Thursday, May 12, 2016

Memo to Journalists: Stop Sucking at Journalism



At the Washington Post, Todd Gitlin has a long list of specific suggestion about how to interview Donald Trump more effectively, which I would unfairly summarize as follows:
Stop being a bunch of lazy, incompetent, power-fucking groupies and do your god damn job!
But, Mr. Driftglass, being a bunch of lazy, incompetent, power-fucking groupies is our job.

Sigh,

From the WaPo:
Donald Trump’s secret for avoiding hard questions

Too many interviewers aren't asking the follow-up.

Early in this campaign season, Sunday morning network news hosts granted Trump the special prerogative of phoning in for interviews...

In those debates, and in interviews, Trump regularly runs circles around interviewers because they pare their follow-up questions down to a minimum, or none at all...

He takes advantage of the slipshod, shallow techniques journalism has made routine, particularly on TV — techniques that, in the past, were sufficient to trip up less-media-savvy candidates — but that Trump knows how to sidestep...

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski regularly host Trump, but almost never interrogate him...

Whatever Scarborough’s recent criticism of Trump, in The Post and via Twitter, on his own TV show he’s been a softie...

Then there’s CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. In a Jan. 7 interview breathlessly touted as an exclusive one-on-one, Blitzer let Trump get away with a hysterical warning about the national debt jumping, imminently, to $21 trillion, without questioning it. (Many sober analysts, including Fortune’s Stephen Gandel, have deplored the “long-running hysteria around the national debt.”) But Blitzer immediately turned to the subject of Saudi Arabia. Rambling in response, Trump said of Iran: “They want to take over Saudi Arabia.” Again, no follow-up from Blitzer after Trump paused his soliloquy...

During the Oct. 28 Republican debate, CNBC’s John Harwood substituted snark for serious inquiry...

Right after that same debate, Trump boasted to CNBC’s Joe Kernen, “My relationship with Hispanics is incredible.” Though polls consistently show the opposite, Kernen failed to broach any evidence to the contrary...

To be “fair and balanced,” if you will, consider also Fox News...

Reporters at major news outlets need to inquire more deeply into Trump’s alleged business relationships with mafia-controlled construction companies...
Giggly, incestuous relationships with their subjects?

Check.

Unwillingness to perform the most basic kind of follow-up?

Check.

Only too willing to let the most ridiculous and outrageous lies just slide on by?

Check.

All true.  All accurate.  All correct.

And all too familiar to any Liberal who remembers how this same cabal of spineless grovelers and pissy children let the Bush Administration get away with murder.

From a review of James Wolcott's 2004 book on the media, "Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants: The Looting of the News in a Time of Terror":
They are coddled and well-groomed. They chase after the latest scandal and then run around in crazy circles, using the TV studio as their show ring and wee-wee pad. There is no controversy they can't trivialize, no issue they can't vulgarize. They obey their political masters and betray the trust of the audience with every bark. They're the attack poodles-a new breed of celebrity pundit. Wisecracking and impassioned, Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants laces into an all-star cast of blowhard egotists who pound our eardrums and insult our intelligence: Bill O'Reilly, Joe Scarborough, Peggy Noonan, Dennis Miller, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson. But it also delves below the surface squall of infotainment to show how attack poodles function as pets of the Republican party, guard dogs for George Bush, and tail-waggers for war...
This is not a new problem.  This the problem of a critical democratic institution -- a free and fair press -- which has been allowed to grow so sclerotic, so inbred, so distant from the lives of those it is supposed to serve and so corrupt for so long that a fascist clown like Donald Trump could seduce and flummox them all so completely that he is now within striking distance of the most powerful office on Earth.

It is also yet another longstanding, toxic threat to out democracy about which Liberals have been shouting for years.

If you have been an embarrassing public failure at doing your job for this long and yet you continue to be paid unholy sums of money for being an embarrassing public failure at doing your job, then it is long past time to stop hoping that simply pointing out the suckery and how damaging that suckery is will change anything.

It is time for guerrilla journalists to take up the task of hauling the corporate orchestrators of this ongoing fiasco out into the light of day.  

14 comments:

Neo Tuxedo said...

I would submit that they "continue to be paid unholy sums of money for being an embarrassing public failure at doing their job" because neither they nor the people who pay them those unholy sums of money see their job as anything to do with journalism. John Swinton described their job, as they and their paymasters see it, in 1883:

The business of a New York journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to villify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread, or for what is about the same — his salary. You know this, and I know it; and what foolery to be toasting an "Independent Press"! We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are jumping-jacks. They pull the string and we dance. Our time, our talents, our lives, our possibilities, are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

dinthebeast said...

I did like it at the WHCA dinner when the president asked the press if they were proud of their Trump coverage.

But Driftglass, if they don't suck at journalism, what can they suck? Oh wait... I seem to be saying that a lot lately.

-Doug in Oakland

Ron Skurat said...

Your reference to them being insulated & out-of-touch is spot-on. An acquantaince of mine from college got hired at the NYT in the early '90s and very quickly (over the course of two or three years) became an attender of parties, airy-dismisser of the homeless, and non-returner of phone calls. Oh, and name dropper.

In psychiatry we call having a clue "reality testing" but once you start believing your own PR you're lost down the rabbit hole.

Unknown said...

Hear, hear!

Paul Wartenberg said...

As someone who graduated from a university with a bachelors degree in journalism, who earned a D in Reporting 101 and a B in Journalism Ethics (and an A in photography, I could have gone that route shame on me) and ended up a librarian, I share the horror of watching my once-promised profession consume itself as it ignores fact-checking, objective reporting, proper research, and open pursuit of "access" over accuracy. There's no self-respect, only self-worship. It's not helping.

After the 2012 elections, Ta-Nehisi Coates called for the retirement of nearly every major Talking Head on the channels. I agreed with him. We're dealing with a generation of media glory hounds with unprincipled agendas who are twenty years behind and six-figure payrolls out of touch with the real world.

Lit3Bolt said...

Atrios, and you, have described it more eloquently than I could.

banker puppy said...

Au contraire, there is intense follow-up on stories such as Vince Foster, Monica Lewinsky, Benghazi, the email server...

Benjamin Feddersen said...

Journalists, as a whole, can't challenge their interviewees on the facts because the journalists themselves are totally ignorant of what the facts are. They have abdicated the role of "knowing what the hell is going on" utterly.

RUKidding said...

What is this journalist person of whom you speak? I know not what you are describing. All I read/hear/see are stenographers, at best, scrawling scribblers, drooling dribblers, sycophantic suck ups at worst.

True Journalism got the hatchet job around the time of Nixon - all things currently nefarious can pretty much lead right back to his perfidious doorstep. Too much reality, too many real facts reported on from Viet Nam caused the veil to drop from too many citizens' eyes, and real protest happened, and not just by the dirty f*cking hippies. Even the "greatest generation" was out there until they were dutifully shamed back into being the "Silent Generation."

Now, I surmise (no proof or links), that rightwing "think" tanks cough out their hairball talking points, which are dutifully distributed far and wide. I just about choked last week when I heard a partial money-grubbing clip from National Propaganda Radio adjuring us hapless proles - ya know, the crème de la crème of the riff raff - about how "objective" they are. Oh yeah: go f*ck yourselves. Objective, my azz. Just the other day, they breathlessly informed the elite "thinking" proles about how Bernie Sanders' budget plans would send this nation into 10 gazillion dollars of MASSIVE DEBT within about 30 seconds of him getting elected. Yeah - that's REAL journalistic "integrity" and "objectivity" and "fact-yness" on display there, that is... and sad to say, Nat'l Propaganda Radio IS probably "better" than nearly anything else.

I'd say the decline has been ongoing since Nixon and has hastened quite a bit since Bill Bloody Kristol thought that inflicting Tundra Trash Palin on us was a f*cking YOOOOGELY great idea. Remember how everyone flung softballs at that grifting deadbeat f*cking doofus, and many, including Katie Couric, were TRASHED for being "mean" to the Snowbilly. Frankly, that was the apex, and so-called "jouralmalism" has just skidded on downhill since then.

I don't own a tv, but I hear that Scarborough got a drubbing for how he lobs softballs or love fests with Trump. No one really really questions Trump, and yet on "objective" NPR there's incessant breathless "reporting" on Trump AS IF this grifting bankrupt Oligarch has a leg to stand on. Mostly NPR has had a black out curtain on Sanders - so objective! - but when they finally say something about Sanders, it's usually just plan f*cking wrong... and wrong in a way to paint a bad picture, of course.

The USA media SUCKS, SUCKS BIG. It's quite simply THE WORST. And these days, it's not just Fox and Rush Limbaugh. It's "All of THEM, Katie."

They should all be run out of town on a rail and be tarred and feathered. ALL OF THEM, Katie.

Gene Oberto said...

While others leave comments better than I could, let's not forget that the media, especially TV needs a horse race. They need it to keep score and swap "He said this. What's your response?" for finding the truth. I believe that Trump started out as a lark. When he found out the tail could wag the dog...well, you know the rest.

RUKidding said...

To Gene - I agree. There's been reports - not quite substantiated - that Trump started out, perhaps not quite as a lark, but mainly to shake things up. Well, fair enough on that score. But when egomaniacal Trump discovered that he could get literally million$ of dollar$ of utterly FREE advertising, why the EFF shouldn't Trump take it to the limit? I mean, in HIS shoes, I'd probably do the same damn thing. So thanks a bazillion US media for being so frickin' "fair and balanced." And that applies not just to Fox but (warning: redundancy ahead): ALL OF THEM, Katie.

Yeah, I blame the Oligarch owned US media for the current Trump disaster. And frankly, absolutely none of them has changed their stance or approach. It's all a horse race to them. What do the Oligarchs care? If Trump wins? So what? They'll make DEALS with Trump - you can bank on that - and come out ahead. If the proles suffer? GOOD! If the nation continues to slide into disaster? Who CARES??? The Oligarchs'll just move somewhere else.

steeve said...

"let's not forget that the media, especially TV needs a horse race"

No they don't. They need conservatism and nothing more. If Trump is up 15 points in August, the media will do absolutely nothing to create a "horse race".

The media doesn't care about ratings at all. They lose viewers and make no moves to change that. The media cares only about conservatism.

John Livingston said...

Medhi Hasan does a masterful job of preparation and should be the standard bearer of how to ask a follow up question. "We report, you decide" isn't working. How about "we ask until you answer or we will ask you to leave." Where the hell are my red slippers Toto?

Jimbo said...

I think we need to distinguish between the serious print news media (including their online presence) and TV news media and the wing nut welfare propaganda outlets. I have two Pulitzer Prize winning journalist brothers (Dallas Morning News and Reuters) and both are serious journalists who produce useful and informed stories. The overwhelming majority of TV news media people are not journalists at all regardless of their nominal training. Most of them don't write their own copy and they are given corporately guided "news slants" of the day and talking points. The wing nut welfare people exist purely for entertainment purposes since no one reads them except shut-ins and mouth breathers.