We recently noted that a tiny percentage of the news coverage about healthcare were actually about the healthcare system
. Instead, most articles were about the politics and the protests. On top of that, we've noted the silly games
used by cable news hosts to draw attention to stories when there isn't anything behind them. Romenesko
points us to a story, by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, that combines both of these things, talking about how journalism today often seems to mean the quest for ammunition, rather than the quest for information
The article focuses on the news coverage of Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court -- and how most of the news focused on two out-of-context quotes that Sotomayor made in addresses to college students years ago. Bowden does a decent job noting that much of the work that digs up these sorts of things is done by political operatives, not journalists, but he doesn't do much to actually fault the mainstream press for making those hit pieces "the story." Instead, he oddly talks up the fact that pretty much all of the news coverage (both cable and network news) focused on these same pieces dug up by bloggers, and then spends a lot of time suggesting that the problem here is the bloggers:
I would describe their approach as post-journalistic. It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger's role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all "news" is unapologetically propaganda.
In this post-journalistic world, the model for all national debate becomes the trial, where adversaries face off, representing opposing points of view. We accept the harshness of this process because the consequences in a courtroom are so stark; trials are about assigning guilt or responsibility for harm. There is very little wiggle room in such a confrontation, very little room for compromise--only innocence or degrees of guilt or responsibility. But isn't this model unduly harsh for political debate? Isn't there, in fact, middle ground in most public disputes? Isn't the art of politics finding that middle ground, weighing the public good against factional priorities? Without journalism, the public good is viewed only through a partisan lens, and politics becomes blood sport.
I agree with most of that last paragraph entirely -- but it strikes me that this issue is seen much more commonly in the mainstream press than elsewhere. Elsewhere, I often find thoughtful discussions and debates and compromises. I see discussions aimed at getting to truth, rather than just "winning." So why not explore where those conversations are happening, rather than complaining about the fact that it doesn't seem to be happening in post-journalistic news? I would think that the missing piece to the article is that there's a real void in the mainstream press coverage where reporters (bloggers or paid professionals) actually present things fairly and look for reasoned argument and facts -- rather than hit pieces. Unfortunately, we're not seeing that at all.