Media postsFriday January 09, 2015
Stop the Press! The Downward Spiral of Journalism from Watergate to the UK Hacking Scandal
These lines in Nick Davies' book about the hacking scandal of England, “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch,” caught my attention:
I thought back to the 1970s and 80s, when the secret state routinely invaded the privacy of its targets, and a network of lawyers and politicians and journalists had worked hard to try to make the police and security agencies accountable. Finally, those agencies had been forced to accept strict guidelines for the use of surveillance on citizens. Yet now, tabloid journalists had pulled on the secret policeman’s boots and started to engage in wanton surveillance, without any kind of accountability or due process: simply, they spied where they wanted.
I've been thinking about this kind of thing for a while.
I began to think about it when comparing and contrasting two movies, “All the President's Men” and “The Insider.” In each, you have two men working together to uncover something illegal or unethical. In each movie, their initials are W and B (Woodward and Bernstein; Wigand and Bergman). In the first, it's two journalists, in the second a journalist and a corporate insider. The two men struggle, are besmirched by the powers that be, but ultimately, in each case, they get the truth out.
The next movie about a real-life scandal that I compared and contrasted with these two is “Fair Game” from 2010. If this film isn't as good as the other two (and it isn't, nearly), it's partly because its two heroes, Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, a CIA operative and a career diplomat, are at odds with each other for the last third of the film. The latter is working to uncover the Bush-era scandal, the former to keep it covered up. As for the press? It's helping spread misinformation rather than information. It clouds rather than clarifies. This was true of the Iraq War in general. (See: Judith Miller.)
In other words, we've gone from “All the President's Men,” with its two journalist heroes, to “The Insider,” with its one journalist hero, to “Fair Game,” with not only zero journalist heroes, but with a press corps more interested in sensationalism than accuracy.
And with “Hack Attack”? The press—or its Murdoch variation—is the scandal.
At least we still have Nick Davies and The Guardian. We still have a journalist hero. But what a downward cycle. The press has gone from uncovering governmental or corporate scandals, to clouding governmental or corporate scandals, to being the scandal.
I look forward to the movie. And to better journalism.
Good ol' days. The press, uncovering the scandal. Today, it often is the scandal.
Mass Resignations at The New Republic: Journalists Attempt to Disrupt 'Disruptive Innovation' Yahoo
I first came across this story last night via Dylan Byer's piece, “Implosion of a Washington Institution,” on the Politico site. It was a trickle then. Aujourd'hui? Le deluge.
Background: In March 2012, Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook (played by Patrick Mapel in the movie), bought The New Republic, a venerable, left-leaning, DC-based, long-form magazine. His plans? From The New York Times back then:
Mr. Hughes said he was motivated by an interest in “the future of high-quality long-form journalism” and by an instinct that such journalism was a natural fit for tablets. He said he would “expand the amount of rigorous reporting and solid analysis” that the magazine produces.
This September he hired Guy Vidra, the general manager of Yahoo News, as his CEO, and Vidra didn't say those things. Even in TNR's press release that day, Vidra talked up the following: “new products,” “new categories,” “new approaches.”
He kept his word. From Byer:
In meetings with staff, he spoke of the magazine as though it were a Silicon Valley startup, sources said. He talked about 'disruption' and said he wanted to 'break shit.' He referred to himself as a 'wartime CEO.' At one point, he proposed giving every employee shares in the company, suggesting that he had plans to make it public.
Sources said that Vidra also showed little regard for [editor Franklin] Foer or his writers. In a meeting held in November, he made it clear to staff that he found the magazine boring and had stopped reading longform articles. Three weeks later, at the magazine’s 100-year anniversary gala — a star-studded, black-tie affair featuring speeches from former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name while introducing him to the audience. (He pronounced “Foer” as “Foyer.”)
Yesterday, it was announced that both Foer and longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier were leaving.
Also this, per Ryan Lizza.
Will be interesting to see where it all goes. I wouldn't mind it going further. I wouldn't mind it disrupting the disruptive innovators in more industries.
- Friday, 11 AM: Update from Andrew Sullivan.
Pointless: Jon Stewart Weighs In on #Pointergate
Finally, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show take on, and get the story behind, the idiocy of #Pointergate:
Here's my take from last week. In the comments field, you'll notice that Tim has anticipated Jon Stewart's reaction ... but with an even better photo.
Known Southside gangbangers Minnesota Nice and Vanilla Nice, flashing signs in 2010.
My Pointergate Scandal
Daily Kos called it “may be the most racist news story of 2014.” Former mayor R.T. Rybak said on Facebook that he had to “reread this article three times before I could be convinced this wasn't a joke.”
What is it? It's called Pointergate or #Pointergate. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was helping volunteers with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a Get Out The Vote campaign in Minneapolis, and took a photo with a young volunteer. They were arm in arm but pointing fingers at each other. The mayor is white, the young man is black. Then local news reporter Jay Kolls of KSTP-TV filed a report that the Mayor was flashing gang signs with a gang member.
Reporter Jay Kolls said in his story that “law enforcement agencies” told him it was a sign used by a north Minneapolis gang. ... “Is she going to support gangs in the city or cops?” John Delmonico, president of the city’s police union, said in an on-camera interview.
Here's the photo:
Here's another one, taken four years ago, which didn't make the news:
It's sort of a well-known gesture: You the man; no, you the man. It's something people do when posing for the zillionth photo.
It's hardly worth talking about, to be honest. It's a distraction. Even if there's comeuppance for Kroll and Delmonico, they'll find a place. If KSTP fires Kroll he'll get hired by FOX-News. World without end. “Liberal media.”
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations for Right-Wing Pundits
“The problem with our media ecology is—just as the question from my editor friend suggests—that conservatives are protected from any consequence for their intellectual failings. ...
”Which returns us to the problem I have with my friend’s question to me in the first place: why is it that liberals and moderates and editorial non- and anti-ideologues of (too) good faith insist on making like the Greek philosopher Diogenes, scouring the horizon for the last honest conservative, instead of accepting the fact that there are virtually none to be found? ...
“Some smart speechwriter for George W. Bush once came up with a rather brilliant phrase to describe what conservatives see as the moral failing of affirmative action: that it imposes a 'soft bigotry of low expectations.' By patting under-qualified minority candidates patronizingly on the head and giving them jobs and educations for which they are not prepared, the argument goes, liberals supposedly do the objects of their tender concern more harm than good—and the greater public good a grievous harm as well. Time to stop the soft bigotry of low expectations toward the right. No more affirmative action for conservatives. It does no good for a right-wing literati that would be better served by a swift kick in the ass.”
-- Rick Perlstein, “There Are No More Honest Conservatives, So Stop Looking For One,” in The Nation.