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Ed Driscoll

Great Moments In Cognitive Dissonance

September 26th, 2009 - 5:50 pm

I’ve been a big fan of Jack Shafer‘s media columns at Slate, but the title of this piece, “Two Cheers for Andrew BreitbartSometimes it takes an outsider to show the press corps the way” is curious.

So what makes Breitbart an “outsider”? This is the media where former New York Times editor Howell Raines famously said, that his paper’s diversity efforts “have made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.” Are journalism’s politics that monolithic that any apostasy means you’ve “blacklisted yourself?”

That’s Roger L. Simon’s phrase for how Hollywood works, but thanks to the Internet, journalism is now much more decentralized a product. And in no small part, thanks to Breitbart.

In other words, journalism is something you do — it’s not a title given to you by a guild. Since the mid-to-late-1990s Breibart:

  • Worked behind the scenes at the Drudge Report since its early days.
  • Co-authored Hollywood Interrupted.
  • Helped launch the Huffington Post.
  • Distributes online news feeds of all the main wire services.
  • Partnered with an online TV service.
  • Pens a weekly column for the Washington Times.
  • Launched two of his own Internet salons, Big Hollywood and Big Government.

In contrast, during that same period, much of traditional journalism went backwards. They attacked newcomers such as Drudge and the Blogosphere. They used forged documents to attempt to bring down one president and were so badly in the tank for one candidate in 2008 that 90 percent of the public can see it.

As ABC’s Michael Malone wrote in October of 2008:

I learned a long time ago that when people or institutions begin to behave in a manner that seems to be entirely against their own interests, it’s because we don’t understand what their motives really are.  It would seem that by so exposing their biases and betting everything on one candidate over another, the traditional media is trying to commit suicide – especially when, given our currently volatile world and economy, the chances of a successful Obama presidency, indeed any presidency, is probably less than 50:50.

Furthermore, I also happen to believe that most reporters, whatever their political bias, are human torpedoes . . .and, had they been unleashed, would have raced in and roughed up the Obama campaign as much as they did McCain’s.  That’s what reporters do, I was proud to have been one, and I’m still drawn to a good story, any good story, like a shark to blood in the water.

So why weren’t those legions of hungry reporters set loose on the Obama campaign?  Who are the real villains in this story of mainstream media betrayal?

The editors.  The men and women you don’t see; the people who not only decide what goes in the paper, but what doesn’t; the managers who give the reporters their assignments and lay-out the editorial pages.  They are the real culprits.

Why?  I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one:  Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where you’ve spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power . . . only to discover that you’re presiding over a dying industry.  The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent.  Many of your peers shrewdly took golden parachutes and disappeared.  Your job doesn’t have anywhere near the power and influence it did when your started your climb.  The Newspaper Guild is too weak to protect you any more, and there is a very good chance you’ll lose your job before you cross that finish line, ten years hence, of retirement and a pension.

In other words, you are facing career catastrophe -and desperate times call for desperate measures.  Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play.  Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here.  After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway – all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.

And then the opportunity presents itself:  an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career.  With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived Fairness Doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe, be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.

And besides, you tell yourself, it’s all for the good of the country . . .

In contrast, Breitbart and his affiliates have exposed corruption in ACORN and the National Endowment for the Arts — and that was just in the past two weeks.

So what does the former home of Woodward & Bernstein have to say? First they attempted to discredit Hannah Giles by way of her father. (Pay no attention to the background of Carl Bernstein’s parents of course.) Then Howard Kurtz adds:

The labeling debate is pointless. It was ideologically driven reporting. [As opposed to the Post's coverage of the 2006 and 2008 elections? -- Ed] It was two activists using deception to try to make an organization look bad — all the more reason for skepticism.

But the pair hit paydirt. The ACORNers’ behavior was nutty. Who offers advice about pimping out 13-year-old girls? What planet were these people living on?

Did O’Keefe and Giles produce a fair and balanced story that included how many ACORN offices rejected their scheme? No. They released the worst stuff. But they’ve never hidden their motivation. Nor has their ally and Web guru, Andrew Breitbart, whose company was also named in the ACORN suit.

I don’t put much stock in the argument that mainstream journalists should have done something like this. People may think we’re whores, but we don’t look good in the getup. Plus, lying is a firing offense at many news organizations.

Huh. And yet Diane Sawyer still has a job at ABC, after bluffing her way into the rubble of the World Trade Center with a hidden camera on the evening of September 11th, 2001. 60 Minutes has been on the air for over forty years doing one hidden camera sting after another. And five years before he was fired from CBS, Dan Rather told Bill O’Reilly — with a remarkably straight face –”I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things”:

O’REILLY: I want to ask you flat out. Do you think President Clinton’s an honest man?

RATHER: Yes, I think he’s an honest man.

O’REILLY: Do you? Really?

RATHER: I do, I do.

O’REILLY: Even though he lied to Jim Lehrer’s face about the Lewinsky….

RATHER: Who among us has not lied about something?

O’REILLY: Well, I didn’t lie to anybody’s face on national television. I don’t think you have.

RATHER: I don’t think I ever have. At least I hope I never have.

O’REILLY: No. How can you say he’s an honest guy then?

RATHER: Well, cause I think he is. I think at core he’s an honest person. I know that you have a different view. I know that you consider it sort of astonishing that anybody would say so. But I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.

As Matt Welch recently noted:

Your mileage will vary, but for my money the most entertaining part of the ACORN undercover video sting–which, dollar for dollar, has been the most impactful piece of journalism this year (that I’m aware of anyway)–is watching Respectable News Outlets approach the controversy with radiation-resistant tongs.

After numerous quotes from MSM gatekeepers as they remove the ACORNs from their fundaments, Welch adds:

These gatekeepery examples of pretzel logic are by no means monolithic–see Jon Stewart, or Ken Silverstein at Harpers, for example. But they illustrate a tendency that’s been mostly dominant since long before Matt Drudge published information about Monica Lewinsky’s dress: Newspapers, especially those with national aspirations, still lack the ability to process or even talk about news that emanates from frowned-upon pockets in the great media ecosystem. And in hiding behind the shield of News Judgment, they all too frequently advertise the fact that theirs is being proven inadequate.

On the other hand, Kurtz and Shafer are models of  Lou Grant-era old-school journalism compared to this wag at the Huffington Post and his not-so-tacit Godwin’s Law violation: “First They Came For ACORN…”

Update: Star Trek had its “Emergency Manual Monitor” set, located above atop the Enterprise’s engine room. To scan the Blogosphere, Michelle Malkin writes that the New York Times has launched its “Opinion Media Monitor” — also known as He Who Must Not Be Named:

So, get this: The Times has now assigned an anonymous editor to “monitor opinion media” so the effete journalists don’t get caught flat-footed again. But they won’t identify the editor because they don’t him or her getting e-mails from the public (heaven forfend) and they don’t want him or her getting feedback, criticism, or tips from the blogosphere (the MSM must be shielded from the angry mob). Snort:

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.

“Not liberal bias,” eh? Then how to explain the institutional refusal of the Times — Hoyt included — to address directly and openly the paper’s own complicity in covering up the ACORN story before Election Day?

For the benefit of the Times’ anonymous Opinion Media Monitor, whoever you are, here is what your paper’s belated coverage of ACORN is still missing — reprinted from my Sept. 16 blog post, “What’s missing from the New York Times coverage of ACORN.” I’m going to make your job easier by reprinting the entire post so you don’t have to spend any precious energy clicking on the link:

Read the whole thing.

Update: Don Surber quips, “Times assigns editor to watch Fox News.” Can’t the Gray Lady just add the RSS feed from Media Matters to her My.Yahoo page?

Update: Glenn Reynolds posits, “Andrew Breitbart is an ‘outsider’ despite his years in media because he doesn’t run with the herd of lemmings. That’s all.”

Heh, indeed.™

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