Friday, October 25, 2013

“It's Not Our Job to Do Our Job”: Two Faces of the Decline of Journalism

Chuckles the Clown
Chuck Todd, NBC News’s chief White House correspondent and political director, is an idiot. Curmie tried desperately to ignore this fact for a while, especially when Rachel Maddow showed him considerable respect, but ultimately the evidence won out: he didn’t want to wait in line when they were passing out brains, so he went back for a second helping of pomposity, instead. (Anyone remember Big Head Todd and the Monsters? Wonder why that ‘90s group came to mind just now…)

Most Curmiphiles will by now be familiar with Todd’s faux pas a month or so ago, when he self-righteously declared that it isn’t journalists’ jobs to… uh… do journalists’ jobs and actually separate facts from lies. “No, that’s Obama’s job because people expecting us to actually earn even a fraction of our 6-figure salaries are making unreasonable demands and generally being poo-poo-heads.” OK, maybe that’s not a direct quote.

What he did say was in response to a comment by former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who opined that most opponents of the Affordable Care Act don’t know what it does: “If you took ten people from different parts of the country who say that they are against the bill and sat them down, I’d love to have ten minutes with them and say ‘tell me why you’re against the bill.’ And if they told you anything, it would be stuff that’s incorrect.” Todd’s response: “But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it. They don't repeat the other stuff because they haven't even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

OK, I’m saying this once: Horseshit.

It is indeed the President’s job to make the case for why the ACA is a good idea. It is not his job to counter factual untruths. Doing so is decidedly unpresidential, for one thing; more importantly, if Obama corrects a misstatement, it’s a battle of opposing political forces. Even his supporters grant that Obama is a politician, and he might spin a statement to make it more persuasive than it should be. But—and here’s the important part—he might be telling the absolute truth. So might Ted Cruz on the other side, although that hasn’t happened in this century. It here’s where a free and open—and conscientious—press comes in: it’s not their function to advocate for or against a policy, a law, a candidate. But it is very much their responsibility to separate fact from prevarication, common sense from insanity, projections from concrete evidence. It is, in fact, their primary responsibility.

Called out on his slothful abrogations, Chuckles proceeded to surpass even his own lofty standards for imperious twatwaffledom, and took to the Twitter, claiming “Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn't expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA.” No, you point you actually made, you waste of potentially useful protoplasm, is precisely the one you were accused of making. That might not be the point you were trying to make, but that’s a different story altogether. Maybe you should take a remedial English class before you try running with the big dogs again.

In a sane society, dumbfucks like Chuck Todd would be employed, if at all, to ask us if we’d like fries with that. In today’s America, he makes more than the POTUS (who actually does his job, whether you think he does it well or not), and stretches the limits of the term “euphemism” to its very limit in self-describing as a “journalist.” He is the walking, talking (and talking and talking…) definition of incompetent. Still, the country is strong, and can endure a solitary dim bulb like Todd.

Ginger Gibson: sloth is under-appreciated
Trouble is, he’s contagious. Witness one Ginger Gibson, a Politico reporter who freely admits that even when there’s an allegation that a particular statement is a lie, even if it has been deemed so by a fact-checker, she first of all waits for the “other guys’ press secretaries” to “blast out a press release” (she doesn’t admit to this explicitly, but it’s certainly implicit), then “most of the time, ignore them.”

She made this bizarre proclamation on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” Guest host Frank Sesno followed up:
FS: You ignore it! Wait, wait, wait. So if someone is called a liar or is exposed in a fact check and you’re the reporter of it, you ignore that?
GG: Well, we ignore it when it becomes political fighting, right?
FS: But if someone is objectively wrong…
GG: As a reporter who covered the [Romney] campaign and covers the Hill now, these fact checks are great for us because sometimes when the claim keeps getting repeated, we can point to them in a story and say, look, they’ve been deemed untrue by multiple fact checkers. And I think that line is important, the multiple fact checkers. When it’s multiple fact checkers agreeing, we can go to that.
Translation: “It’s not my job to do my job. I’m supposed to know this story better than anyone else on the planet; I’m not supposed to need a fact-checker. But I’ll first let the press secretaries fight it out, even if one of them is objectively correct and the other one a bald-faced liar. Then I’ll sit around for another couple of weeks while the lies are being spread wider and deeper until “multiple fact checkers” have all gone on record that X is full of crap, and then maybe… maybe… I’ll do my job and show a little concern for the truth. Basically, you see, I’m not only lazy, I’m also a coward unwilling to stand up against a prating prevaricator.”

The real culprit here—apart from the total unsuitability of either Todd or Gibson for any job vaguely connected to reporting—is a disturbing and well-entrenched trend in what passes for journalism these days: a belief, or rather a feigned belief, that the real story is the controversy, not the actual substantive policy arguments. The very first piece I wrote in this iteration of my blogging life was entitled “One does not disagree about the empirical”. I’m still trying to make that case, Gentle Reader. There are opinions with which I disagree, and there are lies. If you can’t win an argument without the latter, maybe you ought to lose.

But the pseudo-journalists—Todd, Gibson, and a veritable phalanx of similarly diffident and apathetic mediocrities—don’t see it that way. Covering the dogfight is easier, and therefore preferable. It doesn’t involve analysis, or logic, or, frankly, much work. “Candidate X increases lead over Candidate Y” is to journalism what Mantovani is to classical music. If you want Bach, you’ve got to write stories like “Candidate X has proposed a new policy mandating A, B, and C, and forbidding D and E. Candidate Y argues that A will increase taxes, B will threatens national security, and C is unconstitutional. Experts agree that taxes might rise, but by less than 1%; we could find no national security experts not in Y’s employ who foresee any significant issues should this proposal become law. Respected authorities F and G disagree about constitutional issues: here’s their analysis…”

Stories like that used to be the norm—in the nation’s leading newspapers, newsmagazines, and even television. Curmie would rejoice now if he saw a single corporate news reporter more interested in getting to the truth than in making a big salary and keeping his/her particular Goliath news syndicate out of trouble with moneyed interests.


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