Media Matters

The Nutty Professor

Activist reporters are not as much in vogue as we may have been led to believe.

By 9.15.04

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LOS ANGELES -- The pressing question at the Los Angeles Press Club last Wednesday evening was, "What kind of election coverage can we expect from the national news media?" If your immediate answer is that we could expect slant, innuendo, forgeries, and international polls rooting for John Kerry for President, you'd only have to open your web browser to prove it. Yet if most of the participants that night are to be believed, there should be a real effort to bring you the straight scoop.

The industry panel included Susan Estrich, Drudge contributor Andrew Breitbart, veteran reporter and Accuracy In Media member Charles Wiley, and Peter Dreier, the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and director of the Urban Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College. Dreier opened with a droning polemic intoning that the media aren't reporting what a bastard President Bush is and he doesn't understand why.

"George Bush is kind of like Don King," professed the Professor. "We all know he's guilty, you know he's crooked; you know he should be in jail. And yet the press doesn't lay a glove on him -- uh, literally and figuratively." He meandered into automobile safety, 9/11, Ralph Nader, and when I woke up, it was Andrew Breitbart talking about how being a conservative was terrible for his social life. He also said that modern conservative talk radio was a reaction to a left-leaning media that had virtually shut out conservative voices from broadcast Television. "Eighty percent of talk radio is driven by media bias. If media bias would be eliminated Rush [Limbaugh] would deflate."

Ms. Estrich was ticked that the straight to video flick OutFoxed actually questioned her Democratic credentials. "When I'm on Fox I say whatever the hell I think. I've been in this business 24 years, who are these people?" Her point: it's the candidate's job to tell the people what they stand for, and the reporter's job is to report it, not spin it. Her post-GOP convention ire at Bush-Cheney seemed to have dissipated.

Which brought up Mr. Wiley. On coverage: "I think the presidential campaign coverage has been dreadful. I think political coverage in general is dreadful. I think political reporting and general reporting about what's going on in the world is terrible for a number of reasons. One of them came in the opening statement [referring to Dreier's admonitions], which [was] a recitation of what the media is supposed to do to educate the public." On training reporters: "We don't make it clear to young reporters that their job is to talk about what other people are doing, not what they are doing."

Dreier disagreed, and brought up Joe McCarthy. He said that the press only reported what McCarthy said, and didn't think to question him whether or not what he said was true. "That is stenography, and that is what got us into a whole lotta' s--t of trouble in this country. Now you probably agree with Joe McCarthy so I'm not going to persuade you," he said, addressing Mr. Wiley. Wiley was not amused.

It continued like this for the duration.

Estrich: "When people see me on TV I don't pretend to be a reporter. I say very loudly, 'opinion!' The people that are supposed to be reporting want to be me. There has to be a division. Everybody wants to be on the Sunday Shows."

Breitbart on blogging: "The Internet is an enormous self-correcting device. There are great, great writers that are emerging out there that are covering the coverage, they are covering the campaign, and they are picking up where they feel the mainstream media has missed the boat."

Wiley: "When you don't keep these two things separate [reporting and analysis] you get lousy news and even worse intelligence," he said in reference to our less than stellar pre-and post 9/11 security.

Dreier: "Where's the 21 billion that Bush promised New York [mentioned 4 times]?… WMD?… What about the OSHA budget cuts?… Thousands of people needlessly ignored?"

The Professor also enlightened us that "Democrats and Liberals see everything in shades of gray -- conservatives are more likely to see things in black and white." The audience and other panelists responded with just the proper amount of derision.

What one may bring away from the evening's event was a sense that there are a good percentage of working reporters and media professionals openly hostile to the idea of, as Andrew Breitbart put it, "activist reporters." This bodes well.

One may also bring away a sense of wonder that one of our teaching College Professors is purposefully ignorant of the "difference between an investigative reporter, a regular reporter, a columnist, and an editorial writer." This last was spoken by an incredulous editor in the audience and seemed to be the full mood of the assembled.

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About the Author

Pete Peterson is a writer in southern California. He previously contributed "Little Saigon Eyes Kerry" to the online American Spectator.