Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sometimes, I'm too easily distracted


      Jay Rosen has a nice post on the religion of journalism, and whether the faith can be sustained.

  • The story of Watergate, as told by the press, bears little relationship to the facts.

  • Journalism schools teach their students to be political activists of a special kind, but pretend that it isn't politics.

  • The press's image of themselves needs to change.

      When reading Jay Rosen's Monday Press Think piece, I got sidetracked by the stuff about the new journalism program.

      Further in, Rosen writes of the "religion of journalism."  He writes interestingly of the Watergate scandal, and the rather different Watergate myth, and quotes a woman [sic] named Darryl McGrath, who says:
      I would tell the dean that this business does not know what to do with career reporters, the people in their 40s who realized years ago they were never going to make it to the New York Times or win a Pulitzer, but nevertheless loved chasing stories and exposing public corruption and giving a voice to the downtrodden.  (Yes, I’m still that idealistic.)

      As Rosen comments:
      She said she "loved chasing stories and exposing public corruption and giving a voice to the downtrodden."  That's the lord's prayer in the mainline church of journalism right there.  And I think it's dead on too when McGrath (now a happy freelancer) adds: "I’m still that idealistic."

      Deans of Journalism, scribble a note: Investigative reporting, exposing public corruption, and carrying the mantle of the downtrodden were taught to McGrath not as political acts in themselves--which they are--and not as a continuation of the progressive movement of the 1920s, in which the cleansing light of publicity was a weapon of reform--which they are--but just as a way of being idealistic, a non-political truthteller in the job of journalist.  (Which is bunk.)

      That nails it nicely.  The MSM is a political movement, one that wants more and more government.  By pretending they are above the fray, when they're really neck deep in politics, they've made those who don't share their politics regard them with contempt.

      The problem is the religion, and I might add, the dishonesty necessary to preach it:
      In the newsroom faith that I have been describing, Watergate is not just a big, big story with a knock-out ending.  It is the great redemptive tale believers learn to tell about the press and what it can do for the American people.  It is a story of national salvation: truth their only weapon, journalists save the day.  Whether the story can continue to claim enough believers--and connect the humble to the heroic in journalism--is to my mind a big question.  Whether it should continue is an even better question.

      More so now that we know about W. Mark Felt.  If Deep Throat was not Hal Holbrook but the number two guy at the FBI, was he Woodward's source, or was Woodward really his agent?  Now look at Epstein's conclusion: "agencies of government itself..." were mainly responsible for getting the truth out about Watergate.  Suppose he's right, more or less.  Admitting it would crash a big portion of the religion.

      But maybe it should be crashed.  Maybe what we need is not funding for a new church, but a breakaway church, or two, or three of them.  (And what is Fox News Channel, but that?)

Read the whole thing, and check Rosen's site regularly.



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