September 14, 2004

Bravo to Bakersfield

Mike Jenner, executive editor of the Bakersfield Californian tells his readers that he's had enough with the Bush-Kerry-who-did-what-when-during-Vietnam brouhahas and that henceforth his paper will seek out campaign news that "look(s) at the future, reporting not only candidate promises, but also examining how realistic those promises are. "

Good for him. Jenner joins a backlash of sorts against this form of hollow rear-view mirror reporting:

 Howard Kurtz lamented the news media's obsession with "excavating the down-and-dirty past" and argued that "if journalists devoted the same investigative energy to the candidates' efforts to bolster Medicare and Social Security or deal with the mess in Iraq -- as opposed to precisely what happened on the Bay Hap River in 1969 -- perhaps more people might find campaign coverage compelling."

 Jeff Jarvis predicts that "a year from now, we'll see some commission wonder why we as a nation didn't pay attention to terrorism... or the health-care crisis... or education.... or the economy.... It's because we couldn't see through the mud on our glasses."

 The Wall Street Journal believes "the personal questions are certain to intensify" because both Bush and Kerry are using the military service records as character proxies.

Aside from the usual casualties of this type of media war -- truth among them -- the credibility of journalists, already severely wounded, suffers further. Reactive, stenographic reporting that provides ink and airtime to contested and unprovable partisan charges is poor substitute for enterprising reporting that provides readers with campaign intelligence rathe than ongoing insult.

Jenner says he's told his wire editors to downplay "the latest accusations and counterattacks" and look for whatever more substantive pieces might be available.

"I don't know what news tomorrow will bring," says Jenner, "but one thing is clear: It's time to leave Vietnam. "

Posted by Tim Porter at September 14, 2004 07:09 AM