Thursday, October 02, 2008

Journalists as political operatives

National Journal posts a Q&A with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Here’s one of the Q&As followed by my comments ---

Q: What would you say the problems of press coverage are, then?

Rosenstiel: The fact the press has given over too much of its air time to campaign operatives who they label as analysts, media people. It's the naming of Paul Begala, and Karl Rove, and Dick Morris, and a countless litany of other people who are essentially not journalists but who play them on TV, and who really are doing talking points. That's one fundamental problem.

Another is an excess of focus on strategy, tactics and horse race, which we've seen for generations now in the coverage. Another is a kind of short attention span, almost kind of amnesic quality, in which the coverage and the narrative of the campaign sort of bounces from one episode to another, but there's no consistent coverage of what the country's problems are, or where the country is going.

I think the coverage of Obama has been insufficient. We don't know enough about him. There's a risk there. We didn't know enough about George [W.] Bush, and the day he took office I think we didn't have a sufficient understanding of how he might govern, and I think we have a risk of that with Obama. These are fundamental flaws. Can I point to examples of sexist coverage? Yes. Can I point to examples of racist coverage? Yes. But those are not the major issues that I see in the coverage this year.



Folks, what’s the difference between “campaign operatives” and “journalists?”

So many of the “news stories” I’ve read and heard lately are just like what you’d expect a political operative to produce. Do you read the NYT and AP stories; do you tune in to NPR, MSNBC and the networks? Then you most know what I mean.

And this from the last presidential campaign - - -

At the time Dan Rather reported the bogus 60 Minutes Texas Air National Guard story everyone agreed Rather was as a journalist. In fact, we were told he was a model for and hero to other journalists.

But was Rather a journalist when he pushed the bogus TANG story – including arranging for the source of the faked documents, Bush-hater and Democratic operative Bill Burkett, to speak by phone with top Kerry campaign operative Joe Lockhart, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary?

Was Rather practicing journalism when, during the almost two weeks the public didn’t know Burkett was the document source, Rather assured the public his anonymous source was “unimpeachable?”

And was CBS acting like a news organization engaged in journalism when it let Rather dissemble and tried to cover-up what he and his team of journalists had done?

Weren’t Rather and the other journalists at CBS really acting like dishonest campaign operatives? And wasn't CBS acting just like a dishonest campaign operation?

There are very many times when “journalist” and “campaign operative” are distinctions without much functional difference except for where the paycheck comes from.

I respect honest journalists and honest campaign operatives (there are some of each; it’s been my good fortune to know well individuals from both groups.)

But most journalists are so biased and eager to be part of the Dem/Left base which dominates MSM that they function more like political operatives than truth seeking and telling journalists.

Rather and CBS are no isolated examples. Just consider the Boston Globe’s editorial board’s decision to take the disproven Palin rape-kit charge story and pass it on to Globe readers as fact. See here and here.

Or ask yourself how many of the literally thousands of journalists covering the presidential campaign are reporting on the working relationship over many years between Sen. Obama and “the guy in the neighborhood,” terrorist Bill Ayers.