Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, March 14, 2005

Update to "What Liberal Media?"

      The Blogfather has an entry on the New York Times article I talk about in the entry immediately below.  He notes, as I do, the fact that the "Phony News Story" is a long established practice.

      Reynolds then goes on to give us some information on just how long this has been going on, and how widespread the practice is.  The information is taken from a chapter of his book The Appearance of Impropriety.  There are some quotes from Daniel Boorstin, who noted (around 1967) that the National Press Club:
was equipped with racks holding the handouts from press conferences throughout the capital, in order to save the reporters the trouble of actually attending.

      All of this brings back memories of the late sixties, when I several times spotted, in magazines and newspapers, lightly rewritten press releases printed as "news stories" on something or another.

      How bad has it gotten.  Reynolds has this:
One public-relations handbook explains it this way:

Most reporters aren't scoop-hungry investigators. They're wage earners who want to please their editors with as little effort as possible, and they're happy to let you provide them with ideas and facts for publishable stories. That is why most publicity is positive for people and their businesses.

You're still not convinced? Go to the library and glance through a few day's issues of several newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and some local papers. You'll discover that the same stories appear over and over again. That's because they were initiated by the companies being covered, not by an eager young reporter looking for a scoop.

An experiment by a group of journalism students at the University of Tennessee demonstrates just how willing reporters can be to accept facts and story ideas that involve little work. The students concocted a fictitious press release from a group opposing "political correctness" and mailed it to a number of newspapers. Most did not run it, but quite a few did -- and none checked the details one way or another. One newspaper even embellished the story with additional details that were not included in the original press release. When word of the experiment got out, journalists were predictably outraged, with one even saying that it violated the bond of trust (!) between journalists and public-relations professionals. A more likely explanation for the outrage is that the experiment uncovered a pattern of shoddy work that its practitioners would have preferred to keep unexposed. Not plagiarism, perhaps, but something that in many ways is worse.

      As Reynolds says:
Perhaps if "real" news were, well, better, it would be harder to pass off the fake stuff . . . .

      'But the focus on the Bush Administration's use of these techniques has nothing to do with media bias.'  Keep repeating that until you believe it.  If necessesary, take two lobotomies and call the NY Times in the morning.



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