA was tagged as being responsible for the poisoning of the 9/11 first responders…. Really?

The EPA is responsible for poisoning Flint MI. Really?

In summary, complex issues can’t be evaluated as simple forced choice outcomes AND you can’t conflate politics, legality, morality

I think your comment is exactly right. The extent to which the EPA has been constrained by political realities is a real problem. Does anyone really think that if the EPA had rolled over the state and forced action that we wouldn’t have been seeing hearings on an out-of-control EPA rolling over the state and forcing action, overstepping their authority and failing to give the state time to respond?

Now, if you ask “should the EPA have overruled standard procedure guidelines and quickly stepped in instead of following usual channels” then you are asking the right question. Administrator Gina McCarthy also asked that question, and changed guidelines for EPA action in the face of imminent threats that a state is failing to address.

Sam Gunsch says:

Most of the coverage of climate change reflected in this:

excerpt: ‘The contribution that “not our job” journalists make to unaccountable government, and to public cynicism. The bloodlessness and lack of affect in the journalist commenting on the Flint crisis, in contrast to the academic who is quietly seething. ‘

“in contrast to the academic who is quietly seething. ‘”

Yes, it is an outrage that we have this situation… BUT the question was…

Who was responsible?

On that point… he offers nothing beyond his moral outrage.

I don’t agree. He said the Governor is guilty of ignoring the people of Flint when they raised the alarm. He said the Governor failed to exercise proper skepticism toward his Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA. That’s responsibility.

He also said the EPA is guilty of ignoring its whistleblower, of failing to press Michigan officials hard enough, and of a reluctance to intervene. That’s responsibility.

I think Obama should ask for Ms. McGarth’s resignation. The EPA doesn’t bear the primary responsibility for the toxic lead catastrophe in Flint. But she and the EPA failed in their mission to protect the public from air and water contamination, and she failed in that mission. There should be some accountability there, even if she didn’t CAUSE the problem.

However, the *primary responsibility* lies entirely with Governor Snyder. It is his administration who poisoned that community, knew it, and failed to rectify their ghastly decisions. To this very day, Governor Snyder has failed to take ANY action to protect the people of Flint. Any action taken to help those residents has been through volunteers, local government, community agencies, the Democrats in the Senate and the House, and the Clinton campaign.

Governor Snyder has hired a PR firm to protect himself, to frame the discussion and divert responsibility away from himself. The Republicans in Michigan and the Republicans in Congress are helping him.

Governor Snyder’s PR team roams the internet and enters into any discussion about Flint, working to divert blame away from their client and on to everyone else, including the EPA.

Governor Snyder’s PR team have commented on this thread.

And journalists at NPR and PBS and the network news and the cable news are all too willing to be manipulated by this crack PR team. Governor Snyder’s PR team makes it easy for news reporters like Judy Woodruff, and that local reporter, to throw up their hands ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Who Knows??? Not I!!!

That’s the thing. Big media is being willingly manipulated by Governor Snyder’s PR team. All except little ole Rachel Maddow. They haven’t gotten to her, yet.

Rod Nelson says:

Ron Fournier examines the same PBS broadcast for The Atlanti—well kinda…


BTW, the journalistic hero of the Flint Water Crisis is Curt Guyette of the Michigan ACLU ~

Thanks, Rod. I added this in the “After” section.

Kurt Squire says:

Thank you for the excellent blog. I found you through the Open Source podcast and am devouring it. I myself am a media & education scholar (video games actually) so I brush upon this tangentially at best, but I enjoy your thinking.


One question about the article, and a point I would like to see you follow up:

1) If you shut down the “balanced” issue of two sides, wouldn’t that lead to confirmation bias?

2) I have tried to reach you on Twitter about the cultural divide between the Republican activists and journalists (i.e. Brooks’ article on Trump this weekend). There is distrust. The rise of Trump by many of the locals voters are former Tea Partiers who were attacked and stereotyped by the media .

Could you write a post on bridging that divide between the media and the Republican activists?


If you shut down the “balanced” issue of two sides, wouldn’t that lead to confirmation bias?

Wake up: What do you think the artificial requirement for a 50-50 balance is, but confirmation bias? It’s confirmation that the journalist is in the middle between warring extremes, that the truth is probably somewhere in between, that raging partisans distort the case but the centrist press gets it right most of the time, that if one side says black and the other says white all the press can do is let readers decide.

You want confirmation bias? Ask for balance in all things.

On your second question. You’re going to hate my answer. But that’s okay.

Whether you call it the cultural right in this country, the conservative movement, the tea party, or the Republican party, they all decided at different points in time that they were the victims of the liberal media, the liberal universities, the liberal judiciary, the liberal intelligentsia. They decided to use that claim to power their movements.

It used to be that conservatives were the ones warning smartly and aptly about the corrosive effects of a victim mentality. The left didn’t listen, but it should have. That kind of conservative movement is long gone. Why do you think the Trump wave is called “identity politics for white people?” That’s what you get when you rely on culture war to mobilize people.


So no, I don’t have a post for you “on bridging that divide between the media and the Republican activists.” I have no idea how to do that, after all this. You could call me incompetent on the subject and I would not squawk. But I have quotes from journalists about wiping the spit from their clothes after Trump rallies. Do you want that?


We didn’t get this point overnight.

There are more voters within the primary who are opposed to Trump (scattered among the many choices) while he consolidates his votes. But those same people do not trust the media to tell their side of the story (see: tea Party v. Occupy)

If the NYT can’t endorse one Republican since 1954 (almost two decades before I was born), doesn’t that lead to a corrosive breakdown between the two groups?

It is a trust gap, and Trump filled in that gap (why else don’t Republican activists listen to media chiding? Because when times were hard on our side, the baseline Republicans = Evil; Democrats = Good); Fox News filled that gap; Talk radio filled that gap.

I’m sure you read the Moyers article. article.http://billmoyers.com/story/what-happens-to-journalists-when-no-one-wants-to-print-their-words-anymore/

Politicos and activists are active news readers. If those same activists and politicos feel they are being singled out (As I always ask, where are the Woodward and Bernstein’s during Democratic Administrations?), then the press needs to find a way to make allies.

Trumpism is partly due to the way the Tea party was treated by the national media (and then when the IRS news hit, it was dismissed — that was the same thing that got Nixon in trouble).

The media have their own karma to carry. But if they seem to come off as “Every Democratic Politico is future Camelot and every Republican is Watergate waiting to happen,” then attitudes must change within the news rooms and the schools.

Can we agree this breakdown between the GOP and the media is from both sides? The first major media person to treat non-Trump GOP politicians as flawed humans (and speak ‘Truth to Power’ when Democrats are in office) will help their paper/TV/etc gain audience.

The modern media is far from blameless, especially when one can call up the Journolist in 2008 and the actions defending the Administration during the Tea Party days.


Thank ya’kindly!

Do you have any examples from 2009 or 2013?

As far as writing a post directing the media on how to deal with GOP activists after decades of mistrust, I know you will come up with an answer.

You know the media people and industry well; However, they don’t understand the local and national activists on my side well.

Olive branches in both directions if t can be done.

Thanks Jay.

Where are the Woodward and Bernstein’s during Democratic Administrations?

Example provided. (Whitewater.)

Do you have any examples from 2009 or 2013?

You’re a clown. No more replies. Don’t bother.


What is wrong with 2009 or 2013?

It is a fair question.

You’re a clown. A honking, heavily made-up, red-nosed clown. Why? (As if you can’t figure this out…) Because you asked if the press would ever investigate a Democratic administration, then when provided with an example of the press doing just that (Whitewater) you change the question to, would the press ever investigate a Democratic administration from 2009 on? You’re clowning and you know it. Clown.

Thanks again, Jay, for more insightful and highly worthwhile work. I have two things to add to your discussion.

One, the middle-of-the-road is an easy conclusion to any issue, which largely caters to those without the intelligence or ability to confidently assign blame. In our culture, this is abdicated to those institutions who claim authority to assess blame, and the press is happy to go along, because it’s too much work to do otherwise. Where would Watergate have been without Mark Felt? Perhaps the real reason the academic was able to assign blame in this case was that he had the requisite intelligence to come to conclusions in the first place.

Two, I refer you once again to Chris Lasch’s wonderful essay “The lost art of political argument.” In it, he directly ties the decline in citizen participation in elections to the rise of the professionalization of the press and the ruse of objectivity. It was all designed to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising, and therein lies the rub. The very root of professional journalism is “depends on your view,” and your reporting about how its all collapsing is fresh air that’s badly needed. Please keep at it.

Thanks, Terry.

Lasch’s essay (the official title in his book is “The lost art of argument”) is unavailable online as far as I can tell. But I have read it many times. It’s great.

Jay, calling someone a “clown” is not helpful. JSF — my friend Joe Fein — is a Republican opponent of Trump who was trying to engage you about how the media has treated the rise of Trump. Your response to Joe is a perfect example of the problem that Joe was trying to engage you about, namely that most people in the media (at least 75%) are so profoundly hostile to the Republican Party that this bias clouds everything they do.

Wasn’t supposed to be helpful. It was supposed to be expressive.

If you say to me, “Where are the Woodward and Bernsteins during Democratic administrations?” (positing of course that such would never happen because of political bias among journalists) and I answer with the example of Whitewater, and instead of dealing with the consequences of this rather important example for the question (and the theory) you simply switch the time frame so that the counter-example disappears, you are clowning. Not “attempting to engage.” One who is clowning is a clown.

I have no desire to explain the media to Republicans and Conservatives who are constitutionally convinced of liberal bias. Because the clowning I just described to you is typical of what happens. I am not the defender of the political press against your charges of bias. Find someone who’s interested in that game. I am not. I don’t care about it. For no light escapes that box, especially on comment boards.

If you would like to know what I think about the question of political ideology and political journalism start here.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press

“That it’s easy to describe the ideology of the press is a point on which the left, the right and the profession of journalism converge. I disagree. I think it’s tricky. So tricky, I’ve had to invent my own language for discussing it.”

Richard Aubrey says:

It goes against my kidneys or something, but I’d give the reporter a break.

The question implied there is one person–this is the more entertaining journalism. The actual answer, a conglomeration of factors, takes too long to explain–presuming the reporter knew it, for the moment–and the reporter likely has enough experience to know that at least half of the factors would have to be explained. It certainly wouldn’t have been allowed, by the interlocutors, in the context of a question implying one person is guilty.

In watching some of the hearings, I saw some of the older congresspersons recalling a time when DC’s system had been worse. News to me.
The term “poisoned” is a misnomer. It explicitly includes a willed act.

The actual fact was that the water plan wasn’t using $80-$100 per day of additive which would have prevented the leaching of the lead. The question of who should have done that–somebody at the plant–and why it wasn’t done has not, so far as I know, been addressed. Nobody told him? Who should have told him? Where in all this expertise is the person who 1, knew it, and 2, did not tell anybody?
Presumed anybody with half a brain knew to do it? Was told to pound sand?

Now that Mr. Edwards has done his lonely and laudable work with Flint, let him take himself down the Animas River and see if he can get any ink. I’m betting not.

We had a guest a couple of years ago who worked in the bowels of Michigan state government. Her view was the legislators come and go and we tell them what they need to know and we do–she was not quite this blunt–what we want. I think, being charitable here, what she meant was we do what we think best. In other words, pretty much proof against outside influence, which is a major goal of any bureaucracy.

Paul Lukasiak says:

As an aside — I was struck by how generous Marc Edwards was to Gov. Snyder, pretty much absolving Snyder from any responsibility other than “not listening enough”. Then I looked up Edwards, and found this…


In other words, Edwards is now being paid by Snyder — a fact that was not disclosed in the report. So while I agree with Dr. Rosen’s overall point about the pusillanimous nature of the Reuters reporter (and Woodruff), nevertheless I think that its also important to know what, if any, conflicts the “experts” have who are placing blame.

All organization men, and women, know not to assign blame to other organizations and organization men and women. Know that one never voices ones own ideas and opinions while acting as a professional, and often when not, and that includes journalists. In this case journalists for PBS and Reuters. So Woodruff and Stephenson do he said she said. That’s how they got their jobs and keep them.

I wish I could express this better. The organization man, the company man, the party man, or women, were often accorded some contempt by most Americans until 30 or so years ago. Nobody really listened to a flack. Now all we hear are flacks and everyone knows the flack is BS’ing, understands why, and think it is AOK. It’s how you get ahead.

Well actually everyone doesn’t think it’s AOK. The consensus on all things is a mile wide and an inch deep. Every institution now suffers from a credibility trap. Our devolving politics and political economy represent the results of that trap with their dysfunction but the cause remains hidden from most. Let me borrow blogger Atrios recent pet phrase. “It’s all f&*^d up and bullshit” Nothing is working but nobody who is anybody will say it so we are in a sort of purgatory now. This will pass but woe be when it does pass.

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