Bad news, cont’d

Last month the New York Times Book Review published Judge Richard Posner’s essay “Bad news.” In his essay, Posner observed:

The mainstream media are predominantly liberal – in fact, more liberal than they used to be….The news media have also become more sensational, more prone to scandal and possibly less accurate.

In his characteristically provocative manner he identified the “interesting questions” as “the why of these trends, and, second, so what?”
Tomorrow’s Times Book Review carries a large set of letters responding to Posner’s essay. Bill Moyers and Eric Alterman respond to the stimulus like rats in a Skinner box. Perhaps most interesting is the letter by Times executive editor Bill Keller, objecting to Posner’s analysis of the economic factors underlying the media’s shortcomings. Keller writes:

[H]e swallows almost uncritically the conventional hogwash of partisan critics on both sides: that “the media” (as accused from the right) work in tireless pursuit of a liberal agenda, and that they have (as accused from the left) become docile house pets of the Bush administration because they fear offending the powers that be.

Toward the end of his letter, Keller comes back to blow the horn of media self-glorification like a virtuoso:

The saddest thing is that Judge Posner’s market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I’ve witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.

In a memo to Times writers this past June, Keller wrote:

[E]ven sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages.

Mark Tapscott commented in a column earlier this month:

Here we have the top man in the newsroom at the nation


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