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August 19, 2004

MORE ON THE MEDIA AND THE ELECTION -- In response to my post below, a journalist whose name you'd probably recognize sends this:

Glenn- I completely agree with your observations about the threat this election presents to the credibility of the Fourth Estate. Too much of my own energy has been spent trying to convince colleagues of the danger -- my point being that if the public loses faith in our capacity for basic objectivity and fairness, the public will find/create other means of collecting information. (My own impression from the inside, by the way, is that the media aren't "liberal" so much as simply partisan. Think of it like a sporting event where folks desperately want one team to win and the other to lose.)

If Walter Cronkite doesn't like the wild west nature of the blogosphere, he ought turn his attention to the mainstream outlets that violate the trust of their readers/viewers and thereby drive many to the Web for their news. The Swift Boat matter provides one clear example. The Post ignored the story, and then addressed it only in the context of seeking to refute it; most of the paper's regular readers probably had no idea that the accusations (from the Swift Boat Vets) existed in the first place. Here's another example that popped out at me today: The NYT has a story on Democrats launching a massive effort to disqualify Nader petitions in the states. Somehow, in reporting this, they could find only one person (a Nader lawyer, at that) to call this effort antidemocratic -- and that was in the second-to-last paragraph. (The last paragraph had an official from the anti-Nader effort disputing this contention.)

Now, of course, invalid signatures on petitions should be disqualified. But are these the same folks who hollered "Count all the votes" in 2000? Who wailed about voters being disenfranchised? Who disdained the Bush campaign for seeking to have ex-cons scratched (as the law requires) from the voter rolls? Are these the same folks who are dispatching lawyers to the states this year in order to ensure that REPUBLICANS don't deny voters their franchise? My point is, there IS something undemocratic (though not entirely unjustifiable...) about seeking to limit the options provided to voters. And using the arbitrary, arcane and sometimes ridiculous state laws to do so is weaselly, to say the least. And Kerry's campaign really condones this? Chutzpah!

If you reprint this, Glenn, please don't use my name.

I think that the team-sports analogy is especially apt.

UPDATE: Reader Lewis Wagner emails:

The comparison of partisan journalists to sports fans in a recent post led me to a partial solution to the problems of mainstream journalism.

When reading the sports section of a local paper, I expect to see a wish for the local team or some favored team to win. I can see this position openly
stated, along with serious critiques of the favored team and honest evaluations of the strengths of opposing teams. Further, I can see detailed statistics on teams and individuals laid out in a reasonable form daily. I can see detailed statistics at a level to satisfy a knowledgeable enthusiast at least periodically.

I've just described a level of professionalism and competence that is the norm for sports sections of even small town newspapers. It is so far above and beyond the level of political journalism at any major paper that writing what such standards of excellence might look like in, for example, the NY Times would seem like a parody.

This suggests a simple and workable solution. Put sports writers in charge of political reporting. Make the political journalists write for the sports section. The sports writers turned loose in the political arena will carry with them the standards of honest and detailed reporting from sports. The political journalists will find themselves in an arena where much higher standards than they are used to will be expected.

One might argue that the sports writers might lack specific expertise in the political arena. However, given that the current political journalists have not
demonstrated they possess expertise, this point is moot. The only serious downside is that sports coverage would suffer.

I think it would be worth it, but some might disagree.