Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Media's False Modesty

After reading the NY Times public editor one thing is clear: the media is a 'basket of deplorables.'

Basically, Liz Spayd is here to tell us that 'false equivalence' is not a thing. It's just special pleading from partisans-who of course must be wrong.

Yes, the coverage of the Clinton Foundation was a dog's breakfast but Ms. Spayd is here to tell us that this was not about a false desire for balance but other motivations.

Mike Fancher responds well:

"I'm supposed to feel better about the "not good journalism" about foundation because it wasn't a case of false balance?"

Jay Rosen just yesterday laid out the NY Times model:

|Pattern with @nytimes 1. Do inexplicable thing. 2. Watch as people online cook up wild explanations for it. 3. When asked, make fun of them.

It took just one day from when Rosen wrote this for Liz Spayd to validate him.

"The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates. Take one example. Suppose journalists deem Clinton’s use of private email servers a minor offense compared with Trump inciting Russia to influence an American election by hacking into computers — remember that? Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope."

Exactly the point. Remember that. It's not being talked about anymore, so it requires a memory, it certainly hasn't been covered 24/7/365 as the email server story has been for 18 straight months now since the Times first broke it. Basically Trump's incitement was covered a few news cycles. But has it been an obsession of the press, much less the Times the way her server has been? Hardly. Not even close.

Norman Ornstein in response to Spayd:

"What a disappointment. You ignore or downplay placement, size of stories that signal to readers gravity of story."

Back to Spayd:

"In the case of the Clinton Foundation, The Times started with a legitimate issue: did the former secretary of state give improper access to foreign countries that donated tens of millions of dollars to her family foundation? That’s a question voters deserve to have answered. In fact, reporting by The Times and others has turned up so many potential conflicts that the foundation decided to stop accepting foreign government funding if Clinton becomes president."

"On the other hand, some foundation stories revealed relatively little bad behavior, yet were written as if they did. That’s not good journalism. But I suspect the explanation lies less with making matchy-matchy comparisons of the two candidates’ records than with journalists losing perspective on a line of reporting they’re heavily invested in."

And she makes an honest man of Jay Rosen who to recall, his number 3 was: You make fun of them.

Matchy matchy qualifies:

"@spaydl @brianstelter Hope you have her on, Brian. This is important topic handled dismissively. "Matchy-matchy"?

Remember Spayd criticizing those who criticize false equivalence as wanting journalists to impose their own moral and ideological judgments?

Check out the headline over the furor over Hillary's 'Basket of Deplorables.'

Republicans pounced on Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" remark. She later acknowledged her stumble."

Frank Rich:

"Use of the editorializing (and arguably erroneous) word “stumble” here supports Clinton camp critique of press."

But I like it least when Ms. Spayd becomes 'modest.' Maya Angelou was anti modesty.

“Whenever I'm around some who is modest, I think, 'Run like hell and all of fire.' You don't want modesty, you want humility.”

Certainly this Beltway modesty is no bargain.

"If you fear a Trump presidency, it’s tempting to want the media’s firepower heavily trained on one side. But a false-balance cudgel gripped mostly by liberals is not an effective way to convince undecided voters. Just more preaching to the choir."

Besides misrepresenting the argument this suggests that media coverage has no impact on public opinion. Political scientists certainly don't agree.

Try this thought experiment. Hillary's favorable number was 64% while she was Secretary of State and it's 41% now. Would she have lost a third of her popularity if the media had not covered a minor email scandal with such storm and stress for 18 months?

Where they mentioned it and it was discussed in a few news cycles but it was not literally the story 24/7/365 for 18 months? Ms. Spayd might want to meet Kevin McCarthy who gloated that 'We set up a Benghazi Special Committee and her numbers are dropping.'

Many journalists were rightly disgusted by the 'Lock her up chants.' They never considered, however, that they were responsible for falsely giving the impression for 15 months that she may very well face criminal indictment.

And this narrative was universal especially among cable news journalists. Lawrence O'Donnell was hitting her very hard in the Summer of 2015. Chris Hayes was notable in piling on relatively far less.

Still, when he interviewed her a few months ago he asked her if she worried about being indicted. It's as if there is something in the water Beltway journalists drink.

Yet Ms. Spayd totally glosses over the fact that placement and frequency are judgments. There is no way to edit out journalistic discretion so that journalists are pure automatons.

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