Monday, July 28, 2003

Matt Yglesias is amused by something Jack Shafer has noticed about the NYTimes:

[Schafer] If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources, New York Times reporter Judith Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now. In the 18-month run-up to the war on Iraq, Miller grew incredibly close to numerous Iraqi sources, both named and anonymous, who gave her detailed interviews about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Yet 100 days after the fall of Baghdad, none of the sensational allegations about chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons given to Miller have panned out, despite the furious crisscrossing of Iraq by U.S. weapons hunters. [...]
Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller's stories.

It's interesting that none of the blogosphere's well-known New York Times-bashers seem to be on to this story. Why, it's almost as if the whole gang is just more interested in pushing the media to the right than they are in the integrity of news reporting. Shafer himself is the one exception to this trend that I'm aware of, picking on the Times pretty much all the time no matter what. Would that the rest of the Raines haters out there could show so much decency.
What's really interesting is that I imagine if you asked most of the NY Times critics, they'd never admit to "working the ref" on this (to use Eric Alterman's description). Indeed, they probably never thought of it, as they were undoubtedly of the opinion that those stories which aided the right were "welcome examples of rare objectivity" and focused on the more left-wing stories as "yet more liberal bias from the NY Times". Even if those stories were equal in number, it wouldn't matter, because the latter stories were the ones that got the attention, the writing, and the links... the other ones were quickly ignored. This is something that I think Alterman missed in What Liberal Media: the extent to which "working the ref" isn't a conscious strategy, but the natural result of the way that objective and opinion journalism interact with each other in situations where the opinion journalists cut sharply in one direction. The Times' wholesale retreat in the wake of Raines' resignation (which is the only way one can describe their choice of David Brooks as a regular columnist... he's yet another "affirmative action conservative" that never, ever has a counterpart in conservative media) is perfect proof not just of the effectiveness of the strategy, but how it simply stems from the situation.

The solution, I believe, is opinion journalism on the left that matches that on the right in reach, dedication, and perseverence. Equally important, though, is recognition that it is not just its attitude that makes the right's opinion journalism effective, but its very relationship with the mainstream media.

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