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The trouble with your press

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 09:13 pm
Panzade posted something that triggered me to write at length about what sometimes baffles me about the US press (and CNN, the only TV station I get here). I've written about it earlier, in random threads, but it's as good as time as any to make it a thread of its own, I guess.

Not going into the political bias, per se, here (though you are free to) - about what goes for "leftwing" and "rightwing" perspectives on, say, CNN's Crossfire. Dealt with that before (for example, here). Or into the Amerocentrism of even a station like CNN "International" (posted about that here, for example). But some other salient points, "summarized" (ahem) into two posts.

nimh wrote:
panzade wrote:
No need for the word lying nimh. JW's statement was of belief not a lie.

Actually, Panzade, I'm glad you bring this up. It leads me to something. And this is from the heart (talk about "ardor").

I think one of the major problems your political system is grappling with, in this age, is that the news media are working on a perverted interpretation of objectivity. In this interpretation, objectivity means juxtaposing whatever claims both parties put out in equal measure (and leaving it at that). He said - he said. Due to political or legal pressure or in something of a latter-day spin-off from how political correctness imposed the norms of cultural relativism, journalists in especially the mainstream media rarely dare to venture beyond that.

But that is not 'fair and balanced'. True objectivity is not recycling spin from both sides in equal measure - it is processing that spin and fact-checking it - and presenting the results of that fact-checking to the readers as well as the original claims.

Luckily, perhaps partly thanks to the outside pressure of ever more authoratative fact-check websites, a new wavelet of critical journalists (like that woman at the WaPo) have indeed returned to doing that. But for too long, this politically correct standard of objectivity meaning 'channeling both sides in equal measure' has made Washington reporting into a highly effective medium for both parties to spread anything from insinuations to bald-faced lies.

The spinmeisters know that they can't lose much. Even if they put out a story that's entirely made up, the worst that can happen is that a report will say, "an anonymous spokesman from party A has claimed that party B has [x, y or z]; official party B representative [x or y] calls these allegations baseless and slanderous." The story is out, anyway, and quickly passed on through hundreds of blogs and talk radio shows. There's little political risk, because noone all too highly-ranked will be eager to actually call the lie out and bring those who put it out to task - after all, calling someone a liar is not done, it's a losing political proposition; it will make you seem a sore loser and drive down your favourability rating.

To cure the system, we have to stop this corruption. Journalists and all of us have to become more assertive and more rapid in calling out lies and nipping them in the bud. Otherwise spin will eat politics, and soon nothing else will be left. This election cycle with its rounds of SBVFT and National Guard allegations has shown how far down the road you already are.

I would almost make that into a new thread of its own. <nods>


nimh wrote:
panzade wrote:
nimh wrote:
I think one of the major problems your political system is grappling with, in this age, is that the news media are working on a perverted interpretation of objectivity.

I don't know nimh, I lived for many years in Europe and know first hand that the British press and the political parties have their own spin-meisters. I Imagine Holland is the same.

Well, Panzade, I have the sometimes exasperating advantage of being able to compare American, British, Dutch, Belgian and German news reporting.

The Brits are hors concours. The tabloids are shameful, and the broadsheets shamelessly politicized - not to mention how they in turn pander to the tabloid market by focusing to an extraordinary degree on crime and scandal.

But the case I laid out here directly refers to the increasing surprise with which I've observed US reporting - in comparison to what I'm used to here (or in Germany or Belgium). Yes, you have political spinmeisters in every country. But the differences in reporting conventions are very real.

I'm not saying everything is better here. For example, bias here abounds too, tending to be more anecdotal, playful - don't be surprised to find the news reporter visibly frowning or jokingly smiling when turning from Bush footage to the next topic - doesn't even need to say anything, we all know what he means. But what I was posting about - well, for one I wrote before that I am sincerely surprised about the everpresence of paid political spinners in US news reporting.

What does a standard American news report look like? The debate, speech or poll is "explicated", first, by a Republican "analyst", then a Democrat one, or vice versa. Then an "ordinary voter" or two is interviewed. If outside analysists are brought in, they're from the NEI or some Democratic counterpart - institutes with clear partisan affiliation.

We have few if any of that here. Actual politicians (parliamentarians, office holders) get their say, but otherwise the punditry is done almost entirely by "experts", whether academic or business or whatever, which very seldomly have a political affiliation. You don't get the Democratic/Republican "analysts" and such.

Some would say that just makes the bias harder to catch - most academics are leftwing, they might say, so you get the progressive spin without ever any party affiliation being explicited. But at least the spin anyone chooses to apply will be one of personal preference and thus reflect a wild variety of personal perspectives - which at least spares you the unending recitation of party-imposed talking points.

That way there can also be (and is) much less in the way of concerted party efforts to get a certain charge, allegation or insinuation out, not the way you see them hammered out relentlessly by the partisan pundits that are hired by US news media to balance each other out. We have 9 parties in parliament here - even if a party would try to get a certain line through, it'd be countered with 8 different other ones, rather than always the same 1 other one.

Another clear difference is the use of anonymous sources. Happens everywhere, of course. But never in the Dutch press have I seen the equivalent of the numbers of "unnamed Democratic campaign advisors" or "anonymous Pentagon officials" that turn up in US news stories. Anonymous government sources are used almost by standard practice as the basis for stories publishing claims about the other side, even if they can not be fact-checked by the journalist himself.

Again, a clear difference there, but I outlined it already above. When an "unnamed government [or, say, Democratic party] official" does come up, the average US news story's idea of neutrality appears to be to publish his claims, then quote the denial or retort from the other side. That's it. Would hardly happen here. Journalists fact-check themselves, and tell the reader what they find. There is no shyness about "judging" a story, perhaps because of fewer fears about legal or political (being denied access to politicians etc) retaliation. And though norms are shifting the past few years (for sure), traditionally, if they can't verify it, they won't publish it. Goes especially for the press.

It has to do also with a for us unimaginable shyness about approaching the government and President, and a ditto unaccessibility of ministers and President for journalists (see "political retaliation", above). The rare press conferences. The control over who gets to ask a question and who doesn't. The (resulting?) softball-character of the questions. All just makes us shake our heads in incomprehension.

Here, when the Prime Minister leaves his office at a time of turbulence, the journalists throng around him at the exit and while he walks, fire questions at him. He can choose not to answer, but he can't control whether they even get to ask them. Here, he does have his own little-watched (weekly?) TV appearance, but on the regular news gets grilled by TV interviewers none the less aggressively.

No, one can't just "imagine Holland is the same". There are eye-catching differences. Not if you compare both countries to Red China, obviously, but yeah, for democracies these media cultures are pretty far apart. Not everything may necessarily be better here, but different they are. Hence my recurrent impatience and bafflement.
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littlek
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 09:19 pm
Yep, we need the journalists to get back into checking their facts and such. The spin seems to be, well, spinning out of control.
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InfraBlue
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 09:26 pm
Also, the US press has to get over this ingrained reverence for the US president.

It was absolutely refreshing to see that Irish reporter lay straight-up, frank, and hard-hitting questions to Bush. Those are the questions that the world wants addressed, and Bush and his administration were offended.

And the people here thought Tim Russert was tough! Oy vey!
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 09:27 pm
bookmark
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 09:47 pm
Interesting Nimh.

Our best media outlet is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - which is government funded, and tends to annoy each grouping pretty much equally - until, hey presto - under our most recent conservative government, the attack on its "bias" has been so relentless, and the placement of stooges on its management board so open, that it now finds itself actually counting the seconds given to each party!!!!

It has actually acceded to this definition, and scurries like a rabbit trying to fend off the conservative attack - down to having to defend the lift of a presenter's eyebrow.

This leads to exactly the kind of stupid "unbiased" presentation you complain of - although analysis and commentary lives on more in its radio outlets. - which I haunt.

I am also utterly struck by the reverence for, and the protection from actually having to answer hard questions of, the president - at the same time as it is possible to drag the man through outrageous examinations of his sex-life!!!!!!!!!!!! I note in my lifetime that even such accountability as the office had via an alert and active White House press corps, has been eroded through cutting down drastically on, and extreme management of, "press conferences" - (these things as practiced by the white house now, are pale travesties of an actual press conference, in my view.)

Our Prime Minister - though pollies have, with the new Parliament House cut down their exposure to the press - and senior pollies know they must face ruthless questioning in the House - and that kid gloves will NOT be on when they are interviewed.

All of our countries have their strengths - and the quality American media is very good - and something we have little of, sadly - but the American mass media is, in my view - a sad thing.

The US mass media appears to my eyes, also, to be extremely Amero-centric - as the British media - even quality - appeared to my eyes to be very Euro/Amero centred - more or less ignoring all of Asia and Africa and such (and, of course, Oz - but this is the fate of little countries - lol).

I see our media as more encompassing - but I do not have experience of European media to compare it with. I would dare to predict, though, Nimh - that there is little in your media about Asia - and what about Africa?

Not to mention - for all of us - South America?????
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Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Oct, 2004 11:37 pm
Nimh,

You have to remind yourself constantly in order to keep it fresh in your mind.

The purpose of the American press is not to report news; it is to make money.

Personally, I believe the vast majority of American news is biased to the right-wing. Why? Because no matter how liberal the reporters and news anchors are, they aren't the ones who choose which stories get aired. That would be the producers.

The producer's job isn't to tell the truth, protect liberty, any of that crap. It's to insure that the company continues to make money. So, he puts those stories on which he believes will bring in the most viewers.

This, for me, explains the crazy 'scandal frenzies' as well as the inherent right-wing bias. It doesn't make any sense, from a business standpoint, to criticize those politicians which are pro-big business. Now that media consolidation has risen to the level of absurdity here in America, big business is the name of the game for most people's news outlets.

So the good producers do their job and protect the company; therefore keeping the tough stories about those politicians in America who have passed laws allowing such consilidation which is making them money.... namely, the Republicans.

Cycloptichorn
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 3 Oct, 2004 01:38 am
I agree with your analysis, nimh.


And at least, Cycloptichorn, it really seems, as if your press isn't there to report but to make money in first place.
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A Lone Voice
 
  1  
Reply Sun 3 Oct, 2004 02:36 am
InfraBlue wrote:
Also, the US press has to get over this ingrained reverence for the US president.

It was absolutely refreshing to see that Irish reporter lay straight-up, frank, and hard-hitting questions to Bush. Those are the questions that the world wants addressed, and Bush and his administration were offended.

And the people here thought Tim Russert was tough! Oy vey!


I agree with this sentiment, Blue. Except when the reporter is acting to further his own political beliefs.

If he is a news analyst, or is an entertainer/editorial type, put whatever spin you like.

But when a reporter, who is supposed to be objective, starts attempting to force his own agenda during questioning, nothing is gained.

BTW, this is not directed at the Irish reporter you mentioned; I didn't see that and can't comment on that incident.

Also, this is just not a conservative thing; plenty of liberals complained about the media re Bill and Monica.
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revel
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 08:13 am
I agree with Cycloptichorn completely. The conservatives do own the stations and they are the ones who decide how their stations and what stories can be run and how they are going to be run.

I made an exception last week, but I have quit watching the news.

Anyone know who is hosting the next debate?

Quote:
Also, this is just not a conservative thing; plenty of liberals complained about the media re Bill and Monica.


I don't understand how it defends your point that if liberals complained about the media during the monica and Bill saga that it is not just a conservative problem. Maybe I am missing something.
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 08:21 am
As Paul Krugman pointed out, one of the problems with the main line press is an unwillingness to challenge outrageous statements by politically powerful groups or the administration in power. To use his example; if an administration issued a statement that the world was flat. The headline in the Times would read "Shape of the World, Views Differ". Under the current corporate ownership of much of the US media, there is an unwillingness to offend powerful interests.
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McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 08:21 am
If you ask me, as long as the conservatives and liberals both agree that the press is slanted against them, they must be doing a fair job.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 11:39 am
McGentrix wrote:
If you ask me, as long as the conservatives and liberals both agree that the press is slanted against them, they must be doing a fair job.

I am not actually - not in this thread, anyway - complaining thet the press is slanted - I'm complaining that it's not doing it's job well. The complaint would have been the same if President Gore had been in power.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 11:52 am
I was going to quote that same Paul Krugman thing. Thomas had it as his sig for a while, I believe.

A great article in the Sunday NYT about satirical news, "The week that wasn't" -- it quoted something from The Daily Show that I'd seen before:

Quote:


http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/fashion/03ANTI.html?pagewanted=2&oref=login

Here's more of it -- classic:

Quote:


link
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Oct, 2004 12:10 pm
Heh. Pretty much.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 10:39 am
I just stumbled over this line in MSNBC's daily roundup of the news:

Quote:
The Dallas Morning News notes that in the first debate, questions came from a moderator and were limited to foreign policy. 'The odds of a plumber or bus driver from St. Louis asking a really tough or low-blow question are a lot higher than a mainstream journalist,' political analyst Charles Cook said."

Now "low-blow" I get, that shouldn't be the business of journalists.

But what in hell is up with the journalist profession when it's considered merely self-evident that "a plumber or bus driver" is more likely to ask "a really tough question" than a mainstream journalist?

That's just wrong, right? I mean, I couldn't have made up that quote to make the point if I'd wanted to.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 11:56 am
Damn...

Yeah, that's bad.

But you see, journalists want to stay in business, and if they ask the tough questions, bye-bye access...

(That's the impression I have anyway. Could do some digging to find out more.)
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Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Fri 8 Oct, 2004 11:01 pm
An excellent topic nimh, although I have to confess that if you've solved the problems of the world in your cited postings I've missed it. Far too much text to deal with in anyway but scanning.

I hope I've captured the thrust of your point though.

I think many Americans (I know I do) long for a news outlet that will present the facts, just the facts and nothing but the facts.

I agree that while objectivity may be served by asking both Campaigns to comment on particular news items, the truth is not.

There is nothing more irritating, to me, than having two obvious partisans spew their prepackaged spin as an answer to any and all questions.

Q: "What do you think about soft bondage in consenting sex?"

A: "George Bush acted mean in the debates. Senator Kerry was brilliant and the President lied."

OR

A: "I don't have a clue as to what John Kerry thinks. He flip flops all over the place. By the way, the President was brilliant in the debates."

It is an utter waste of the viewer/reader's time to present dueling spin.

The unfortunate reality is, however, that Americans, in general, do not trust the news outlets to present the news in an truly objective and unbiased fashion. I, for one, don't buy for one second that the NY Times, and CBS News are unbiased. I'm sure that there are millions of Americans who don't believe the Washington Times or Fox News to be unbiased. (Me included)

The notion that it is all about Big Business is ridiculous.

First of all, CBS News is owned by a large corporation and if anyone contends that they are pro-business or pro-conservative, I will call them, at best, poorly mistaken.

But take it another step. Public Broadcasting, arguably, has little to no economic ties to conservative big business, and since liberal big business is an oxymoron, we should be able to look to PBS for truly objective and unbiased reporting. Yeah right.

The truth is that, for the most part, the journalists in this country are frauds. They all talk a good game about journalistic integrity but they rarely, if ever, deliver.

Ultimately, I would have no problem with this as long as they all admitted their bias and stopped posturing.

BTW - I am absolutely convinced the same dynamics apply to the European media, and so this is not a uniquely American problem, unless European media routinely admit to their bias. I don't believe they do.

Furthermore, we can thank ourselves for the problem.

We long for the truth, but we punish truthsayers. We want people to tell the truth as long as the truth conforms with what we want to believe.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 Dec, 2004 04:26 pm
Re: The trouble with your press
nimh wrote:
for one I wrote before that I am sincerely surprised about the everpresence of paid political spinners in US news reporting.

What does a standard American news report look like? The debate, speech or poll is "explicated", first, by a Republican "analyst", then a Democrat one, or vice versa. Then an "ordinary voter" or two is interviewed. If outside analysists are brought in, they're from the NEI or some Democratic counterpart - institutes with clear partisan affiliation.

We have few if any of that here. Actual politicians (parliamentarians, office holders) get their say, but otherwise the punditry is done almost entirely by "experts", whether academic or business or whatever, which very seldomly have a political affiliation. You don't get the Democratic/Republican "analysts" and such.

Some would say that just makes the bias harder to catch - most academics are leftwing, they might say, so you get the progressive spin without ever any party affiliation being explicited. But at least the spin anyone chooses to apply will be one of personal preference and thus reflect a wild variety of personal perspectives - which at least spares you the unending recitation of party-imposed talking points.


Related post (archiving)
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georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 Dec, 2004 07:56 pm
This is a difficult subject to address, at least on a sound, comparative basis. I believe I have a pretty good understanding of the defects in our press traditions and recent trends, and, as well, of the somewhat stilted forms of speech adopted by our senior politicians, particularly on politically charged issues - these factors work together to create an odd kind of reporting which emphasizes what was said or done and its opposing view/action much more than its meaning relative to the subject or process or issue or phenomenon in question. Most of this has already been noted by others here. My problem is that I don't have a comparable understanding of how the corresponding processes work in other countries. There are, however, a few fairly clear differences, which may at least get close to the heart of this. In no particular order -

Our TV journalists are entertainers, not "news readers" as they are often styled in (say) the BBC. The commercial values of the entertainment aspect of what they do appears to be much greater than what I have seen in other countries.

Very few of these people are well educated or were in any substantial way selected for their roles based on understanding of history, economics, or often journalism, for that matter. Therefore they often resort to theatrical devices to create the illusion of competence and superior understanding. This leads to an emphasis on the superficial aspects of what was said or done. The creation of the illusion of objectivity often leads to dueling spokesmen from the warring camps and in some cases perpetually dueling news commentators themselves, each spewing out his stuff from stylized viewpoints that are a caricature of the polar political extremes.

The fact that we have a two-party system makes this process all the easier for the media's theatrical practitioners. Their methods in turn make it fairly easy for the politicians and their handlers to package what they put out to deflect serious inquiry or confuse an issue on which they are vulnerable. So we have a self-reinforcing dynamic that finds stability only at a very superficial level, one in which posturing too often replaces statements of position on issues and the difficult tradeoffs and side effects involved in any serious decision making are almost never addressed.

Some of our print media, and a few essayists & commentators, are pretty good. However, I doubt that a more left wing inclined person would agree with my identification of which of them meet this criterion.

In a very odd way our overlong political campaigns do usually manage to reveal the truth about the candidates and the parties they represent, despite all the energy put into spin management and the many defects of our media establishment.
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JustWonders
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2004 09:32 am
Top Underreported/Buried Stories for 2004

December 14, 2004

1. How CBS and the Kerry campaign allegedly broke federal election law in trying to defeat President Bush. This is the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint.

2. How liberals tried to use federal agencies to delay or censor Sinclair Broadcasting's airing of Stolen Honor, showing how John Kerry's anti-war testimony led to the torture of our Vietnam POWs.

3. The lies and inaccuracies in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, including the claim that the FBI didn't screen the Saudis who were in the U.S. and left shortly after 9/11 for terrorist connections. Also, Moore's claim on his web site that Iraqi terrorists were comparable to America's Revolutionary War heroes.

4. How the Senate Intelligence Committee report and the Lord Butler Report in England discredited Joe Wilson's charges against the Bush administration regarding Iraq seeking uranium from Africa.

5. How and why MIT's Dr. Richard Lindzen, perhaps the country's leading climatologist, doesn't accept the man-made global warming theory.

6. Revelations of John Kerry's documented presence at a meeting in which the assassination of pro-Vietnam War senators was discussed, and which he failed to report.

7. The accuracy of the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, such as that John Kerry didn't spend Christmas in Cambodia, as he had claimed.

8. The financial affairs and sources of income of billionaire George Soros and his grants and contributions to press organizations.

9. How Senator John Edwards used "junk science" in some of the cerebral palsy lawsuits that made him rich.

10. The New York Times' refusal to return a Pulitzer Prize awarded to a Times correspondent, Walter Duranty, whose dispatches lied about the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian famine.

11. How AIM's film, Confronting Iraq, makes a persuasive case for war with Iraq after 9/11.

12: How USA Today ran a story based on the same discredited documents used by CBS News in its story questioning President Bush's service in the National Guard.

13. The questionable background and qualifications of Michael Scheuer, the former CIA analyst who gave interviews as "anonymous" and criticized the war in Iraq and the war on Islamic terrorism.

14. The U.N.'s use of questionable and changing statistics on the nature and spread of AIDS.

15. The media's growing embrace of the "gay rights" movement by running wedding announcements for homosexual couples.

16. The physical attack on and hospitalization of anti-drug activist Steven Steiner after he tried to speak to the National Press Club about George Soros' pro-drug policies.

17. John Kerry's failure to release all of his military and medical records.

18. How terrorists are inaccurately described as militants or insurgents, rather than as terrorists.

19. How the International Association of Firefighters endorsed John Kerry for president without a vote of its members.

20. Anti-Serb and anti-Christian violence in U.N.-controlled Kosovo.
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