Wednesday, March 29, 2006

OT: Last Word on the Media and Internalization

I'm sorry to keep on with this, but I wanted to say one more thing based on L'Affaire Domenech and the "mainstream media"'s internalization of conservative criticisms.

Digby, the anonymous blogger who may be the finest prose-writer among political bloggers (and whose co-blogger, "Tristero," is the distinguished composer Richard Einhorn), had a recent post about the letter the Washington Post's ombudsman received from a Washington lawyer.

The letter, accusing her and the Post of liberal bias in their coverage, said: ""I can't subscribe to your newspaper anymore because you have lost all sense of balance and perspective in your coverage of the war in Iraq and against the terrorists. It is clear to those of us who have our sons and daughters who are in harm's way that you support the terrorists and you are opposed to the efforts of our Marines, all who are sacrificing so that you are free to publish without interference."

The reaction of the ombudsman? "I found his letter haunting; it pains me that he would think Post journalists support terrorists."

Digby points out the problem with her reaction. This man has just accused her and her colleagues of "supporting the terrorists." He doesn't imply it, he says it flat-out: "you support the terrorists." This man has just written an outrageous lie and slander against her and her fellow journalists, the sort of thing that any respectable person should be ashamed to write. And how does she, a veteran journalist, react? Not by calling this man a vicious liar, which he is. Not by defending the honour and integrity of her colleagues from this slander. Not by saying that he is a detestable creep for writing such things. No, she takes his criticism seriously and feels it "pains her" that this guy thinks she supports terrorists. The fact that this person has accused her and her fellow journalists of treason is apparently "haunting." She doesn't get mad, she doesn't get even, she gets "pained."

Digby writes:

The truth is that we are not trying to destroy the media with our barbaric uncouth ways and unflattering criticisms. We are trying to save it. It's not surprising that they have become self-loathing, addicted to RNC spin and dependent on the approbation of the Republican establishment. We can all see why they would no longer be able to tell the difference between rational conservative discourse and RNC propaganda. They've been under sustained attack for years.

That's why we've decided we need to stage an intervention. The first step is to wake them up and make them realize that when a reader calls them a terrorist sympathizer the proper response is not to "feel pained" or be "haunted." It's to recognize that the person who is saying it is a deluded rightwing nutcase --- and then get righteously pissed. That is not a benign charge --- they are fighting words.

Exactly right. Much of the conservative media criticism we've been seeing over the past few years is not media criticism in any real sense. Real media criticism attempts to correct errors and get reporters to report accurately on events. But the guy who wrote to Ms. Howell, or the creepy blogger/radio-host who tried to accuse a reporter of treason, are not trying to get the media to report accurately, they're trying to intimidate the media out of reporting facts that are accurate but inconvenient. "Bias" is defined as "reporting things that I don't like hearing about." And this is lapped up and taken seriously, not so much by reporters, but by their editors and bosses, who push for "balanced" reporting even if facts have to be balanced with non-facts.

That's the last I will say on this particular subject, but it is important to understand: people like the guy who wrote to Ms. Howell are not fringe cranks (he's a Washington D.C. lawyer, after all). They are part of the conservative mainstream. And they literally accuse reporters of treason. If previously-apolitical people like me have gotten a little "shrill" lately, it's because it's tough to sound moderate and bi-partisan when the other side is accusing you of being a terrorist-loving freedom-hater.

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