Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Negative = Positive

I looked forward to reading Michael Massing's latest piece in The New York Review Of Books, "The End Of News?". I thought it would be an interesting discussion of the rise of conservative media from the viewpoint of the Left. Instead, it was the same old cluelessness that helped create a need for a conservative media to begin with.

In the introduction, Massing complains about a press that's too wimpy, compared to the glory days of the Pentagon Papers. Apparently, back then the media would stare down the White House, while today they're too ready to apologize. This is silly nostalgia. In fact, the media was much more pliant back in the 60s, and only after the double whammy of Vietnam and Watergate did they become relentlessly adversarial as a default position. In fact, they want to cause trouble so badly, they often go too far, hence all the apologies these days.

Massing, needless to say (alas), thinks Bush has had it way too easy, but listen to the end of his intro:
With the President's poll numbers down and infighting among conservatives more visible, the coverage of Washington has sharpened of late, but overall the climate remains hostile to good reporting.
Got that? "Good reporting" doesn't mean getting it right, it means keeping it negative.

Massing starts with the rise of right wing radio, followed by Fox News, then conservative bloggers, and how they all interact. It's a familiar litany, but the story, well told, is still worth hearing. The trouble is, along the way, he keeps showing how--and I hate this phrase, but it fits--he just doesn't get it. He might ask himself why conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been so successful--why there was such a big niche waiting to be filled. I'm not saying he has to to agree with them, just understand them. But this seems beyond him.

Amazingly, even before Rush happened, Massing believes the media in the mid-80s were already so intimidated--apparently by a few studies on media bias (!)--that they had a near-hands off approach toward Reagan. I'm sure we all remember that golden age when the press supported supply-side economics during the recession of '82, and then kept a lid on all the dirt coming out of the Iran-Contra hearings.

There are many examples in the piece demonstrating Massing's one-dimensional view of the media, and, in fact, the world. For instance, after condemning Fox for weakening news coverage overall, (he refers to a mysterious "Fox effect"--sounds like something they should investigate on the SciFi Channel), he does see one bright, shining moment where the press finally got it right--hurricane Katrina. Forget that there was more misinformation than information in the early reporting--it's good enough for Massing that the blame (probably incorrectly) was placed squarely on the Bush administration. This gives Massing so much hope, in fact, that he says the media might make it through yet. (For similar bizarre claims, see Al Gore.)

But Massing really loses it in discussing the internet. His characterization of Rathergate is astonishing:
When 60 Minutes ran its segment on the memos about George Bush's National Guard service, [conservative website] Power Line led the way in raising doubts about the authenticity of the documents and the reliability of their source. After CBS apologized, the remaining serious questions about Bush's National Guard service were abruptly dropped by CBS and the press in general.
(He then refers us to a previous piece in the Review Of Books on this issue, which was the most preposterous thing I have ever read in any periodical that I didn't find stuck under my windshield wiper.) So Rathergate isn't about catching CBS trying to bring down Bush by using obviously fraudulent documents, it's about how CBS was cowed into stopping important research.

Let me count a few ways this is wrong. First, this story was widely reported in 2000 (and perhaps earlier) in hopes of bringing down Bush--the whole thing was merely a rehash in 2004, just in time for Bush's second run for President. The only thing "new" about it, that made it even potentially newsworthy, were the documents--no forgeries, no story. Second, there are lots of reason to doubt these negative legends about Bush, but CBS, consistently and conscientiously, seemed to avoid reporting any contrary evidence. Third, even if it were all true, it's actually a pretty trivial story that tells us little or nothing about what sort of President he'd be--how he'd already performed in office was incomparably more significant.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I was hoping Massing, as an outsider, could give us something useful and objective. Instead it's just another missive from the liberal cocoon.

Columbus Guy says: Who are you really?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is does Massing know he's prejudiced, or is he honestly reporting the truth as he knows it. I do believe you can be prejudiced and still honestly report on what's going on, including what others believe.

8:30 PM, November 16, 2005  

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