I Guess Courage Is Needed…

…but isn’t this supposed to be the news media’s job?. Walter Pincus writes:

But I believe a new kind of courage is needed in journalism in this age of instant news, instant analysis, and therefore instant opinions. It also happens to be a time of government by public relations and news stories based on prepared texts and prepared events or responses. Therefore, this is the time for reporters and editors, whether from the mainstream media or blogosphere, to pause before responding to the latest bulletin, prepared event, or the most recent statement or backgrounder, whether from the White House or the Democratic or Republican leadership on Capitol Hill….

One concrete solution Pincus proposes:

A new element of courage in journalism would be for editors and reporters to decide not to cover the President’s statements when he — or any public figure — repeats essentially what he or she has said before. The Bush team also has brought forward another totally PR gimmick: The President stands before a background that highlights the key words of his daily message. This tactic serves only to reinforce that what’s going on is public relations — not governing. Journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public.

But then what would Elizabeth Bulimer do for a living? Decades ago, Camus once described the press as an “orphan”:

Freedom of the press is perhaps the freedom that has suffered the most from the gradual degradation of the idea of liberty. The press has is pimps as it has its policemen. The pimp debases it, the policeman subjugates it, and each uses the other as a away fo justifying his own abuses. Those gentlemen vie with each other in protecting the orphan and giving here shelter, whether that shelter is a prisom or a house of prostitution. The orphan, indeed, is justified in declining such eager offers of help and in deciding that she must fight alone and alone resolve her fate.

Can the mainstream celebrity media regain its freedom from the pimps and the policemen? I’m not sure that it can: too many like the comfortable arrangement. If you don’t upset your ‘sources’ (i.e., the pimps), you can keep writing with very cushy compensation (e.g., Adam Nagourney). And if you do upset your sources, there’s always the risk of retaliation:

As for the rest, certainly being critical at the level I’ve been critical — basically saying that these guys are lying, even if it’s staring you in the face — is a very unpleasant experience. You get a lot of heat from people who should be on your side, because they accuse you of being shrill, which is everybody’s favorite word for me. And you become a personal target. It can be quite frightening. I’ve seen cases where a journalist starts to say something less than reverential about Bush, and then catches himself or herself, and says something like, “Oh, I better not say that, I’ll get ‘mailed.'” And what they mean by “mail” is hate mail, and it also means that somebody is going to try to see if there’s anything in your personal history that can be used to smear you.
It’s like shock therapy, aversion therapy. If you touch these things, you yourself are going to get an unpleasant, painful electric shock. And most people in the media just back off as a result….
Your personal life, your professional life, is much easier if you oscillate between reverential pieces about the commander in chief and cynical pieces which equate minor foibles on one side with grotesque lies or deceptions on the other.

The only thing that will change this is when citizens consumers start demanding better news. In an anecdotal story, an older colleague tells me that his friends and family (both liberals and moderate conservatives) are cancelling subscriptions to the NY Times because it’s boring and doesn’t have the news and opinion they’re looking for. Maybe that’s what will change the media…
An aside: According to Atrios, it looks like the media will need lots of change.

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1 Response to I Guess Courage Is Needed…

  1. Right on, Mike! After a week in Aspen, I was reminded that what we need now is a Hunter S. Thompson in the high-volume, insta-media.
    Where are you, oh soul of The Good Doctor, and why did you not leave us with a writer of your wit, truth, and precision in the blogosphere? Or is there someone of whom we are unaware? Someone of stature needs to tell the current administration that there is some scheit we won’t eat – thanks for putting up a post far more erudite than this comment.
    (From gonzostore.com: The text “THERE IS SOME SH*T WE WON’T EAT!” was adopted by Dr. Hunter Thompson and the Woody Creek Caucus in 1995 when they organized a protest against the Aspen Skiing Company, which was planning an expansion of the Aspen airport to make room for 747s. (The caucus prevailed.) The phrase has come to signify an attitude in Woody Creek against injustices for which we will not stand.)

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