July 22, 2003

This Means War

Because I am here to help, I feel that I must pass a little bit of advice on to my friends in the media:

It's not 1972. I promise. I don't know what they taught you in Journo-school, but I imagine that there was a lot of hyping of the glory days of Vietnam and Watergate, with Woodward and Bernstein appropriately sanctified in your collective consciousness. As far as it goes, a little of that is fine. However, if the daily worship sessions at the altar of the Sainted Lady of Crusading Journalists somehow gave you the mistaken impression that journalists are "at war" with the government, then you and your professors have missed the point. And I believe that this might be the case. Here's a quote to that effect from your brethren at the BBC:

“We all called it a war – the greatest ever war between the BBC and the government," said Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 5 today, on the death of Dr David Kelly "We never meant it like that. We never thought there would be any casualties.”

Umm, dude? How exactly were you parsing the meaning of the word "war," then? 'Cause I don't know about you, but the connotations of war have to do with death and violence, and even if you were speaking figuratively, your word choice was, well, how to put this delicately--completely freaking assinine. And when a professional Beeber comes out and says that the folks in the media were walking around referring to being in "the greatest ever war between the BBC and the government," well, let's just say that your credibility and our belief in your veneer of journalistic impartiality suffers.

Not that I believed it to begin with. Every news story I've been a part of, even tangentally, has been reported inaccurately. The best example is from my glory days at Barnes & Noble, when the local rag (the News and Observer) ran a story on the new store. At the time it was a big story, and we all knew that the angle was going to be "Big Freaking Chain Puts Mom & Pop Out on the Street!" but I didn't realize that they would actually fabricate stuff--like the square footage of the store--to make their point. How do I know it was fabricated? Well, because I was the one who brought the actual store blueprints out for the reporter to see. I watched the reporter ask the square footage, saw the store manager Point To The Actual Number On The Blueprint, and saw the reporter jot it down. Somehow between the jotting and the typing, our store grew to Super Wal-Mart proportions. Apparently, our modest B&N wasn't nearly huge enough to terrify the masses, so it needed embellishing. Either that, or the reporter was a moron. Neither scenario makes the media look particularly impressive.

Small example? Sure. But my point is that if journalists can't get the most basic details right, why should I or anyone else think that they get ANYTHING right? Journalists exist to find and record facts. And don't give me that subjective reality crap, either. Sure, different folks will interpret events differently--that's why you interview more than one person. I am sick of reading and listening to what amounts to Op-ed pieces parading as hard news. I am equally sick of all the "media analysts" picking at their navel lint and ignoring the elephant in the center of the room--you know, the big pink one with the sign reading BIAS around its neck. But mostly, I am tired of the attitude that in order to be a journalist, you must be some sort of holy crusader, always at war. Some famous guy once said, "Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself." The NYT and the BBC should have listened to that guy--he seems pretty smart. Who was that again? Oh yeah, it was Nixon.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 22, 2003 09:10 AM

"Journalists exist to find and record facts."

Boy, are you behind the times! Journalists exist to provide entertaining filler between the ads. The cheapest way to do this is to recycle press releases; balanced journalism recycles the press releases from both sides of an issue, but any journalist who looks for facts is just increasing the cost of filling J-space.

Posted by: ManFromPorlock at July 22, 2003 04:53 PM

``At war with the government'' is a cliché; the casualty remark is about a frame change, which is a correct observation. It doesn't pay enough attention to the new frame, but no matter.

The flaw with the original is that there's propaganda and journalism already within war, so the parallel breaks down right away. It's like calling third world people children, when they also have children. It makes things invisible that you should see. Often making things invisible is the point though.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 22, 2003 08:46 PM

If you want truly hostile coverage, run a nuke plant. Even when I personally went to editors and showed them that they had misquoted publicly available state documents, they wouldn't even admit they were wrong, much less run a correction.

Posted by: J Bowen at July 28, 2003 10:43 AM