Friday, March 12, 2010

Quote of the Day: Ravi Somaiya

"By softballing and coddling interviewees, all of television news has helped politicians get away with appalling lies, distortions and… being Sarah Palin.

"Put simply: almost without exception, American political interviewers fawn and simper over their subjects, refuse to ask a question more than once and never call bullshit on blatant bullshit. If anchors, interviewers and White House correspondents did their job — to hold elected officials accountable, by their lapels if necessary — politicians of all stripes could not get away with distorting and outright lying, as they do now.

"Rove-ian veneers would simply be scraped away by the eight words 'that is not true, please answer my question'. Repeated enough on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC they'd mean no birthers. No myths about healthcare or rumors of death panels. No paranoid lies about creeping socialism. No George W. Bush. No Sarah Palin."
That's Gawker's Ravi Somaiya, writing in response to an anti-Fox News screed in the Washington Post by Howell Raines.

Somaiya is right. Watch footage of Tony Blair getting grilled by the British press, and standing up to it without whining. Our journalists just aren't like that. We think backcountry preachers are a good match for bioligists in evolution debates.

But it doesn't just cut one way. All politics -- liberal and conservative -- would benefit from a stronger press, a press that didn't adopt partisan catch phrases or let hysterics and hyperbole stand.

In the Post column titled "Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?", Raines limited his argument at first to Fox News and the issue of healthcare reform. But he too goes further:
"Why has our profession, through its general silence -- or only spasmodic protest -- helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?"
Economics is the typical answer to that, writes Raines. The problem, and I think most liberals suspect this and many on Fox News (including Ailes, O'Reilly and Beck) will use it as a defense, is that Fox News is not news; it's entertainment. It's about ratings, and it's a rollicking success.

MSNBC, CNN and everything else still have their feet in the evaporating pond of journalism, while dabbling in what Fox has perfected. Thus, they cannot win. They let Fox create the rules for the game. Get back to real journalism and its aims of truth, public service and open information and, as both Raines and Somaiya argue, Fox will lose some of its magical power of influence.

So what's stopping everyone? It's simple: Fox has created a climate in which arguing with its people and the people it promotes amounts to bias. Act as if you're the standard and everyone else is the deviant and you can accuse anyone of what you are doing, which is biased reporting.

But there may be hope yet. Here's the powerful London PR exec Matthew Freud, who is also Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law (and the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud), quoted in the New York Times in January:
"I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to."

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