The Stockdalian Press
But what’s the campaign press doing? It seems to me that if the practitioners of campaign journalism can’t figure out a way to make it so that lying is punished, rather than amplified and rewarded, by the press then they ought to pack up their bags and go do something else. Pretty much all the other branches of the press — from the film critics to the foreign correspondents to the weathermen to the investigative reporters to the “news of the weird” guys — seem to have a clear role in the ecology.
Matthew’s incisive comments come on the heels of some media hand-wringery from Marc Ambinder (who I frequently enjoy). Ambinder thesis is basically as follows:
A) The rabid partisans are lost causes, see any news stories from the press adverse to their side as biased, and reject it out of hand.
B) The moderates/independents are cynical about the press, and will dismiss anything coming from any of these folks as self-serving (ratings/money/prestige) or agenda-driven.
C) The dismissive nature (or, hatred) by A & B of “The Press” (“Oh, that’s just ‘The Media’ doing X”) has led to a blurring of the lines between “straight” news organizations (NYT/WaPo/NBC types) and opinion/news (Keith/BillO/Insert Website here types), such that it is impossible to discern who, if anyone, has what agenda.
D [more like Q according to Marc]) The press flat-out isn’t doing their job, and has failed to sufficiently call out blatant lies and untruths.
Reading the rest of the piece, Ambinder seems to be just short of throwing up his hands here. I found this passage particularly depressing:
Perhaps faith in institutions is so anemic that non-partisan truth-squadding simply isn’t believed. (Partisans on both sides have attacked truth squadders, with the right generally endeavoring to decredentialize the media and the left generally endeavoring to lecture the media about its duties.)
Notwithstanding my partisan allegiances, it’s really hard to claim that it isn’t the McCain camp that hasn’t been out in from in attacking the media, especially since the announcement of Sarah Palin. It has been fairly relentless in fact, culminating in Rick Davis’ now infamous pronouncement that Gov. Palin would not be subjected to interviews until she was treated with “deference.” Of course, I’m not so naive as to suggest that the Obama campaign hasn’t had press complaints, but it’s hard to make a factual case that it hasn’t been the McCain Camp who is out there “working the refs” as they say. At least publicly, the facts aren’t up for dispute. Which brings me back to Matt’s point:
But if lying works as a campaign strategy, rather than backfiring and getting the liar branded as an untrustworthy character, then what’s the campaign journalism for?
Bottom line (I say this having a minor in journalism in college, so I’ve written a story or three): The job of a journalist (at least as it relates to political campaigns) is to present the truth to the audience, and filter out as best one can the spin from the parties, notwithstanding the calls of “bias” or what have you. “He said/She said/We’ll leave it up to the audience” has its place, but when the “She said” is a lie, it’s up to the reporters to present the truth and filter out the nonsense. It may be “hard work,” but if you can’t do it, then I don’t know why you’re here.