In the Wall Street Journal, liberal columnist Thomas Frank tells us all what’s what: “Newsrooms Don’t Need More Conservatives.”
Yes, because they’re already so stuffed with free-market types they’re just falling out the windows. Frank writes:
How is the (Washington) Post supposed to check up on its reporters’ politics? I’m hoping for loyalty oaths and televised hearings, with stiff penalties for employees who refuse to talk or to name names: It would be the perfect spectacle for the end of the newspaper era.
He’s right; I don’t know how they’d do it. Maybe – and I’m just talking off the top of my head here – you could ask them? And while you’re at it, ask them why they missed the ACORN story, among others. Frank writes:
Craziest of all, though, is the prospect of the Post ditching its decades-long pursuit of the grail of objectivity . . . because it got scooped on the Acorn story. If that is all it takes to reduce the Washington Post’s vaunted editorial philosophy to ashes, what is the newspaper industry planning to do to atone for its far more consequential failures?
Does he wonder why the Post never thought to peek at ACORN, or any other such case? Couldn’t be a petrified institutional disposition to regard such groups as above criticism, given all the Good Work they do? Couldn’t be their reflexive desire to ladle a rich stew of hagiography over the head of anyone who denounces profit and works for the “community”? Frank seems to be one of those fellows who believes the media is conservative because every story on the banking industry doesn’t conclude with a quote from someone who thinks they should all be nationalized, and we have more people covering the Pentagon than the Gandhi center.
He concludes with an ominous view of the future:
A form of journalism that offends nobody, that comes crawling to the powerful, that mirrors the partisan breakdown of the population as a whole. If that’s the future of journalism, we can be certain that ever more catastrophic failures await.
Uh huh. Well, this whole “partisan breakdown” seems to be new to Mr. Frank, but that’s what you get toiling in a monocultural town in an industry that’s been boring everyone to death for decades. Overtly partisan papers were once quite common, and made for lively journals. You could say that truth is the first casualty of writing from a particular perspective – but if that’s the case, why does Frank expect us to believe what he’s telling us?
I’ve been asked about my politics several times in my Glorious Career, and in each case I understood why: I had a rep as an opinion columnist, and when they assigned me to do something with political overtones, such as report on the Democratic Convention, they wanted to get a sense of my intentions. BRING DOWN THE INSTRUMENTS OF THE OMNIVOROUS STATE! I usually replied, then ha-ha just kidding, no, I will not be grinding axes on company time. Didn’t really want to do heavy-duty thumbsucker policy videos anyway, which is why I ended up in Denver driving around in a rickshaw with Dave Barry chasing Darryl Hannah.
A few years before I’d been asked specifically to write a political column, and declined, citing the Garrison Keillor Effect: when you’re known in a particular market for ecumenical amusement, suddenly showing your partisan game face makes half the audience hate you, and I’d preferred to keep the appeal of the local work as wide as possible. Keillor – a fine writer, but possibly the worst newspaper columnist working today – continues to annoy former fans with some of the most egregious, flat-footed, bone-headed sanctimonious bile-froth published in papers today. But he’s loaded, and if those cretinous Rethugs hate him, well, it’s a badge he wears with honor.
But back to Franks. So it’s a witch-hunt McCarthy-style if we ask a White House reporter if he ever, once, in his life, voted for a candidate who didn’t push for more taxes, more regulation, more state control, more intrusion on the private sector. Noted. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t be a flaming Red and be impartial; objectivity is not possible to attain in the brain, but certainly possible to achieve on the page. All it takes is an accurate understanding of the other side’s view of the debate, an ability to apprehend on an intellectual level the terminology and precepts of the other side, a grasp of how the Enemy defines their motives.
Good: “I think conservatives oppose abortion because they believe it is the taking of an innocent human life.”
Not so good, but it’ll do: “Conservatives oppose abortion because they believe it is the taking of a human life, although the question of when life begins remains contentious
Bad: “Conservatives say they oppose abortion to preserve ‘life,’ but this must be seen in the context of other actions which include the death penalty, failure to fund childhood medical progams, Head Start, and a general indifference to Women’s issues.”
It’s not that hard to be fair, unless you think you’re dealing with EVIL ITSELF, in which case your animus cannot help but leak into your work. Once I was dealing with an editor going over my review of a book written by the FIRE co-founders, a book about political correctness and free-speech assaults on campus. She said, and I quote:
“They always have three names,” she said. She pointed to the name of a co-author. “Three names.”
“Like Hillary Rodham Clinton?”
That was the end of the conversation.
Most reporters are liberals. Most editors, being former reporters, are liberal. There’s no way you can exist in a particular ideological bubble without letting it shape the way you frame ideas in your head, but that doesn’t mean they’re trying to slant things. Getting it right is the mantra, partly because you look like an idiot in front of your bosses when you get it wrong. Much of what we see as bias arises simply because reporters don’t read what a lot of us read on the web, something I’ve poetically named “Non-contiguous Information Streams.” They’re either unaware of competing narratives, or don’t grant them the merit they deserve – that’s where bias comes in – or are too constrained by time and space to break out from the Overclass Perspective. Finding out who voted for whom wouldn’t change much. If newspapers wanted to avoid getting dinged for bias every time they put out a paper, they’d make sure copy desk had a few conservatives- professionals who can be just as tough and fair as their liberal counterparts, and can recognize the unexamined shibboleths.
Opinion writers are a different matter. Hammer those guys all you want. Frank, of course, wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” the very title of which suggested there was something pathological about not realizing you’re better off voting for Democrats. You can see his point. Can you imagine working next to someone who didn’t believe there was something the matter with Kansas?Login to Listen
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