Why the Washington Post Must Go Out of Business: The Cult of the Stupid

Jay Rosen often refers to the Cult of the Savvy as one of the major reasons why political news coverage is so poor. But this interview with Washington Post reporter Paul Kane, by way of Doug J, lays out a more parsimonious explanation–the Cult of the Stupid: many news reporters are simply incompetent (and then when called on it, double down on stupid). TEH STOOPID (boldface mine):

Reader:Paul, I’m guessing you won’t be sympathetic to the following point, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Most reporting on the supercommittee—like most reporting on the deficit—reflects an acceptance of a basic fallacy. Whenever there is an impasse, there seems to be a desire to blame both sides equally, on the theory that if only Democrats would concede more, Republicans would reciprocate (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding). Yes, Democrats have drawn lines in the sand, but as Greg Sargent and other commentators have documented, when you compare the specifics, there is no factual basis for blaming both parties equally. So my question is, why does the Post’s coverage do so anyway, either explicitly or implicitly?

Paul Kane: Yeah, you’re right. I think this point is just absurd and ridiculous. This is a big thing among folks calling it “moral equivalence” (Fallows, Ornstein) and others calling it the “cult of balance” (Krugman).

It’s just stupid. If you want someone to tell you that Republicans stink, read opinion pages. Read blogs. Also, the underlying sentiment on the left is that this is the real reason why things went wrong in 2010: That the mainstream media is to blame. Sorry, I think that’s the sorta head-in-sand outlook that leads to longer term problems for a movement.

Greg is a fine writer. He’s an opinion writer, in the opinion section of the web site. I encourage you to keep reading him. And I encourage you to keep reading the news coverage, which should always strive to present both sides of the story. If you really don’t want to hear anything about the other side of the story, I really do encourage you to stop reading the news section.

I actually don’t want to “hear the other side of the story”, I want to read factually correct information. The facts–verifiable facts–are that, regarding the Supercommittee, the Democrats offered a compromise: some tax increases, but mostly spending cuts (which the Democratic rank-and-file did not want). The Republicans demanded that the cuts would come from spending cuts alone*. The Democrats compromised, the Republicans were unwillingly to do so. These are facts in the public record–you can check them. Any accurate reporting should record this.

But if, as a reporter, you think it’s more important to regurgitate Republican propaganda (the Democrats are unwillingly to compromise), then you are doing a bad job. I’m not even sure this rises to ‘cult of balance’ (or Savvy), it’s just gross incompetence, both by reporters and editors.

I’ve noted many times that when news organizations behave this way, they are providing their customers with misinformation and a bad product, something Doug J also argues:

I tend to believe that in the end, if you want people to consume your stuff, you have to add value. Where’s the added value in transcribing what each party says about things? I could easily just go to the RNC and DNC websites and read what is written there.

I can’t see how outlets like the Washington Post will exist at all in a few years, except as full-time propagandists in favor of for-profit education.

Again, the cults of balance and savvy are important phenomena, but let’s not underestimate how badly reasonably intelligent people can suck at their jobs.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of that going around.

*Of course, worrying about spending cuts in the present environment is fucking stupid, but that’s not the point of this post.

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1 Response to Why the Washington Post Must Go Out of Business: The Cult of the Stupid

  1. I’ve been looking for this article again that I can’t find, I’m not sure if it Chomsky or Galbraith (or some other that I’ve truly forgotten), but in any case its premise is that major news organizations have a natural “filtering” process – basically anyone who is “outside the box” or actually willing to be truly analytical is going to get filtered long before they can ever threaten the status quo. Basically if you don’t live up to specific “norms” you aren’t going to move up the ladder to where you’d be in a position to threaten anything.

    From my experience, I know the same is true in business, and its clear the party systems work similarly (as does government).

    What makes it pernicious is it isn’t obvious censoring, like say firing a major newscaster that says the wrong thing, but rather throughout the process of moving up in one’s career, the troublemakers are just naturally sorted out, never to be seen.

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