September 16, 2004

Arrogance, Mafia and Journalism

As has been said more often and more passionately by others, the Dan Rather-CBS stonewall on the Bush National Guard documents demonstrates how the arrogance of many mainstream journalists doesn't permit them to admit mistakes or, more importantly, examine the validity of the top-down approach to news reporting.

Seth Finkelstein, who blogs at Infothought, says this lack of openness and self-reflection explains the some of the clubbiness and knee-jerk antipathy journalists feel toward bloggers, media critics and others who the journalists believe are attempting to ursurp their throne of professionalism. Writes Finkelstein:

Journalism, as a profession, is a very arrogant and abusive institution. ... Organizationally, when covering stories, there's a very small number of covered people who are generally granted the minimum of fairness - these are, e.g. people in political power. They aren't granted this respect out of the kindness of the journalist's heart. But rather, because those people have the power to fight back. ...

"It's like being a "made member" of the Mafia. That wiseguy status doesn't mean you can't be killed. It just means there's some due process, some consultation, before the decision can be undertaken within the organization to kill you.

"Part of the 'standards' argument between journalists and non-journalists, is actually about who belongs in this magic circle of respect. Journalists are passionately concerned about this topic, since their professional lives depend on it. Who is prey, and who is a pack-member? ... "

Remember, if you're not at least connected, and a journalist does a hit-job on you, then what you hear (if you are so lucky to even get a reply) is generally just:

1) "We stand by our story"

2) A variant of: we're the journalists and you're not (and you're not objective)

Sound familiar?"(All emphasis added)

I don't agree that journalism is an "abusive institution" because I know too many reporters and editors dedicated to the higher values of journalism, but many journalists are arrogant and most news organizations are dysfunctional as institutional members of society. They don't interact well with the community, they don't see themselves as part of the community and they welcome input from the community about as much as Dan Rather would like to hear from another typography expert right about now.

This separation into us and them -- we the journalists and you the people we cover -- inevitably causes arrogance, defensiveness and a reluctance to accept redefinition in an age when the traditional, hierarchical news media pyramid has been flattened, for both the better and the worse, by newer technologies.

Posted by Tim Porter at September 16, 2004 08:40 AM

Your later quote is very relevant to the question of media abuse: 'Real news,' said Richard Reeves 'is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms.'"

Freedom is always in conflict with duty, responsibility, and morality. Insofar as journalists want to keep their freedoms, these include the freedom to avoid duty, be irresponsible, and act immorally (except when taking other freedoms away).

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad on September 27, 2004 02:18 AM
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