Breaking Fisking

Sunday, December 11, 2005
I'm listening to Chris Matthews and the Hardball "Special Report" on Plame-gate. A detailed fisking will have to wait, but so far, listening with half-attention while I work on something else, I've already heard them make several straight-out false statements and misattributions, starting with discussing Wilson's NYT op-ed, "What I didn't find in Niger" without mentioning the disagreement between what he wrote and what the Senate Committee reported were the facts.

When there's a full transcript, I'll write a more thorough critique, but for the moment I want to write about something that has bothered me for a good while. It's clear, listening to this, that Matthews has a slant in mind, and isn't particularly scrupulous about making his "reporting" match the facts. It would be disingenuous of me, extremely so, to affect surprise at this. It's become increasingly clear, I think to nearly everyone, that the Legacy Media is less that scrupulous about these things in general.

I'm very suspicious that one of the underlying factors in this is that, up until recently, there was the assumption that the Legacy Media could not just report what happened, but effectively define what happened, and have the expectation that once the dominant paradigm was established there would be no effective refutation. (For an example of this, consider the number of people who still believe Alger Hiss was completely innocent, and the number of people who think that Joseph McCarthy was not working with any evidence of Communist infiltration.)

(If that last sentence is a surprise, have a look at the Venona Intercepts.)

But then — how long has this been going on? I can remember having suspicions about some press reports going back to Viet Nam. (I had friends coming back who thought we were winning. Sort of like Iraq now.) I've heard it said that Robert Heinlein told of being at events convered by Time three times, and that Time never reported one of them accurately.

If we go back a little longer, we're at the time of "yellow journalism" and the Hearst papers.

It's almost as if the question we should be asking is not "whatever happened to objective journalism", but "how did the myth of objective journalism get started.?"

12 comments:

chuck said...

"how did the myth of objective journalism get started.?"

Probably about the time it got credentialed, or perhaps back when reporters discovered they had a mission from God. There's nothing like a Mission From God™ to elevate ones self regard. Pravda may have been a harbinger of this unfortunate promotion in social status.

Rick Ballard said...

I imagine that we will find that the myth was initiated at about the time one of our fine re-education camps hired the first professor to "teach" journalism. A quick search shows that - amazingly - Columbia had the sagacity to turn down Joe Pulitzer's dough in 1892 and retained a semblance of virtue until 1912 when it accepted his posthumous embrace for the tidy sum of $2 million. Columbia's lack of willingness to lay down and let nature take its course led to the University of Missouri being able to abandon virtue first in 1908.

So, the pig has been wearing various layers of makeup for almost 100 years. I don't recall a serious attempt to sell the public on the concept of "objective" journalism until the '60's. Thinking about it, that's about the right length of time for the first actual wave of graduates to rise to a position where they could begin to assert the "profession" nonsense. I'm not sure that there has ever been widespread acceptance of the farcical notion of scribbling inaccurate reports being a profession - journalism has never ranked very high in the polling concerning which jobs are held in esteem. Sometimes they may beat politicians but that ain't saying much.

That's my .02 - first serious attempt to peddle the fable began in the '60's.

chuck said...

Here's an example of media evenhandedness from the infamous Sidney Morning Herald; it's a poll on who is to blame for the Cronulla riots:

What's most to blame?

Racism
Tribalism
Alcohol
Xenophobia
Stupidity
Poor parenting/schooling

Notice anything missing from the list? Really, you can't get more blatant than that.

Slightly OT, here is a link to Tony Blair justifying the destruction of traditional British liberties. I don't think Blair would phrase it that way, so I took a reporter's liberty and clarified the topic.

chuck said...

Rick,

I don't recall a serious attempt to sell the public on the concept of "objective" journalism until the '60's.

Of course, it is just when the serious lying begins that every lier will assure you of his honesty. The truly virtuous seldom make a point of advertizing their virtue.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I'd like to take it a little further. When did the myth of objective reality get started and why did it get started?

exguru said...

Matthews makes no bones about his partisanship. He has been very bad lately, however, because he cannot seem to reconcile himself to the present admnistration's legitimacy.

Liberal media bias got started in a big way during and immediately after World War II. I think it was the liberal coverup for communist infiltration of the government that started it. Look at their early and continued hatred of Nixon, for example, which cannot be explained any other way. Nixon caught Alger Hiss, and they never forgave him for it. (Hiss, a Russian spy, was a principal adviser to President Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference, and the State Department officer who founded the United Nations).

Anybody who exposed Russian spies was in their sights. They were afraid the public might realize who enabled the communists to launch the arms race by stealing our atomic secrets, and pay them back at the polls. In other words, for kicking away our victory in World War II. Those enablers were the Democrats, of course, all through the New Deal and Fair Deal, under FDR and Harry Truman.

The myth of objective journalism, was probably invented by some of the more clever liberals at the broadcasting networks, who from time to time have had to profess objectivity for licenses.

David Thomson said...

Credentialism is what probably seduced conservative newspaper owners to hand over power to the liberals. A college degree was presumably evidence of someone who has learned how to be unbiased, objective, and above the fray. The reality, of course, is that every human being holds certain values which will determine their outlook on life. Liberals had captured the universities and now would place journalism graduates who would do their bidding. Conservatives may sometimes become columnists, but rarely do they find jobs in top management.

Chris Matthews lies to himself. The man prefers to believe that he speaks truth to power. He refuses to acknowledge that he is a member of the establishment. In his guts, Matthews realizes that he is a fraud---and his days are numbered.

Seneca the Younger said...

MHA, I think objective reality is a useful simplifying assumption, like Newtonian mechanics.

Peter UK said...

When did the myth begin?
When did it start paying real money and entry level became a degree? When did style become more important than content,when did it become a vocation for writers rather than a job?

When the middle classes could say, "My son is a journalist", without lips curling,that's when.

ex-democrat said...

I blame the movie "All The President's Men."

terrye said...

Chris Matthews is a Democrat operative and was on the payroll until he became a {snicker} journalist. My brother is the only person I know who really watches Hardball.

I remember reading an editorial by the WaPo ombudsman back in the 80's. The writer noted that major media has missed major developments in America [like the civil rights movement] for the simple reason that they lived in a bubble.

He said that back when reporters were working class people, they were far more aware of what was going on..now he says they go to cocktail parties with people they are supposed to be reporting on.

I have mentioned before that when I farmed I noticed some really dumb stuff on the news...and I thought then, These people don't know what the hell they are talking about and if they are as dumb about everything else well then...they have to wrong a lot. I still think that.

Syl said...

I watched Hardball often until about mid-2004. I still like Matthews but can't take the bias anymore.

Matthews believes that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and has been a great recruiting tool for jihad.

He's right. Except that I don't think that's a reason to forego Iraq.

There are many like him, I think Mickey Kaus believes the same thing. And I love Kaus.

I understand the fear in a way. It's less messy and confrontational to view Islamic terrorism as police work. It feels a little safer, though that is only an illusion, because all the action is under the radar.

In Iraq, it's in full view day after day after day.

But treating terrorism as a police matter does nothing to remove support for the extremists in the muslim world itself. So there would always be jihadi's one step ahead of the investigators. In this age of WMD, we cannot afford that.

The Iraq method, on the other hand, has affected the muslim world itself in two ways: (1) the hope of a better future through consensual government that takes their attention away from their old griping points and (2) the flood light that has shone upon the cruelty and slaughter by the terrorists of muslims themselves.

Both of these remove support for the Islamofascist movement and without support, the movement itself will die.