Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, August 05, 2003  

One more thing on that Harvard media analysis. What it says to me is this: the editorial agenda of the "liberal" newspapers is different from their conservative cousins. Based on the brief data I mentioned (and I've printed out the report, so if it disputes those findings, I'll retract everything; as you know, I'm good at retraction), the Times and Post seem to be positioned as watchdogs. They keep an eye on government and are quick to pull a border collie whenever they think a politician has gone astray.

The conservative papers, on the other hand, are simply partisan cheerleaders. Their editorial position--as evidenced by the Harvard findings--is to cheer for the home team and boo the other side. I don't think you would expect to see them dig around as much to find misdeeds when the home team is running the show; alternatively, you can expect something just this side of slander when the other team's got the reigns. (Hmmm, I guess it didn't take a Harvard study to tell us that.)

So maybe it isn't fair to compare the two sides, except to note that their intentions are different. Lawrence Krubner, a reader with a long memory, asked if my thoughts on this study mean I've changed my view on whether media should aspire to "objectivity." (I'd link back to my early blogs on the subject, but I had to eat a lot of crow; they're in the archives if you're interested.) I'm going to stick with yes. Or at least, I think there should be a place for "watchdog agenda" newspapers. When a paper is willing to always question leaders, always challenge leaders, and always remain skeptical of the stories the leaders tell, our country is the better for it. I'd hope to see news go after a Kucinich White House as roundly as it did a Bush White House. (Or rather, if the media would confront the Bush White House as critically as I think they should, I'd be happy to agree to similar treatment when the Dems take back the Presidency.)

But I guess I also think we ought to realize that the calculus has changed. The "watchdog" agenda is no longer the dominant or even majority agenda, and we have to confront that reality. The Fox News cabal exploit the disparity of agendas and punish "watchdog" news for playing fair. This is successful because most people don't realize the Times and Fox are playing by different rules. Americans aren't used to the European model of partisan news--they don't even know it exists. We're culturally conditioned to think the news is objective. Well, it's not. Publicizing the evidence is the first step in creating a more educated media consumer.

posted by Jeff | 3:59 PM |
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