Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Straws in the wind

When I was young and naïve I thought that media critics, public editors, and ombudsmen played a vital role in maintaining the standards of the profession of journalism. As I grew older and better informed, I was forced to put away such childish illusions.

What is the true function of a public editor

Media criticism and corralled rebellion

CNN’s Howard Kurtz provides and on-going seminar in how to “cover” a beat while missing all the juicy stories. It is easy to do when you are more concerned with protecting the guild than with getting at the truth.

This week’s “Reliable Sources” addressed a couple of sports-related issues. First up, of course, was the voyeur video of Erin Andrews. Kurtz condemned a couple of easy targets (bloggers and Murdoch-owned media) but he devoted much of his segment to the rehabilitation of Christine Brennan.

Brennan initially responded to the Andrew’s video by blaming the victim. Since that time she has engaged in a laughable attempt to muddy the record.

Christine Brennan Continues Her Erin Andrews Smarm Offensive

Kurtz chose to give Brennan a platform for her self-serving spin, and never brought up her tweet or Facebook posting. He let her pretend that the whole affair was created by dishonest selective quotation.

Kurtz then turned to the civil suit filed against Steelers’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Both he and Brennan condemned ESPN for downplaying the story. No one suggested that maybe ESPN had learned something from the Duke lacrosse debacle and wanted to avoid a terrible rush to judgement. (I heard Colin Cowherd on “Sport Nation” and he explicitly cited the lacrosse case as the reason he was not going to discuss the story.)

It is not surprising that Kurtz saw no need to mention the media’s performance during the Durham travesty. He has studiously avoided dealing with the media’s gross failures in that fiasco.

There are odd echoes of the lacrosse case in Brennan’s criticism of Erin Andrews. For instance, in the early days of the frame-up, the media spent a lot of energy discussing and condemning “lax culture”, Duke’s party atmosphere, and the players “privileged” background. Brennan, before she backtracked, suggested that Erin Andrews tacitly encouraged her stalker by appealing to the “frat house” demographic.

In both cases, journalists committed analysis by stereotype. If you are in the guild, you can get away with such things as long as you pick politically correct groups to disparage.

Kurtz and Brennan were in solemn agreement that ESPN should have been more aggressive on the Roethlisberger story. (Howie knew it was a big story even though he did not know how to pronounce Big Ben’s name.) Curiously, Kurtz was uninterested in a story he helped break.

Military and Media Clash In Complaint
Navy Spokesman Alleges Abuse by Miami Reporter

“Reliable Sources” had no time to discuss the complaint lodged with the Miami Herald by Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon. The officer alleges that Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg made “vile and repulsive comments” including “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.”

This was a story almost tailor-made for a media critic. Almost.

Imagine if this story had different participants. If a female reporter lodged those accusations against a football coach, Kurtz would have devoted his whole show to the problem of misogyny in the locker room. Christine Brennan and Selena Roberts would fill the hour with commentary about the dark side of the culture of big time sports.

Let a reporter attack a military officer and we get crickets.

In his WaPo story Kurtz lets the guild offer up a defense by non sequitor. Did Carol Rosenberg do these things? The Post’s Jerry Markon tells us that Rosenberg “is a great reporter.” Kurtz himself blandly ascribes the matter to a “culture clash” between journalists and the military. (Note that Kurtz never suggests that there could be a “dark side” to journalistic culture.)

While Kurtz had no time to discuss Rosenberg’s behavior, he chose to devote a segment to the “birthers” and their “ludicrous claims”. Unlike Cmdr. Gordon’s allegations the birthers do not put the MSM in a bad light. Instead, it lets the guild get in a few well-placed kicks at crazy right-wingers and talkd radio.

Taken as a whole, the program demonstrated why Kurtz is “respected” by his media colleagues. On issues that make the guild members look bad, he either ignores them or provides a platform for self-justification. The only people who come in for harsh criticism are those outside the MSMbloggers, Fox News, athletes, talk radio, etc.

UPDATE: Just One Minute discusses another angle of the birther story and Kurtz here.

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