Saturday, December 19, 2009

Column Of The Week

Back in September, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander, referring to the "tardiness" of the media in addressing the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) scandal (trumped up, but still a scandal), wrote

One explanation may be that traditional news outlets like The Post simply don't pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.

It "can't be discounted," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms."

"They just don't see the resonance of these issues. They don't hear about them as fast [and] they're not naturally watching as much," he added.

Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he worries "that we are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It's particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."

Addressing this recently in his weekly Wall Street Journal column, author Thomas Frank could have slammed this reasoning by noting that in an investigation commissioned by ACORN, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger concluded that the community organization's management had been lax but "we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff involved; in fact, no action, illegal or otherwise, was ever taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.'' Or that a U.S. District Court judge on December 11 issued a preliminary injunction against the congressional resolution which cut off federal funds to the group, ruling that it was a "bill of attainder," thus unconstitutional.

Instead, Frank focused on critiquing Alexander's belief that "traditional news outlets" should consider ideological diversity in its hiring practices. But, as Frank indicates, the argument collapses when considering:

* There is no analogy between racial/gender diversity and ideological diversity because "unlike race or gender, people choose their ideologies. Alexander's notion that achieving ideological diversity is akin to achieving racial and gender diversity is faulty because "people choose their ideologies. What's more, they often change them as they go through life, and they sometimes find that it is to their pecuniary advantage to ditch the embarrasing political enthusiasms of their youth";

* It would be futile because "anyone setting out to appease bias-spotters on the right should know that the conservative movement feels that it is plagued by impostors and faker, and it won't be satisfied until these (Republicans in Name Only), too, are chased from the newsrooms of the nation;

* The decade's "far more consequential failures" would probably not be eliminated by hiring more Republicans and fewer Democrats; they would be the "failure to look critically at the Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq War; and then, the business press's failure to understand the depth of the subprime mortage problem and to anticipate its massive consequences."

Here in Newsrooms Don't Need More Conservatives, Frank does not argue (as he easily could) that reporting of news from the mainstream media is dominated by a rightward and/or Republican tilt. Rather, he observes

....the problem, in each of these masive failures, wasn't really ideological at all. The people who got it right, in both cases, were the ones willing to hold power accountable, to directly challenge the conventional wisdom.

Thomas Frank may be extraordinary, liberal, and populist, but proves he can be extraordinary, populist, and objective.

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