What the campaign press should not be neutral toward

Some things I think journalists are allowed to advocate for in covering an election.

23 Oct 2016 6:14 pm 43 Comments

I wrote a whole book called What Are Journalists For? So I don’t say this lightly: To me it is not proper — I don’t think it builds trust in a free press — for the people who produce news to be campaigning for a political party, or trying to win it for a favored candidate.

As private citizens with political lives they can do whatever they want. As makers of a common story, news of the election, they should not operate as party creatures. Even if they are open about their beliefs they should not be “on the team.”

But there are things they can advocate for in a contested election— and other things they can legitimately oppose. Here is my list:

Pro-participation: Democracy is not a spectator sport. The more people who participate in the system the stronger it is. Journalists can safely advocate that people go out and vote. They can, I think, legitimately oppose efforts to discourage people from voting.

Pro-verification. “Did that actually happen?” “Is there good evidence for it?” “Can it be squared with what we know?” Journalists should reward with focused attention truth claims that can be verified, and they should penalize (by publicly doubting them) other claims that do not meet that test.

Pro-deliberation. People need to know what’s going on (news.) But to cast an intelligent vote they also need to hear a range of views around a common set of facts. Journalists can thus be “for” a lively, inclusive and fact-based debate. They can work against attempts to undermine it.

Pro-accountability. Elections are a contest for power. They are also a means for holding the powerful accountable. Contenders should have to answer for their words and deeds. They should explain themselves and reveal their plans. Journalists are on firm ground when they insist upon this kind of accountability, and when they resist attempts to elude it.

Against opacity. If nothing makes sense, if words have no meaning, if a manufactured confusion reigns, if we cannot tell where the candidates stand or what they intend to do, if the public record is obscured or destroyed, then democracy is defeated before the votes are cast. Journalists should stand against anything that makes for a more opaque election.

Against demagoguery. The attempt to gain power through a charismatic appeal to fear, prejudice, ignorance and an animus toward the “other” contradicts everything that principled journalists stand for. In the degree that such appeals succeed, they render impotent the basic acts of reporting and verification. When journalists combat demagogic argument they are not exceeding their brief. They are meeting their mission.

I have phrased these items as permissions: they are allowed to… they are on firm ground when… But it would be just as correct to use a term like obligations. If in covering the campaign journalists cannot stand up for informed participation, rigorous verification, a fact-based debate, real accountability; if they can’t find a way to oppose opacity and demagoguery, then they will sell themselves short and encourage the rest of us to tune them out.

Now we come to the hard part. All these acts require the journalist to form judgments, which will be contestable. There is no way around that.

And now we come to the really hard part. When journalists press for the things I say they can press for; when they fight against what they ought to fight against, the results are unlikely to be “neutral.” They are going to wind up penalizing some candidacies more than others. If making stuff up to mobilize fear and prejudice is the political style to which a candidate has become attached, journalists will have to set themselves against that style. And they will have to call it by its proper names.

To committed supporters this will seem like joining the other team. It’s not that, but it will seem so. There is no easy solution, especially at a time when institutional trust is bottoming out. But to feign neutrality toward the causes of ruin would be far worse.


Carl Rotenberg says:

Concise argument for calling politicians out when they talk in generalities or fail to outline proactive plans. We need more detail and more political skin in national elections.

I always liked this as a measure of how a “savvy” or “reality-based” political journalist understands the candidate and topic being covered: “percentage of imaginative reality-trashing vs. unimaginative reality-avoiding.”

longwalkdownlyndale says:

Here’s one way I like to think about it. Campaign journalists should by and large be on the side of the informal social norms of politics. That is to say a question they should ask themselves about an event or development is “how normal is this?” For example it’s been an established social norm for 40 years that presidential candidate release their tax returns and health records, Trump refusing to do so violates an established social norm which makes it pretty suspect and “bad” in a way, regardless of how it looks to a journalist or the electorate. Likewise a more helpful question for journalists to ask about the Clinton Foundation than “does this raise concerns?” would be “how typical is this compared to other big nonprofits and funding entities that do work in the developing world?”

James Clark Maxwell says:

The test of this policy would come when the journalist had to apply this principles to a candidate they like.

I think all know how that would turn out.

Truth is not neutral. Neutrality is a position between contending powers or ideas that is not necessarily right or true. Neutrality emerged as a marketing position among sharply competitive partisan outlets but became a safe position for outlets trying to maximize mass advertising revenue and for outlets subject to government fairness regulation. Ideally, journalists would serve truth but at present we lack civic information enterprises or political parties that can effectively generate power from truth.

“Truth” isn’t always an absolute, and it changes depending upon the beholder. Example: “My plan will create jobs.” Every candidate’s plan will accomplish that in a vacuum. But an economy is dynamic, and changing circumstances will result in different projected outcomes. So you can’t conclude that Candidate A is lying about his or her tax proposals, while Candidate B is telling the “truth.” What a journalist does is report what the candidate proposes, get reaction from experts AND opponents, and produce a story that present those views. But a journalist is not the arbiter of what policy works best.

The recently in vogue norms of journalism don’t add enough value to survive in our hypercompetitive media markets. What a journalist does is collect and edit information for presentation through the media. The old-fashioned method of reporting you describe is only mildly helpful to a citizen. Another method might be to offer relevant evidence supporting or refuting a candidate’s claims, properly sourced so that so that others can examine and weigh the accuracy of the evidence and to draw a conclusion based on such evidence. The later method is more scientific and more likely to move civic discussions usefully toward truth than the typical “he said, she said” method. In the tumult of cheap political propaganda, valuable truth is more likely to triumph when journalists and journalistic media outlets offer clear, well-supported conclusions.

paul lukasiak says:

I don’t think that any of your points are controversial — everyone is in favor of participation and veracity, and against demagoguery. The real issue is the way these values are prioritized in reporting.

All the news networks will mention both the latest Trump tweet and wikileaks disclosure. But one leads with the wikileaks story, “deliberates” on it extensively, and mentions the Trump tweet only parenthetically. Another will do the opposite — the Trump tweet gets the lion’s share of the coverage, and the wikileaks story is given short shrift.

Both networks are providing variations of the kinds of journalism you endorse, yet only one is providing truly “honest” journalism by emphasizing the most relevant story. So my question is, how does the process of prioritization of political stories fit into your framework?

Ginny Dalton says:

I think the media set the stage for us, including me, to hate Hillary. I sure did. We read that she was ugly, wore stupid clothes, was fat, lied, and DIDN’T KNOW HER PLACE. DIDN’T KNOW HER PLACE??? Then there was Whitewatergate, Benghazigate, emailgate, murdergate, and all those other -gates …that I BELIEVED. Some were based in fact but with too many facts missing, some appeared to be fantasies of some reporter’s imagination. When I started really digging and researching, I discovered a BIG vendetta against Hillary. I hated Hillary at the beginning of this campaign. I even heard Cokie Roberts questioning her integrity. This is NPR, that is supposed to have some journalistic integrity, speaking of integrity. Cokie, very meaningfully, said something like, Weeeeelllll, we will just have to wait and see [how honest she is.] Crimony, if the press is asking nearly every day “Is Hillary honest,” the public will start wondering. Apparently the public turned that question into a definitive statement, and the press leaped on it. We could believe whatever was reported ONLY IF (and the press made THAT clear) we believed Hillary was honest. A biased report??? You bet. I read somewhere that the press needed for the race between Clinton and Trump to be closer to bring in more revenue and so had to make Hillary appear a whole lot worse than your average politician and Trump appear harmless. You are going to have a difficult time persuading me that I wasn’t convinced by what I read and heard Hillary was the scum of the earth, and it was the media that convinced me. Once I read her platform, listened to her, read both left- and right-wing books and articles, with entire statements not just snippits taken out of context, with reputable citations, and with fact-checking. Sometimes the fact checkers got it wrong or misleading. I listened to the entire 4.5 hrs of the July 7 House Oversight Committee meeting with Comey and was appalled when he said at the beginning, saying that Hillary had received and sent classified emails. He lied in answer to those questions. At the very tail end of the meeting, he exonerated her. He did not reference Executive Order 13526 (which I had found on my own, read, and became convinced that Hillary did not lie), but that was the essence of his finally acknowledging that those 3 emails (3/30,000 = 0.01%) he was calling classified could not possibly have been classified if EO 13526 had been followed. Good grief. Then Hillary got a “Pants on Fire” for saying something like Comey had cleared her, had said she had not lied. Well, in essence that was what he did say, BUT not an exact quote. But what self-respecting Republican is going to come out and say that Hillary didn’t lie? So Hillary gets a pants on fire for a misquote, but nothing, NOTHING, about the fact that all along, she had been correct, that she didn’t send or receive classified emails. And Wikileaksgate is another much ado about nothing. What Joe Klein said in the Oct 24 issue of Time magazine makes perfect sense. Of course, you can take one or 2 emails and make a big deal about them, take them out of context and blow them out of proportion. But when you look at all, ALL, the emails from all Democratic sources, some is just stupid politicking. But the rest is a woman (ignore some of her loyal staff that don’t have better sense sometimes) who wants to do what she can for not only for the American people but for the people of the world. Has Hillary made mistakes? Well, of course. But Bush made the biggest mistake by getting us into war, destabilizing the whole Middle East, in the first place. Hillary and her fellow Congressmen drafted a resolution that should have held Cowboy Bush from shooting at the hip. He ignored the resolution and authorized the invasion of Iraq. Now, that was BIG STUPID. But no President has been perfect. And we can’t go back to undo it. We have to go forward. Hillary is a moderate, and I think will not be swayed by the far-left or far-right. I think she will do a good job if elected. But I finally remembered what happened to John Kerry. The perfect word for what has happened to Hillary. Hillary has been “swiftboated.” …by the media.

You will never be able to eliminate the affect of ideology on journalistic practice when it comes to political coverage. It will always frame truth within the context of right or wrong by current cultural standards. Today’s journalists are working overtime to justify their bias against Trump, and I agree he should not be President. But, the context is within the existing political framework. By comparison, a journalist with a Marxist understanding of politics may do a story about how both Trump AND Clinton are not valid candidates. Isn’t the real story of this election the fact that both major party candidates are so unpopular that no one is satisfied with the choices. That shows a major disconnect between our political elite and the people. National political journalists are part of the elite so you can’t expect them to provide objective reporting. The answer is obvious. If you want objective reporting of US politics look at journalism outside the mainstream. Personally, I have learned more about the challenges we face today from the email hacks and secret videos than I have reporting about Trump’s treatment of women.

my pinned tweet is a collection of just such journalistic sources outside the mainstream, but doing what i consider to be “the job”

Sheryl Atkinson appeared to have these principles and apply them equally. Where did that get her and where and who were her defenders?

If Trump is so bad there is a moral imperative to keep him from office, the moral imperative to keep Hillary from beating Bernie in the primary should have been just as great and allowed just as much leeway in coverage.

A liar is a liar, once you start differentiating degrees of lying, this is not much of a principle anymore, rather an excuse to act unprincipled against people you dislike and for people you like.

Likewise after Fast and furious, the IRS scandal, Bengasi, the E-mails, the Clinton Foundation, and now the evidence of wide spread collusion between political campaigns, government officials ( which I am sure are both democratic and republican) and the press your pro accountability blurb appears delusional.

The problem is that you can’t hold these principles and advocate for civic Journalism or social justice. The former are about truth and the later about power.

Jazzaloha says:

I really liked and agree with this post. Some thoughts off the top of my head:

1. To adopt this approach, I believe journalists need to explain, not only the approach and its ramifications (e.g., lopsided coverage), but providing persuasive reasons for adopting it. Since this is a different and unusual way of coverage—one that will seem partisan—any journalist adopting this approach has to lay the groundwork for it. I suspect this will take time and may not be so easy, but I believe it has to be done. I do not think journalists should adopt this approach without preparing citizens for it;

2. Part of this groundwork involves articulating vital and necessary principles and conditions for a healthy democracy and meaningful journalism. One example: facts matter and opinions should be based on facts and sound reasoning. Without this, journalism loses its meaning and value and democracy ceases to exist in any meaningful way;

3. Will the commercial forces that shape journalism allow for the approach you’re advocating, especially network and cable news agencies? If not, how do journalists get around this problem?

4. I think journalists should make distinctions between different degrees of opacity. All politicians will try to obscure or hide certain details that may harm them, and some of this is normal and tolerable. However, there is a point where it becomes intolerable. For example, if a candidate attempts to destroy the notion of truth—or, alternatively, to promote the view that truths are impossible to know—then this is something that journalists can vigorously oppose. The same can be said about ignorance and lying.

The problem with this approach is who guards the guards. If this approach results in lopsided coverage, a thumb on the scale, it is my guess the proponents are pretty sure on which side of the scale the thumb is going to land. It becomes a rationalization for propaganda. It doesn’t seem partisan it is partisan.

This is a top down, paternalistic, approach, allowing journalists to rationalize the abuse of their power to control information. I can see why it is appealing.

Which is worse Trump telling a person at his rally it is OK to hit someone, or paying people to go to Trump rallies to disrupt them and incite violence? Why not tell people everything and let them decide?

Furthermore opacity may be normal, but why is it tolerable. If journalists trust a politician because of similar political views will more opacity be allowed than for one they don’t trust? Is running a private E-mail server and destroying government records in work e-mails tolerable? Forget the E-mails the IRS destroyed hard drives, is that tolerable? What lies are tolerable? Will the criteria for these decisions be transparent and evenly applied? From this post I think we have already decided it won’t. Otherwise the coverage wouldn’t be lopsided would it?

Hillary called half of Trumps supporters deplorable an irredeemable. Will you or press defend them, produce lopsided coverage if needed to provide them comfort and afflict the powerful government?

Are you willing to apply this lopsided coverage to advance Trump in areas where Clinton is wrong, and or lying?

From what I have seen the answer is no, and this post is a rationalization for bad behavior, not a statement of principles.

Jazzaloha says:

The approach being advocated involves defending principles that are vital to both journalism and democracy–if a candidate flagrantly ignores or attacks these principles, then journalists can push back hard against him. For example, if a candidate consistently ignores facts, fails to you use sound reasoning or displays a gross ignorance for an issue–the press would be right vigorously challenge the candidate–because these are necessary conditions for having a meaningful discussion. Journalism and democracy become a farce if candidates are allowed to talk about important matters in this way. Therefore, the press is justified in vigorously defending these necessary conditions and vigorously opposing a candidate who displays a hostility these conditions.

Now, as Rosen noted, this is a tricky business–it requires judgment on the part of journalists, and will no doubt elicit criticism (of bias for one). This is unavoidable. To deal with this, I think journalists should identify some of these essential principles and ground rules–including making a strong case for these these principles and conditions are vital. If a candidate violates these principles, journalists also need to make a case for this as well. Easy and uncontroversial? Nope, but necessary? Yep.

I can certainly agree with you in principle. I just do not see it working in practice as I have seen few people sacrifice friends or status for principle. If it were to work though, ideally journalists in this position should be able to articulate both sides of an issue and have some empathy for both sides of an issue. For a debate to occur there has to be some concession of the validity of the opposing side. Because if you can’t see validity, humanity, in the opposing side, I do not see how you can effectively criticize the side you support. And the the ability to sharply criticize the side you support is critical to defending principles. In fact, making the side you support meet your principles first seems a good way to garner trust required If lies and deception make Trump unacceptable, how can Hillary be acceptable? If Trump’s remarks about illegal immigrants makes him a monster, how can Clinton’s deplorable comments about US citizens not make her a monster as well? Would not principles demand this.

For example what is more principled?
lying and deception corrupt the political process. Clinton lies a lot here is how and why, Trump lies more frequently and here is how and why.
Trump consistently and flagrantly lies outside of normal political bounds.

one is a declaration of a principled opinion the other is a value judgment being packaged as a principled opinion.

So when you use words like flagrant, sound reasoning, and gross ignorance I question how principled you desire to be.

One last thought. Frequently asymmetrical “facts” are more matters of opinion, and depredating people as racists, xenophobes, homophobe, islamophobe, not “fact based’ etc. preclude a meaningful discussion as surely as lies do. If the press is to function as you wish a good place to start might be striping these and other value judgments from their lexicon.

John Bellquist says:

So I would be interested to hear your reflections on the European press, where newspapers are usually accepted as reflecting an ideological position or a political party. There are social democratic newspapers, conservative newspapers, etc. And yet they often practice superb journalism; indeed they often present more informed reporting on the United States than one finds in American newspapers.

It is also worth looking back at the political-economic evolution of journalism in this country. We may be emerging from a phase of American journalistic norms when government-regulated broadcast media, government-supported public broadcast media, and blandly positioned mass circulation print media dominated civic information. It was in the interest of these outlets to claim to be unbiased, fair and balanced, objective and nonpartisan etc. We maybe returning to a much more dynamic, hotly competitive, low margin, and openly partisan media market place. It is worth thinking about what forms in this environment might favor truth.

Even within publishing traditions where the press entity is expected to have a point of view, I think it’s important for journalists to be pro-participation (for everyone, not just your ‘side’), pro-verification, pro-deliberation, pro-accountability, anti-opacity and anti-demagoguery. These are the things that distinguish journalism from cheerleading and propaganda.

Marc Lajoie says:

This may be partially covered by others in the list, but is worth restating.

Pro-freedom of the press: When one candidate is threatening news orgs with lawsuits and vilifying journalists or even encouraging violence against them, it’s ok to take a side for the practice of journalism and for the protections and shield laws that allow us to foster participation, verification, deliberation and accountability and oppose opacity and demagoguery.

I agree with that, but it isn’t particular to election coverage so I didn’t include it in this post.

Bud Byrd says:

Your thesis indicts the bulk of modern day reporting in America …probably, the world.

Solid article and I strongly agree. Facts, verification, clarity – these aspects are important to ensure a well-educated voter, and should not be sacrificed in favour of ‘neutrality’. And if all aspects of this process are followed and subsequently penalises a candidate, it’s not so much the bias of the journalist doing the penalising, but rather the facts and information.

There are a certain number of posters who comment here who want me to understand the following:

* They think “the media” is biased. Very, very biased. Always and everywhere.
* It is biased in a liberal direction, which of course helps the Democratic party.
* This has been proven many times. No reasonable person could possibly disagree.
* They don’t trust The Media for this reason. They think no one should trust it.
* They believe I don’t sufficiently recognize this fact, and this makes them mad.
* They’re going to say it, and say it, and say it, and say it… and say it again.
* There is nothing else worth saying. This is the thing that must be said. Only this!
* I don’t seem to recognize the basic truth of it, so it must be drilled into me.
* Whatever I write in a given post should be ignored, except as it bears on liberal bias.

These people have been coming to my blog for ten years. That’s a long time! Their message never varies. They need someone to yell at, and I am their one. They locate the comment thread, turn on the drill, and bore in. They have zero interest in what I actually think. In their minds, they are successfully lecturing the media on how biased it is. Score!

It doesn’t do any good for me to tell them that I am not “the media.” The drill is in their hot hands and they intend to use it on my skull— and yours, dear reader. If they could direct me what they would like me to do is engage in hand-to-hand combat about every fact in every case of media bias they have ever detected. Because they think they could kill me in such a fight.

This I decline to do. I don’t think it would be productive.

These people are numerous.

They are determined.

And they are enraged. It is difficult to describe how enraged they are. I have been listening to them for ten+ years. There has never been a new idea. There has never been any variation in the message. It is brutal. It is monotonous. It is a monotone. Have you been to the dentist? Can you recall the sound of the drill during a root canal? That is what it is like being on the receiving end of media bias complaints.

If you would like to know what I think about media bias — and the people I am talking about do not want to know, they want a soft skull they can drill into — then start here.

My father was born in 1925, served 26years in the USArmy and earned his BA in History on the GIBill before working another 20years in law enforcement. He was an FDR liberal in many respects, but he also saw foreign policy in a more conservative bent. He was a fair man to everyone he encountered, his family included. We subscribed to two newspapers when I was growing up, one center-left, the other business-right, and he was proud (and grateful) to read them both daily, as was I as I grew older. He always preached reading everything you could get your hands on, and as far as the political perspective of the editorial boards of newspapers, I remember him reminding me: ‘Any newspaper is a starting point, it begins the discussion. After you’ve read it, then you get your say, agree or disagree.’

He was a wise man.

Michael Brazier says:

About the ideology you described in that essay. While you discovered it among your colleagues in the media, it’s by no means confined to them. Its core traits – the cosmopolitan attitude, the self-conception as an umpire judging the political contest and not participating in it, the claim to pragmatism and moderation between extremes as a source of legitimacy, and the resulting contempt for loyalty to a people or a principle – are also dominant in the civil service of Western nations, and among those whose livelihood comes from government favor. That is, people who hold this ideology are rulers of the modern world.

In American politics, in particular, this ideology is the basic belief of the Democratic Party – which is the real significance of Glenn Reynolds’ line “Think of [the media] as Democratic operatives with bylines.” The Democratic leaders describe themselves as cosmopolitan, moderate and pragmatic, and thus gain the trust of reporters who value these attributes; the Republicans claim to be patriotic and principled, which excites reporters’ suspicion and mistrust. The Democrats’ claim to political office appeals to the same standard that the media applies to its own conduct, and the ways Democrats justify their actions sound like the media’s self-justifications.

Hence, the real difficulty with the program you are now outlining isn’t that it might look like joining a “side” in a political campaign. Rather, journalists who followed it would be led to oppose the real ruling class of the modern world, at just those times when its members want to lie to the public or are victims of a collective delusion. They would be principled – and therefore untrusted by “pragmatic” politicians.

Andrew Tyndall says:

@Brazier — in your characterization of the Democratic Party, you seem to have ignored what was at stake in the primary season this spring.

You are probably correct that cosmopolitanism, moderation and pragmatism are key components of the self-image of the party’s leadership, as embodied in the figure of Hillary Rodham Clinton. But these were precisely the traits that alienated the progressive wing of the party during the primary season, as embodied in the figure of Bernie Sanders. And she will certainly fail to win the White House if her candidacy fails to change in order to seem plausible to that progressive wing.

The Democrats’ progressive wing certainly does not identify itself with the rulers of the modern world, even if she does, and would certainly uphold idealism over pragmatism, and radical reform over moderation.

As for your third term, cosmopolitanism, most people probably look askance at anybody who used such disreputable terminology — either approvingly or as a pejorative — because of its taint of anti-Semitism. So let’s use globalism instead.

During the primaries, Sanders was famous for rallying his troops against globalism. Despite your praise for the Republican Party for its patriotism and principle, there is nothing in its track record to suggest that the GOP shares Sanders’ anti-globalist bona fides.

On the other hand, if your use of “cosmopolitan” was not a reference to globalism, but instead to opposition to nativism, then I agree: both the progressive wing and the elite wing of the Democratic Party oppose nativism. And political journalists should too, citing Jay Rosen’s precept proposed above of the importance of standing firm against Demagoguery. And so should you.

I hope that you were not condoning such a nativist impulse when your criticism of elite ideology cited its “contempt for loyalty to a people.” The United States is most assuredly not composed of “a people” but “the people” and I assume the “a” was a typo for “the”.

Michael Brazier says:

Sanders’ candidacy this year does demonstrate a widespread opposition among Democratic voters to the cosmopolitan ideology. However, it also shows just how strong that ideology’s grip on the party is: Sanders never had a real shot at being nominated. The superdelegate system is partly responsible for that, but as I recall Sanders failed to gain even a majority of the bound delegates at the convention.

I said the GOP claims to be patriotic and principled, not that it lives up to the claim. If that party actually were what it claimed to be Donald Trump would not be its nominee this year; the gap between what the GOP promises and what it’s actually done was his road to nomination.

“Globalism” is in my experience a pejorative, applied to this ideology by its opponents; it is that word which carries a taint of anti-Semitism. “Cosmopolitan” is a word those who believe the ideology would use for themselves.

I spoke of loyalty to a people because I am considering world politics, not just the USA; Europe’s right-wing parties take such loyalties as fundamental. And I remind you that the ideology rejects loyalty to a principle as well; America may not be a people, but it’s certainly a principle. (One sure tell that someone subscribes to the “view from Nowhere” is their inability to distinguish between American and European nationalists.)

Oh, and – demagoguery is not confined to nationalists. Anything people feel strongly about can be exploited by a demagogue; even anti-nationalism. The progressive wing of the Democrats contains many people who escape the charge of demagoguery only because they don’t draw massive audiences. The contempt for evidence, the stoking of fear and hate, that is the mark of the demagogue, they possess in abundance. Yet any who called them “nativist” would be a liar.

If it seems I am harping on bias it is not my intent. I oppose what appears to me your claim of the high ground for the press, the assumption of good intent, knowing what is good and right. I’m sorry but in politics and the culture wars I do not see much high ground.

What you see as bias complaints I see as descriptions of a lack of fairness, assigning good and bad intent arbitrarily, and a lack of empathy.

We talk past each other because I think, at the national level, the press is out of touch with, and to a large extent looks down, on large portions of the population they are suppose to serve. They have no skin in the game the average citizen is forced to play. I do not see how your vision of the press can function while this is so.

You see the problem as some sort of structural problem, I see it as a problem of the soul.

Sorry if you think I am angry, I’m not. At least not today.

You offer nothing but a relentless drilling. You contribute nothing to my understanding. I learn nothing from your comments. I trust nothing you have to say. You are pure negation. You have one message: liberal bias. There is no subtlety, no shade, no thought, no beauty, no hope, no ambiguity, no humor, nothing human, nothing real. The horizon is completely bleak. That is what you offer. And you never let up. You never change. You never vary the message. You are self-reductive. You’re like a bot.

Yes, I know, I am not writing for you, but I will consider your criticism.

Merrill Brown says:

What’s wrong with being Against Bigotry. To cite a relatively straightforward example, there was a press consensus that life in the segregated South required extensive coverage in the Fifties. Commentators and others joined in and a national conversation began.

Neutrality is a holdover concept from the discredited idea that journalists can be truly objective. It’s more a commercial than public service value.

Journalists OUGHT to be biased, but only in three ways: 1) For the common good (Jay’s list fits here); 2) For making what’s important interesting; and 3) For concision (public attention is a limited resource.)

Rather than objective, reporters ought to be empirical and embrace the biases above as necessary to their fundamental role empowering democracy.

Thanks, John. Good way of thinking about it.

Sometimes I think James Comey has a great-nephew badly in need of a journalism doctorate thesis.

For a supposedly neutral FBI director, Comey’s certainly supplying all the wool our press corp needs to knit into “Why the hell is the press covering that like this?” stories for our bloghost.

Richard Aubrey says:

@KadeKo. A talking head this evening mentioned that numerous FBI investigations into Clinton affairs–not that kind–had been going on, some of them, for a year. Didn’t, he asked, the people need to know this before the primary? Where was the press?

Ben Rhodes, failed novelist and Obama foreign policy advisor, said that the reporters around the 0bama administration were ignorant on the most basic level. They’d believe anything you told them. Easy to manipulate, was the point. Where, in Prof. Rosen’s template, do they fit? And if we deserve better, how do we get it?

Where was the press during all the “all smoke, no fire” Clinton email scandalry? The press was busy fluffing up the non-indictment this summer into the weaselly phrase Serious Questions Raised!!!!

And then they did it again last week.

We deserve journos who aren’t such suckers for everyone on the right with an axe to grind against Hillary Clinton.

Richard Aubrey says:

It’s best to leave that sort of comment until after everything’s settled.
Anyway, is Rhodes’ comment worth a thought?

“Settle” nothing.

No, the best thing for our press corps is to use a bit of damned skepticism and not get suckered by a piece of work that breaks all regular norms and is very suspiciously timed.

Richard Aubrey says:

Okay. So the emails don’t mean anything. How about Rhodes’ view of the journos he deals with?

t1gerlilly says:

I think there is a distinction to be made between partisanship and bias. Partisanship, in the sense of an overt expression of a political philosophy, with acknowledgement of accompanying a priori assumptions, can actually increase trust in a journalist, when practiced within rigorous journalistic standards.

Bias, on the other hand, in the traditional academic sense, is a set of unacknowledged and possibly unconscious assumptions and attitudes that skew rational thought and distort reality. In this case, bias is most closely aligned with the impossibly “neutral” journalist, who expects the viewer to discount the effect of their personal views without any insight into what they may be, and thereby lacks transparency.

It seems to me that in this, academia is several decades ahead of the press on the issue of bias. Good academicians attempt to be aware of unconscious bias and the effect it may have on social research in the construction of questions and interpretation of results. The expectation is not that there is no bias, but to attempt to mitigate it through rigorous scientific standards and self-awareness. The press, by attempting to deny the affect of personal bias to retain their authority and legitimacy, instead have the effect of making themselves appear untrustworthy and apparently secretive.

As a practical example for how this applies to the press, I’d offer my boss, whom I’ve just gotten to start watching Rachel Maddow. He, like many people, attempts to determine the truth of a situation by seeking out multiple opinions in the press. For example, after watching the presidential debates, he described flipping back and forth between network TV and Fox News.

He still uses the same basic methods to try and evaluate coverage. Only now he switches between Rachel and Fox. His analysis of the choices in emphasis in coverage and basic intellectual integrity are fascinating to hear.

Rachel, despite her clear partisan bias, is so clearly intellectually rigorous and fair, that she is far more convincing and trustworthy to him than the ‘neutral’ network journalists. He is impressed by the clarity of her arguments and lack of hyperbole.

He doesn’t care that Fox is partisan, for example, but he is disgusted by their presenting the inconsequential as dramatically shocking: i.e. to present facts without context, fairness, or basic judgement. Or as he would say, with disgust: “Bullshit.” (In particular, he was bothered by the way they went through the WikiLeaks material.)

Bad journalism is fundamentally what he finds untrustworthy.