Friday, May 06, 2005

Bankrupt media: Exhibit A
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard many a blogger bloviate about the media, which they derisively call the "MSM" (that's Mainstream Media for those of you who don't read blogs two hours a day). Some of this is pure sophistry, Monday morning quarterbacking, and jealousy, but some of it sticks. The charge with the most stickiness is this one: journalists have stopped telling us the truth in lieu of umpiring disputes between two sides that are treated as equal. Now, I'm sure journalism is hard work and everything, and I'm sure a lot of writers do their best in the time they have, but there is no excuse for this kind of nonsense.

Michael Crowley's profile of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is lucid and witty, and paints a very unflattering picture of both the man himself and beltway politics. Unfortunately, Crowley refuses to arbitrate between the claims of Abramoff and his defenders and those who have indicted him. Abramoff is at the center of the Tom DeLay ethics scandal, but it is never quite clear in the article what exactly Abramoff has been charged with. Crowley quotes some people saying Abramoff is guilty, and then quotes Abramoff and others saying he isn't. The reader is not left with any idea of who might be right. And it isn't just a matter of Crowley not being willing to act as the judge in the Abramoff trial -- he doesn't even give the reader the background information necessary for informed speculation, you know, "this is legal and that isn't" and that sort of thing. Crowley writes:

His friends maintain that Abramoff will be vindicated. ''I don't know what it is that he is supposed to have done that is supposed to have been illegal or wrong,'' Norquist told me. ''I understand that there's a lot of money here, and more than people are used to. But that's different from some broken law.''

You see the problem here? I have no idea whether Jack Abramoff did anything that broke the law, even after spending half an hour reading Crowley's article. Similarly, most normal people had no idea whether John Kerry shot himself to win a medal (he didn't) or whether Al Gore claimed he had invented the Internet (he didn't) or whether Weapons of Mass Destruction were the main rationale for war with Iraq (they were). The reason for this confusion is not that the facts are so terribly complicated, but that no one in the media wants to risk pissing off powerful partisans to tell the truth. So instead of truth-telling, we get wishy-washy observation and referreeing, and total avoidance of taking a stand. As Rob Cordry, the fake reporter for the joke news program The Daily Show, once said, "Far be it from me to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me."

Far be it indeed.


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