Sunday, November 16, 2014

We still need better press critics

First, an honest journalist pushes back against a media myth.

Gary Webb was no journalism hero, despite what ‘Kill the Messenger’ says

An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. That old dictum ought to hang on the walls of every journalism school in America. It is the salient lesson of the Gary Webb affair. It might have saved his journalism career, though it would have precluded his canonization in the new film “Kill the Messenger.”

The Hollywood version of his story a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media is pure fiction. But Webb was a real person who wrote a real story, a three-part series called “Dark Alliance,” in August 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News, one of the flagship newspapers of the then-mighty Knight Ridder chain. Webb’s story made the extraordinary claim that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in America. What he lacked was the extraordinary proof. But at first, the claim was enough. Webb’s story became notable as the first major journalism cause celebre on the newly emerging Internet. The black community roiled in anger at the supposed CIA perfidy.

Then it all began to come apart. The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in a rare show of unanimity, all wrote major pieces knocking the story down for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.
Next, CNN’s so-called press critic decides to promote the myth and the movie.

Brian Stelter is far more critical of the media outlets who tried to get the story right than the troubled reporter who got all the big things wrong.

It’s also a little weird that he cannot tell the difference between a couple of Hollywood-types and serious scholars or reporters.

After watching Stelter since he took over from Howard Kurtz, I think I’ve gotten a fair idea of his MO.

--- He gives lip-service to the idea of objective, non-partisan journalism. This is not a firm conviction so much as it is spin designed to advance CNN’s brand positioning.

--- When Stelter praises traditional standards he does so as a PR flack helping his employer and disparaging its competitors.

--- The real Stelter has no time for such niceties. He is most critical of the press when it strays off the left-wing reservation. He sees the role of the media critic as that of PC kommissar and SJW.

Thus, Gary Webb was right because he attacked CIA and the Contras, the rest of the media was wrong because they placed facts above press solidarity, and movies are good when they ignore history in favor of myths and legends.

No comments: