Media Critic Calls On Journalists To Be Obedient Stenographers

from the wtf? dept

Media critic Michael Wolff has a fairly long history of being hilariously wrong about just about everything. It's sort of his thing. He also has a history of being a ridiculously bad journalist in those rare moments when he tries to do journalism. We normally ignore him, but last week he said something so ridiculous and so crazy, that it deserved calling out. He called on journalists to be stenographers to those in power. Literally.
I think what’s required is for the media to do its job. I feel deeply the media hasn’t done its job. It’s abdicated its responsibility, has lost itself somewhere. Right now it’s an interesting moment where the media looks at Donald Trump as a threat instead of a story, possibly the biggest story of our time. Certainly a story that needs to be told in rather conventional ways. Who are these people, what motivates them, where are they from, where are they going — just basic storytelling.

I thought these people have won an election, so now is the time to go in and say who are you and what do you think. We are not in an oppositional moment right now; that has passed. I actually asked very few questions. I said tell me who you are. He talked and I took notes. Yes, you do want to be stenographers. That’s a very significant piece of journalism. We don’t want to hear [the reporter]. Write it down. You’re there to literally convey what someone in power says, and you bring it to people who want to know. Journalism is now a profession filled with people who are not journalists. They’re all under 25, talking to people under the age of 25. Let me send the message: stenographer is what you’re supposed to be.

[The move against normalizing Trump actions and language] are just institutional biases. This is formally saying we are biased and want to be biased, we are judge and jury.
This is wrong and idiotic on so many levels. First of all, a big part of the problem is that journalists have been stenographers for way too long. Their ridiculous "view from nowhere" where "person A says X, but person B says Y" journalism, without ever delving which is correct between X & Y, is a huge part of the problem. Calling bullshit on bullshit is not "bias." It's called accurately informing people. But Wolff apparently thinks we've had enough of that.

For years, calling journalists "stenographers" was a punchline to highlight how feckless many journalists had become, where they looked to pull punches to retain "access." There's a reason you have lots of articles online mocking journalists because they became stenographers. There's a reason that Stephen Colbert got such big laughs by calling White House correspondents stenographers. Because it was all too accurate:
Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The Press Secretary announces the decisions. And you people of the press type those decisions down. Make. Announce. Type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you've got kicking around in your head. You know the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know: fiction.
Back when he performed that, it was satire. Now here's Wolff saying the same thing seriously. This is how far we've come.

The good thing about this election was that it finally shocked some reporters out of this mode, and it's insane to argue that that was the mistake. There is some truth in the fact that reporters got too focused on Trump, the person, as opposed to focusing on actual issues and policies, but to argue that they should just be stenographers is insane. Politicians thrive on misleading the press and Trump is an expert at it. He's the king of "hey, look over there" whenever any legitimate story against him comes out. He plays the press like a banjo. And, while I'm not convinced they'll figure out how to counter that and to do what the real press should do -- which is hold Trump accountable -- the idea that their role should be stenographers is insane.

Filed Under: donald trump, journalism, michael wolff, reporting, stenographers, truth


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  1. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 30 Nov 2016 @ 2:34am

    Re: Re:

    Back when standards in journalism was a thing the news was more reliable.

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