Monday, March 06, 2006

Firewalled media

Anonymous Liberal, now posting at Glenn Greenwald does a nice job of deconstructing the willful blindness of the media. By presenting "separate" stories like the NSA/FISA wiretapping scandal and the attempt to renew the Patriot Act as separate stories, the larger goals and values of the Bush Administration are left unrevealed.

Why is this happening? I'll take a stab at it.

First, reporters want separate credit for stories. If you're covering one beat, you're reporting in only that area, and mooching is greatly discouraged. Perhaps that sounds trivial to you, but it's as trivial as your paycheck.

Second, keeping stories separate lets reporters safely stay in the faux "objective" zone. If they combine stories like the wiretapping scandal and the Patriot act, then by the conventions of American journlism, it must be labeled "news analysis". If they further add issues on to the pile, such as Cheney's obsessive secrecy in contrast to the Bush administration's desire to deeply intrude into the personal lives, then the story would appear more like a full-on opinion piece. British journalism combines news reporting with acidulous commentary, and reporters are writing from well-known political points of view; that is simply not permitted on this side of the pond, not since the 1920s.

Third, actually combining stories into narratives is much harder than writing straight he-said, she-said stories. They require more shoe-leather work, they're harder to write, and it's easier to get the balance wrong.

Finally, reporters who report stories like this in a prominent newspaper are virtually guaranteed to be viciously attacked. Their jobs will be threatened. This is the second "paycheck" reason for skipping these stories. Most people don't risk their jobs for a casual reason. Snarky bloggers like myself are doing so anonymously in part so we can take a metaphorical bat to the head of various targets. If someone sends me a nasty letter, woo, trust me, I can cope. My job is safe.

These are all reasons why bloggers freak out the established journalists: we combine passionate advocacy with an ocean's depth worth of facts, and we do so from untouchable positions of safety. Worst of all, from the journalists's point of view, we remember when reporters are hacks, like Steno Sue at the Washington Post, and we're quick to point out sloppy work even from reporters we like.

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