Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Wisdom of Joe the Plumber?

"I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting"

Priceless. But there is a kernel or two of truth:

1) Journalists are by definition beholden to their sources, and if a source has veto power over reporting - as Hamas has over the media representatives in its territory - then it is unlikely the reporting will not be very accurate. Winston Churchill, who wrote for newspapers between WWI and WWII, said he refused an invitation to visit Hitler because he could only see two outcomes: either he would compromise his own principles, or he would insult his host. Churchill's modern successors demonstrably do not suffer from such a conscience.

In the early 80s Western reporters in Beirut would add disclaimers to their reports; these have now been abandoned, possibly out of time constraints, but more probably, I'd guess, out of sheer embarassment.

2) To the saying, "If it bleeds, it leads" should be added, "if it is outrageous, it makes the pages". Usually that takes the form of mis-labelling, perhaps deliberately, media images or quotes. The classic example from Vietnam is the photo of the summary execution of a Vietcong by a South Vietnamese general, captioned as typical of the justice of the U.S.-supported regime; but the photographer and general both knew that the man being shot was a Vietcong who had attacked during the Tet holiday truce. General Sherman summarily executed prisoners, on a man-for-man basis, whenever he discovered a Union soldier who had been taken prisoner, then mutilated and killed by Confederates, in violation of the rules of war. Was shooting this Vietcong so different?

3) Being a big-time reporter means never having to say you're sorry. The current example is Dan Rather, who never apologized for running a phony letter designed to torpedo Bush 43's campaign just before election day in 2004.

Then again, Rather did have to leave his job as news anchor shortly afterward. Maybe, thanks to bloggers like Charles Johnson and Jack-in-the-Boxes like Joe the Plumber, journalism is making a little progress after all.

No comments: