Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Thin-skinned media

I've read several pieces lately about thin-skinned media types who complain about the treatment they're getting from Leftblogastan (Digby's is a gem). While not for a moment defending threatening or hateful speech, I think it's important to distinguish between, on one hand, criticizing media people for doing a demonstrably bad job (e.g. Judith Miller, Deborah Howell) of reporting and, on the other, attacking people for reporting bad (but true) stuff about "your guy". As always, it's the behaviour that warrants criticism or praise, not the subject matter i.e. it's not acceptable to do a hatchet-job even if it's on Bush (but why would you? it's so easy to make the case legitimately for his incompetence and corruption).

What's the opposite of hypocrisy? intellectual honesty, even-handedness, consistency, fairness? That's what I demand of myself and ask of others. The standards should be established first and then applied blindly i.e. without considering to whom they are applied. If it's wrong, then it's wrong when he does and when I do it.

But there's a difference between someone doing a job badly and someone doing a job that embarrasses someone. Reporters (and any other professionals) deserve criticism when they do their jobs badly and praise when they do them well. I think that they would be well advised to treat the people they report on with as much compassion as they would want to be treated when they are scrutinized themselves.

Public figures are often treated mercilessly by the media and the public. Some say that's the price they must pay for the high profile they enjoy. I say that you should be consistent in your criticism -- keep it factual and never threatening nor hateful. And if you're criticized, make a point of determining the nature of the criticism -- is it factual and fair. After all, it's not picking on people when you point out that they screwed up, and you can't legitimately defend your own behaviour by claiming that the criticism it provoked was nasty.

It's just too important to let the media get away with doing a bad job of reporting. Informed decison-making by citizens is too vital to democracy to be thwarted by feelings hurt by justifiable criticism.

So, it is with great respect and reverence for the press, which I consider to be indispensible to democracy, that I have become a rabid critic. It did this country no good to allow the Republicans to perpetuate their permanent "mau-mau the media" campaign for 25 years. And it does the press no good to be defended by liberals when they succumb to the mau-mauing. Indeed, history shows that their reaction is to lean even more closely to the GOP to show they are not liberal themselves.

I will no longer defend the press unconditionally. They have proved that they can't resist the powerful pull of rightwing intimidation and seduction without some counterbalance on the left and I'm more than willing to call a spade a spade to do that. It has not served my politics or my country well to quietly support the media so that they could maintain crediblity. I honestly don't see that we have anything more to lose when presidents are being impeached for trivial reasons, elections are being stolen and wars are being waged on lies. Just how bad would it have to get to justify criticizing the press for its complicity in those things?


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