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Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Mainstream Media's Trivial Pursuit of Campaign 2012 | Eric Alterman, The Nation

The main point of Alterman's excellent column:
While neglecting the real issues—and ignoring the radicalization of the Republican Party—reporters obsess over made-up “gaffes” and meaningless campaign moments.
Alterman writes, responding to a self-centered, self-pitying concern of journalists that the 2012 presidential campaign is "joyless" (emphasis added):
For the consumers of American journalism, a k a “voters,” however, this campaign has not merely been joyless; it’s been all but substanceless—when it hasn't been deliberately deceptive. For despite the participation of tens of thousands of journalists spending tens of millions of dollars using a dizzying array of communications technology devoted to covering the campaign, the system ultimately fails to justify itself in its most essential purpose: to ensure accountability for citizens and their leaders and to offer the kind of information necessary to help voters make an educated choice for the future of their country.
Alterman describes two of the main reasons for the incompetent news coverage:
First is the role that the relentless focus on campaign trivia plays in the coverage. Save fundraising, which is usually done privately, nothing much happens for most of the time that reporters are assigned to cover campaigns. The result is that most end up filing stories so trivial and ultimately meaningless it’s hard to imagine that even their authors could today defend their relevance or significance. ...
The second, and related, dynamic involves the inability of mainstream reporters to admit to, and account for, the radicalization of the Republican Party—whether it involves the candidates’ commitment to extremist ideology, or their refusal to allow observable reality to compete with their economic theories, their scientific ignorance, or their loyalty to billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. ...  
And that point leads to a larger indictment of the news media--not just in this election but also in the incompetence of misguided journalists in covering many issues through the country, throughout the planet.

Alterman writes;
So intense is journalists’ belief that they must find a way to blame “both sides” for whatever one candidate happens to say or do—whether it’s telling an outright lie, making a 180-degree change in position, or refusing to accept a simple economic or scientific fact—that the Republicans have largely been given a pass for the consequences of their Tea Party takeover. ...
This tendency not only creates a false “center” between the two parties—one in which ideologically driven, reality-denying and frequently paranoid conspiracy theories, together with outright, deliberate lies, are treated as perfectly legitimate positions from which members of the punditocracy feel compelled to demand “bipartisan” compromise from Obama and the Democrats.
As a former journalism student, newspaper editor and reporter, and college journalism instructor, I know that such attitudes and behavior by far too many journalists are based on a significant misunderstanding of the lessons in j-school to be fair, objective and balanced. (And I write that, admittedly, as a continuing student of the news media and current events who has learned that lesson over time.)

The problem with unquestioned, illogical loyalty to objectivity, fairness and balance is that it places another key principle of journalism--accuracy--in a secondary, less important position. And that is inexcusable. Competent reporters must research and report on the accuracy or completeness of statements made by politicians and other news sources--even to the point of reporting that statements are unintentionally or intentionally wrong or misleading. 

Anyway, back to the rest of Alderman's article. He provides a lot of evidence to confirm the point of his column. And I recommend it all to you. I want to conclude, though, with one of his concluding paragraphs:
Should Mitt Romney become America’s next president, liberals and centrists will no doubt find many potential culprits on whom to hang responsibility. But one point appears inarguable: a vigorous, serious and unstinting focus on Romney and the Republicans’ plans for the country, coupled with sharp and sustained analysis of the disjunction between their actual views and the ones they profess for the purpose of winning elections, would demonstrate that they are well outside the consensus of American voters. Yet because the mainstream media cannot be depended on to provide even the rudiments of an accurate portrayal of the two parties’ positions on the major questions facing the nation, the United States now stands on the brink of four years of catastrophic misrule.
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This article from The Nation is featured today (Oct. 27) in my daily online paper, Footprints  Progressive Steps--available at the Progressive Politics tab above and by free email subscription.

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