Sunday, February 02, 2014

Fixing the News

The media spends almost as much time covering various debates about how to "fix the news" as it does itself and the treatment of Ezra Klein's announcement that he is leaving the Washington Post to create a political blog for Vox Media (co-founded by the creator of Daily Kos) is a perfect example of the confluence of the two with media covering something that no one outside the media cares about as if it were an important story.

In his announcement, Ezra Klein welcomed resumes from anyone who wanted to join him in "fixing the news" and promised to fight the phenomenon whereby the news tells people what happened instead of "giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what’s happened."

Klein's formula for fixing the news isn't unique. Most news organizations keep talking about the importance of context and background even while they make their money from pop culture clicks. The entire news media is the Huffington Post now.

More context isn't the solution to the news; it's the barrier to the news. Every media outlet wants to tell you what to think about an event, instead of telling you what happened. The more sophisticated organizations do a better job of dressing up their narratives by dropping longreads on the reader. David Kilpatrick's New York Times Benghazi story was a recent classic of the genre that read like a mystery novel and was filled with selective bits of misleading contextual information leading to inaccurate conclusions.

It did not take very long for a Senate report and other media outlets to shoot down the story which had left out information about the Al Qaeda links of the attackers, but did include a dubious claim that the attackers had been angry about a YouTube video. Kilpatrick's contextual longread was really a narrative. And that is the problem with context over news.

The news is a summary of what happened, but the expansion of context is a rabbit hole of narrative.

Context tainted by agendas becomes a narrative. An older generation of liberal journalists dreamed of being Woodward and Bernstein, but the younger generation have more modest ambitions of being storytellers who skip the investigations and go straight to the conclusions.

There are things about the news that actually do need to be fixed and political bias tops the list.

Even though David Kilpatrick's story was discredited shortly after it was published, Kilpatrick and the New York Times suffered no personal or professional consequences for a story that supported the administration's line on Benghazi. That is markedly different from what happened to Lara Logan and 60 Minutes for airing a Benghazi report that the administration did not approve of.

Both stories suffered from errors, but while 60 Minutes was deceived, the New York Times did the deceiving. And yet Lara Logan has been denounced for journalistic malpractice, while hardly anyone in the media has criticized Kilpatrick for attempting to sell blatantly refried nonsense that had long ago been discredited and that not even the administration was willing to stand behind.

It’s equally instructive to compare the treatment of Kilpatrick’s Benghazi hoax to an accurate and thoroughly researched longread in Grandland about Dr. V. the inventor of a golf putter who claimed to be a female physicist from MIT descended from Cornelius Vanderbilt, but turned out to be a male car mechanic. When the fraud was exposed, the man committed suicide. The story was initially admired, only to come under attack from gay rights activists who contended that the reporter, Caleb Hannan, had no right to expose V’s lies.

An ESPN transvestite sportswriter insisted that V's real gender wasn't Hannan's "information to share...  trans folk get to determine for themselves what they’re willing to divulge about their sexuality and gender identity. As in, it’s not your business unless or until the person tells you it is."

Hannan's story wasn't being challenged based on the facts, instead he had run afoul of a political mandate that transvestites, transsexuals and assorted ‘trans’ were members of an officially protected victim class whose psyches were too fragile to tolerate the excesses of investigative journalism. It was absurd, but so are most political restrictions. And political restrictions on journalism are the enemy of truth.

The Atlantic contended that Hannan's fault was "his inability to separate professional and academic deceitfulness from an issue for which (s)he had a legitimate right to privacy." But when exactly have journalists ever recognized a right to privacy? The ESPN ombudsman denounced the story for lacking "understanding, empathy and introspection". Would a story about any other auto mechanic claiming to be a rocket scientist have lead to criticisms that the story lacked understanding and empathy?

"It’s a surprisingly easy editing exercise to remove that aspect of the story," Robert Lipsyte, the ESPN ombudsman suggested, referring to V's gender. That chillingly casual suggestion which illustrates everything wrong with the liberal dominance of journalism however gave way to an even more Orwellian suggestion..

Another ESPN ombudsman and "ethicist" at a journalism school suggested killing the whole story because "the deceptions were inextricably entwined with the name change... in which case, the news organization would then have to ask if the subject of the story itself was so pressing to Grantland’s audience that it had to be published."

The problem here is not a lack of contextual information, but a political context that entirely overwhelms the facts until ombudsmen and ethicists demand that the political context should determine whether a reporter pursues a story.

It was the identical problem faced by Communists journalists who were expected to think of the political context first and the truth second. And that is the real problem with the news.

The news media now specializes in content so shallow and worthless that it has no political context. No victim group is going to object to a video of kittens playing or a pop star trying to be outrageous, or rather they will, animal rights groups will object that the kittens video promotes animal slavery and the pop star's dance moves or costumes are guilty of cultural appropriation, but, for the moment, they will be ignored.

Serious news however comes with so much political context that it's easier to just rewrite Think Progress or Media Matters content than to do any original reporting on a national or international issue. There is safety in numbers because it's harder to lynch a reporter whose only crime is reworking an AP story that is based on a Media Matters email that is based on a White House press release.

The few people who do more consider themselves liberal wonks and their material is aimed at a narrow demographic consisting of journalists, consultants, politicians and anyone whose specialty revolves around an area of domestic or foreign policy. This incestuous world is what now largely passes for journalism. When reporters repeat that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate organization or that ObamaCare is working, they are echoing the talking points of this media echo chamber.

Investigate journalism has become dangerous because it's politically risky. It sets the reporter apart from the herd. In the best case scenario, reporters like Sharyl Attkisson are ignored when they report on Fast and Furious or Benghazi; aside from the occasional mysterious computer hack. If they become too annoying to the establishment, like Bob Woodward, they can be torn to shreds for criticizing the wrong people.

The news is broken because it follows the left's usual model of insider highbrow content and outsider lowbrow content. That same model destroyed art, literature and theater. Now it's wiping out the news media. The general public gets cat videos, pop stars and stories about a Republican who said something racist. The insiders get endless analyses that read like a case of college sophomore arrested development accompanied by politically correct spin on the latest trends.

MSNBC and Ezra Klein's work at the Washington Post are both demonstrations of how little popular appeal the insider content has even when it makes attempts at splicing in populism. And the general model of the Huffington Post is so tawdry and stupid that it drags down everything else with it.

Middlebrow content that is meaningful to the average person is usually  the first casualty of postmodern leftist institutional domination. It happened in every area of culture and it just took a little longer for the same phenomenon to kill the news as we knew it and replace it with a wide gap between lowbrow indoctrination and highbrow guides on how to indoctrinate.

This split is fundamental to understanding what is going on not only with the news media, but with the country. The national audience is being divided between those who are to be fooled and those who do the fooling. The "smart people" will play the Outer Party and be tasked with distributing talking points and memes from the Inner Party of the think tanks while the proles will get cat videos, pop stars and the latest Republican outrage boiled down to the level of the Huffington Post audience.

When apparatchiks like Ezra Klein talk about fixing the news, they don't mean going back to a time when middlebrow media coverage informed without indoctrinating, what they mean is providing more content to the Outer Party of the upscale left that plays a role in policy, but doesn't originate the ideas that it promotes.

Lowbrow content is concerned with capturing fleeting attention spans while highbrow content is incestuous, it analyses and meta-analyses each talking point and its reporting is concerned with itself. It reports on Ezra Klein not because he is newsworthy but because in a shrinking business those at the top are increasingly likely to know each other and the lines between gossip and news no longer exist.

In the digital era, the Inner Party looks a lot like Pajama Boy or the new wave at MSNBC or the Obama campaign, it's young, skilled at social media and it never grew up. And the Outer Party is just the Inner Party with less influence and more student debt. The whole thing has the air of an endless college dorm because that is really what it is.

The news media has become just another outlet in the culture war of the left. Its business model can't be fixed because it isn't in business to make money, but to indoctrinate. It doesn't care about the financial bottom line, but about the political bottom line. Its future is boutique journalism funded by liberal billionaires looking to influence policy by subsidizing failed media outlets that would otherwise go on the block for a buck just like Newsweek.

The news doesn't need to be fixed. It needs to be freed.


Gary Rosen said...

"promised to fight the phenomenon whereby the news tells people what happened instead of "giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what’s happened.""

Yeah, that would be horrible if people actually found out what happened. A friend of mine, a down-to-earth guy who I've never heard make a political comment, told me this story. He was working at a construction site where there was a gas explosion and someone was killed. After an investigation it was eventually found out the victim was trying to commit suicide and succeeded, just not in the way he intended.

But the day after the incident the local press was out there in full force, haranguing his boss with a lot of accusatory questions about safety etc. "They had their story already written", my friend said. "THEY WEREN'T TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED". That sums up today's "media" and why it is such a cancer on the body politic.

Anonymous said...

Deciphering the leftists´ convoluted lingo is a laudable task and a much needed endeavour. To counter them it is also convenient to ignore (concede) the usual ‘convincing statements’ such as we aren’t racists, we don´t want children starving in Africa nor the extinction of whales or in Helen Lovejoy’s words (Simpsons): ‘won´t somebody please think of the children’. We have to go against the inner party’s endlösung: wealth is racist thus if you want to be saved, either be poor or be black (Mexican could do also).

Anonymous said...

As usual right on. Will share. Problem is the people who need most to read and absorb are insulated from comprehending by the very "contextual" propagandizing of which you write. P.S.sent in a few bucks. Not much but I'm saving up for Gov Palin, should she decide to run. Be well. Stevethird.

walt reed said...

I seem to remember a time when all politicians were questioned thoroughly and relentlessly on Meet The Press by Mr. Spivak. The same manner of piercing and insightful questioning was apparent on non news programs like Firing Line. Even if your position coincided with Mr. Buckley's, you had better be able to state facts and make a cogent argument for "the position" or you would suffer the stinging embarrassment of having the host making the argument for you.

Matt Bracken said...

ABCNNBCBS + NYTWPLAT = American Pravda

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

thank you Steve, it's appreciated

Anonymous said...

There is one, little-noticed element that pertains to today's promiscuous media industry. Namely, it is the dispensibility of media brands.

Used to be, a conglomerate would struggle for years to generate brand loyalty among a set of customers or constituents. And, having constructed this tower, the conglomerate would strive to protect it at all costs.

Not anymore. Especially as we move away from paper-printed media, the owners of influential 'zines like the NYT are liberated from the strictures that branding placed on editors, and so they pursue politicized stories that conflict directly with the branding plans of the 'zine's marketing and subscriptions departments.

Once you untether a product from fidelity to its producer's brand, all pretenses of ethics, morality and quality can be jettisoned, too.

So it goes, too, in media markets. Be it MSNBC or the NYT, when the brand becomes dispensible, the editors can safely decide to play fast and loose with the brand's remaining credulous readers while the 'zine's logo still carries some weight.

I think this explains partly why America's entrenched old-media organizations "took the gloves off" in America's political boxing matches around the turn of the century.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

brand emphasis also tends to focus on consumer groups that are to the left, e.g. young urban educated professionals and panders to heavy social media users

so they have far more interest in what the Evergreen grad student in the I'm Not Buying that hashtag campaign thinks than in what millions of housewives do

The Bear said...

The entirety of the modern Progressive movement can be distilled down to the ideology of its real Founder - George Fitzhugh: most people (of all races) are too lowly born and need to be owned and ruled over by a benevolent Master ... Slavery is Freedom.

Fitzhugh was a contemporary of Marx and Engels whose writings speeches became vogue in the late 1840's and early 1850's ...NO ONE angered Abraham Lincoln more during his run up to the Presidency.

The Liberal apple has never fallen far from the tree of Slavery.

Anonymous said...

The news media also has assumed an insidious role as our nanny. The weatherman tells us if we need to wear our hat and mittens or if it's safe to leave our house in snowy weather. The new health and lifestyle segments tell us that we should be eating our kale and blueberries and whether coffee is good or bad for us that week and urges us to get our flu shot before we die like the 4 people across the country that succombed to H1N1. There is an obesity epidemic they warn but nevermind the many adolescents with serious eating disorders. What's with the preoccupation with food? Last night a nutritionist on the news warned against all the chicken wings being consumed on Superbowl Day and recommended chunks of cantelope and a veggie tray for your party. Sounds great.
Yes, they think we are too stupid to have any common sense but there is another reason for all the concern. They look out for us; our well-being is important to them. They wouldn't lie to us because they care about us. So we learn to trust them and their news. It's another method of indoctrination.


David Swartz said...

Tony Soprano couldn't have fixed the news any better. People, especially the young are very
Gullible. The Progressive news media treat the public like the easy marks that they are. Der oilem is a goilem.

unclevladdi said...

The corporazi-owned enemedia should be the first to go. They exist only to scold, nag, lecture and "caution" us about how dangerous we all are, how potentially hateful, racist, and bigotted. It's their job to see we are indoctrinated into the kindergarten teacher nannystate's victim-blaming version of false morality, where we have no right to defend our selves &/or innocent others because, to them, all attacks - even counter-attacks, in self-defense - are equally wrong. They pretend that self defense is an example of two wrongs not making the second one right. Like all criminally negligent infantile delinquent idolaters, they ignore cause and effect rationality to pretend all mere effects are their own causes, and that all generalizations are actually new and real 'things' with new properties (like 'national security') in order to lead us into complacency, deferring our right to think for our selves, downloaded onto the fearful group-might-makes-rights paradigm of leftist gangsters everywhere: that we need them as our crisis-relief management expert salesmen "leaders" because cause-and-effect life's much too complex for us to understand, and it's an absolute fact that there are absolutely no absolute facts, and so, since all facts are really only opinions anyway, their subjective, fact-free opinions are the diversely opposite equals to those silly Conservative's objective facts. Besides, there's no money in solutions, so all merely temporary problems with permanent solutions must be spun into permanent crieses with only band-aid 'therapies' available; i.e:
"Please Give Generously - AGAIN!"

As someone else recently noted: “The Fourth Estate have now become our Fifth Columnists!”

The enemedia are globalist corporazi-owned scum who only exist to distract the masses from seeing the truth festering beneath them.

The enemedia are lying criminal frauds and should be jailed for public deception.


The enemedia are traitors. Islam doesn't change, they all use the same, one and only Qur'an. It's not impossible to learn EVERYTHING about islam, from the Qur'an, ahadiths and sirat, Tabari histories, and from the four Sunni and one Shia maddhab fiqhs (schools) of sharia.

Learning EVERYTHING about islam isn't all that hard to do.

So for the last 11 years, after it became obvious on 9/11 that a wee bit of research was in order concerning islam, if only with a nod towards basic self-preservation, for these talking heads and self-appointed and proclaimed crisis-relief management expert self-promoting salesmen to stick to their claims of wilfully self-blinded and criminally negligenct ignorance about such a hot topic, is nothing but obvious TREASON.

Because nobody can maintain that level of wilful ignorance for that long. Nobody is that stupid - which leaves only the other possibility: that they are paid and willing accessories to, and enablers of, all the moslem's criminal atrocities.

It should never be allowed by backwards people to be considered “illegal” to accuse these criminals (moslems) of their crimes, allegedly because the painful truth might offend them or hurt their feelings, & so “make” them commit even more crimes!

No problem was ever solved by ignoring it, & nobody is doing even these moslems any favours, by indulging their historic lies that islam is a “religion” (at all, much less one “of peace”) or a “race” (much less one of poor oppressed People Of Colour”)!

Pretending there is NOT a Muslim problem but only a white racist problem accepting diversity, is criminally negligent TREASON.

meema said...

“A world where we are not only allowed but encouraged to cherry pick our sensibilities, where words and meanings are often redesigned and retrofitted to the concepts du jour, where illusion and coercion are expertly devised and is preferred over the unpleasantries of truth, is a world knee-deep in hypocrisy so debilitating that there is no remedy that humankind could ever muster of and by itself.”

lemon lime moon said...

Some say the media is state controlled.
It needs to be totally ignored in print and on TV until it dies from neglect.

Edgar Davidson said...


The situation with the media in the UK is, I believe, much more tightly controlled by a leftist elite than in the USA. Even a faux conservative channel like Fox News would never be tolerated by the political and media elite. Even I was shocked at the extent to which the leftist narrative imposed by the elite has been so completely accepted now without any challenge when I watched last week's BBC Question Time. It prompted me to write up about the scale of the problem:

Anonymous said...

I like your writing. Sometimes I get lost in the words.

Thomas Lipscomb said...

I was fortunate enough to have gotten my college education at the height of American academic excellence in the early 60s, and been at the NY Times and edited Harrison Salisbury's Centennial history of the Times WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOR when the title actually had some relevance to the paper.

I sent this to the current Public Editor after Kate Zernicke blew two ledes in a row without correction. After the Fitzgerald fiasco, and Krystof's free ad space for the Farrow myth... there is really no longer any point reading the "news" reporting in the NYT any more.

Ms. Sullivan...

I am the former founder and head of Times Books who wrote you a month or so ago.

This time it is more serious.

Last night the NY Times carried a lede on a digital edition story by Kate Zernicke flatly claiming that, according to Wildstein, Governor Christie knew about the GW Bridge closing. That was corrected to "evidence exists" in the Page One print story today, with no correction noted that I have seen.

And the internet lit up over the issue, as you know better than most.

Unfortunately you need ANOTHER correction for Zernicke's revise. This time she flatly ledes that Wildstein, "The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday" that "evidence exists... ." But if the WSJ Page One story today is correct, Wildstein made no such statement. The statement was made by Alan Zegas, Wildstein's attorney which is a whole other thing. Take a look.

After all, attorney Zegas is presumably trying to get a deal with his client with the prosecutor. And his statement is clearly a PR gesture to that end of mild news value, but not sufficient to make page one of either the NYT or the WSJ, much less merit an incorrect sourcing, if anything ever does.

30 years ago I can see Abe telling his reporter "If Zegas wants to run an ad, send him the rate card. I want to hear from Wildstein."

Now Zernicke and I have had some difference of opinion as you will see if you go to two articles I ran on Real Clear Politics about her sloppy reporting on Kerry's military record.

But if the NYT missed the opportunity, or deemed the move from electronic Bulldog to corrected print insufficient cause to run a correction, you clearly have one now.


Thomas H. Lipscomb

Sandra Coburn said...

"The news doesn't need to be fixed. It needs to be freed."

Says it all.

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