Friday, July 06, 2007

Media criticism and corralled rebellion

Most of what passes for self-scrutiny in the MSM resembles the corralled rebellion of the corporate bureaucrats. They want the appearance of criticism, but they have no heart for the real thing. So they make certain that the appraisals are not too critical.

We see thus with the ombudsmen (public editors) at big papers like the Washington Post and New York Times. Their critiques read more like artful defenses of bad journalism. Did the paper print “fantastic lies”? Well, our reporter had a credible source who confirmed the story. How can a source be credible and confirm a lie? That question will rarely make it into the ombudsman’s column.

What will show up is lots of trivia. “We got this date wrong.” “We apologize for getting that name wrong.” They truly praise themselves with faint damns.

CNN’s Reliable Sources is supposed to offer an independent look at how the press covers stories. Yet, even there, the scrutiny is carefully managed. Reliable Sources cannot be choreographed like pro wrestling, but boxing knows how to fix the outcome without fixing fights. Kurtz runs his show the way a boxing manager picks the bouts for a highly-touted but suspect heavyweight. Pick opponents who will do their best, but who cannot do real damage. Feed your boxer a clumsy bleeder who won’t make it out of the fifth round; set up your puncher with a glass-jawed Adonis who has no jab.

On Reliable Sources it means that the bloggers who assail the MSM will be represented by Jeff Jarvis and Ana Marie Cox. That is, by bloggers who work for the MSM and who never forget where their professional loyalty lies.

Kurtz and Reliable Sources are also masters of another avoidance tactic: the automatic filibuster. The set-up is simple. Take three opinionated talking heads, make them cover two or three important issues, and only allot ten minutes for the whole discussion. What you get is assured superficiality with no one able to lay a glove on any of the media miscreants under examination.

The show has a great fondness for using talk radio jocks on the pundit panels. People like Rachel Maddow rarely bring deep understanding to the questions at hand. They do know how to claim their share of air time. Not surprisingly serious press mistakes get lost in a flood of unfunny one-liners.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I suggest you take a look at my media column in The Washington Times:
or @charper51
It has a little more edge.