Politico reels in another red herring

The issue is right-wing lies, not ‘media recklessness’

Once upon a time, the news was dictated to us by a handful of corporations that professed to be non-partisan in their methods and goals.

Then along came revelations that non-partisanship – also called objectivity, neutrality, fair and balanced reporting – was at best a dodgy concept that news outlets invoked to disguise the extent to which they screened out information that ran counter to the corporations that controlled them.

Media complicity in big lies told by the government about the Vietnam War and other disasters soured the public on the notion of objective reporting, but it’s not quite dead, as every reader of Politico knows.

This week, Politico editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei of Politico, in a weird example of special pleading, wrote that their publication was “both an enabler (in the eyes of some critics) of the deterioration of political discourse, and a target of it (as we try to defend our values as neutral journalists amid constant criticism from activists who think we fail at neutrality or are disdainful of the goal in the first place).”

Their mini-essay was in response to the buzz about Shirley Sherrod, the black official at the Department of Agriculture who was portrayed as a racist last week by right-wing smear specialist Andrew Breitbart and Fox News. John and Jim complained of “media recklessness.” They bemoaned the “new media environment… in which facts hardly matter except as they can be used as weapon or shield in a nonstop ideological war.” They seemed to pine for the days when the news corporations “set the agenda and tone for much coverage. This was a more insular and elitist arrangement, but also more restrained.”

Restrained? What about accurate? It’s no accident that John and Jim offered no evaluation of the Sherrod story. Instead, they noted that Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) deplored Fox’s unwarranted attack on Sherrod. Then they turned to Cesar Conda, a right-wing spin doctor, who complained that the lesson of the Sherrod story is that Republicans are being persecuted by leftist organizations.

Which is it, John and Jim? The talking heads at Fox knowingly misrepresented Sherrod as a racist. In light of this and many other instances of on-air lying, was it accurate of Obey to call Fox an “ideological hatchet machine?” Or was Conda accurate in implying that Fox’s smear of Sherrod amounts to a “slightly politically incorrect” comment?

To answer those questions would be to admit that reporters, if they’re doing their jobs, draw conclusions based on the available facts. If they don’t, they’re merely making noise.

If John and Jim are content to operate a noise machine, that’s their right. But I wish they wouldn’t call what they do reporting.

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