The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
In December, for the 23rd straight year, I was a judge in the Media Research Center's annual awards for the year's worst reporting. Every two or three years, despite my reluctance to shoot fish in a barrel, I've given in and reported the findings in WORLD, in the process challenging our talented headline writers to come up with something new. On Dec. 11, 1999, the headline was "Hypocrisy watch: A dozen years of evidence concerning media bias." Now we're up to 23 years.
What's changed, though, is that the big media ranks are thinning: Lots of layoffs in recent years, and-our sidebar gives data from one region-lots of news bureau closings. Another change: Hypocrisy may be less frequent. That's because some journalists on the left, facing new competition from FOX News, conservative talk radio, and internet sources, figure they're already losing readers and viewers from the right-so why not please some of the people some of the time?
Chris Matthews, for example, has with Keith Olbermann firmly positioned MSNBC on the left. Matthews famously commented in 2008 about "this thrill going up my leg" that he felt when Barack Obama gave a speech. On Sept. 7, 2010, he said it again in relation to the president: "I get the same thrill up my leg, all over me." Good for Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who told Matthews on Nov. 2, discussing that day's election results, "I think people are thrilled tonight. I imagine that thrill is . . . not so tingly on your legs anymore."
Some journalists grew pessimistic about the Obama administration but remained high on his new Supreme Court appointee, Elena Kagan. ABC World News correspondent Terry Moran reported her first day on the Court (Oct. 4) this way: "You could almost sense or imagine some of the other justices and veteran court watchers kind of looking down the bench at Justice Kagan like a major league scout might say, 'You know, that kid's got some real pop on her fastball.'" Another hero is Eric Holder, because-according to CBS's Rita Braver-"Ignoring political pressure is Holder's constant message."
The Associated Press has departed from just-the-facts-ma'am style and moved toward analysis that often reveals the mindsets of reporters. Here's Paul Haven's Sept. 24 dispatch from Havana: "Cuba's communist leaders mapped out a brave new world of free enterprise on Friday, approving a laundry list of small-time businesses." Haven worried that the changes "seem sure to create a society of haves and have-nots in a land that has spent half a century striving for an egalitarian utopia."
AP still claims evenhandedness, but Newsweek to its credit has abandoned hypocrisy and largely acknowledged its leftwardness. Sometimes it also seems ready to acknowledge its manufacturing of role models, as in its Aug. 2 cover story about demagogue Al Sharpton: "He is out there all alone, still standing on the same principle he first enunciated in his housing project in Brooklyn: poor people have the same rights as rich ones to justice in the streets and in the court. If he didn't exist, we might, in fact, need to invent him." (Maybe we did.)
But surely the Public Broadcasting System provides high quality journalism, no? Hmm. Listen to this May 25 discussion of radical Muslims between author Ayaan Hirsi Ali and PBS host Tavis Smiley. Ali: "The idea got into their minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter." Smiley: "But Christians do that every single day in this country." Ali: "Do they blow people up every day?" Smiley: "Yes."
The concept of having comedians present and discuss the news is spreading: Comedy Central is what it says it is in presenting Jon Stewart, but what's Joy Behar doing as co-host of ABC's The View and host of a CNN show? Her Oct. 26 analysis of Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle took my breath away: "She's going to Hell. . . . She's going to Hell, this bitch." When Behar interviewed President Obama on July 29, she went on and on about his political successes and then asked, "Where is your attack dog to come out and tell the American people, 'Listen, this is what we did?" Obama responded, "Joy, that's your job." Her comeback: "I do it! But I'm only one woman!"
No, despite some recent sulking, Obama's journalistic attack dogs and lap dogs are still legion. Should we at WORLD recycle our headline from Dec. 14, 2002: "Paranoia, hatred, ignorance"? No, the one from Dec. 27, 1997, is better: "How low can they go? Call the chiropractors: It's journalistic limbo time again."