Excerpts from James Fallow's "Breaking the News:"
BACKLASH AGAINST PUBLIC JOURNALISM
"...one important source of backlash against the public journalism approach...has come from the editors of the country's largest and most influential newspapers....The crux of their unhappiness lies with the concept of 'objectivity.' One of the public journalism's basic claims is that journalists should stop kidding themselves about their ability to remain detached from,and objective about, public life. Journalists are not like scientists, observing the behavior of fruit flies, but not influencing what the fruit flies do. They inescapably change the reality of whatever they are observing, by whether and how they choose to write about it."
"...public-journalism advocates...have argued that the way modern journalists choose to present the news, increases the chance that citizens will feel unhappy, powerless, betrayed by, and angry about their political system. And because the most powerful journalistic organs are unwilling to admit that they've made this choice... it is almost impossible for them to change." (p.260)
THE QUESTIONS JOURNALISTS ASK
"When ordinary citizens have a chance to pose questions to political leaders, they rarely ask about the game of politics. They mainly want to know how the reality of politics will affect them-- through taxes, programs, scholarship funds, wars. Journalists justify their intrusiveness and excesses by claiming that they are the public's representative, asking the questions their fellow citizens would ask if they had the privilege of meeting with presidents and senators. In fact they ask questions no one but their fellow professionals care about." (p.24)
EMPHASIZING THE POLITICAL ASPECT OF MAJOR STORIES
"The natural instinct of newspapers and TV is to present every public issue as if its 'real' meaning is purely political. Reporters do of course write stories about the substance of issues--the pluses and minuses of recognizing Vietnam, the difficulties of holding down the Medicare budget, whether immigrants help or hurt the nation's economic base. But when there is a chance to use these issues as props or raw material for a purely political story, most reporters leap at it. It is sexier to write about Bill Clinton's 'positioning' on the Vietnam issue, or how Newt Gingrich is 'handling' the need to cut Medicare, than to look into the issues themselves." (p.27)
THE "LIBERAL PRESS" MISNOMER
"...the supposed 'liberalism' of the elite press is more limited than many people believe. On economic issues---taxes, welfare, deficit control, trade policy, attitudes toward labor unions--elite reporters' views have e become far more conservative over the last generation, as their incomes have gone up. It is very rare for a major paper to publish an article or even op-ed piece that is enthusiastic about labor unions. Most of the nation's editorial pages support Republican presidential candidates and conservative policies, although a few of the best-known ones---the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post---are exceptions.
The jerky, up-and-down coverage of the Clinton administration illustrates the limits of a 'liberal conspiracy' theory of press coverage. On form it would have seemed that Bill Clinton was the dream candidate for liberal members of the press corps....
Nonetheless, coverage of Clinton was both more hostile and more volatile than of any president since at least Harry Truman." (pp.49-50)
HOW THE MEDIA PORTRAYS THE PROCESS OF DEMOCRACY AND PUBLIC ACTION
"Newspaper and newsmagazine stories during the campaign emphasize the chess game that strategists are playing as they choose issues to emphasize and create attractive photo opportunities. None of the coverage puts much weight on the possibility that the candidates really believes what he says." (p.61)
"The working assumption for most reporters is that most politicians and handlers will be misleading them most of the time. the coverage we see is a natural result--which aggravates today's prevailing despair and cynicism about public life." (p.64)
THE PRICE OF THE LOSS IN CREDIBILITY
"Journalists will pay a price for this loss, but so will the public. Journalism is not mere entertainment. It is the main tool we have for keeping the world's events in perspective. It is the main source of agreed-upon facts we can use in public decisions. The excesses of journalism have been tolerated because no other institution can provide the benefits journalists can. Yet some of today's leading journalists find these responsibilities too tedious or unprofitable to be worth their while." (p.127)
HOW THE MESSAGE OF TODAY'S NEWS COVERAGE DAMAGES THE POLITICAL PROCESS
"The message of today's news coverage is often that the world cannot be understood, shaped, or controlled, but merely endured or held at arm's length. The foreign news is mainly a series of unexplained and unconnected disasters.... One inch beneath its surface, domestic news carries a similar despairing message. The politicians may not all be crooks in an indictable sense, but they scheme endlessly for advantage and talk about abortion, foreign policy, and tax reform only as it serves their ends for gaining power. How do we know this? Because it is what political news tells us day after day." (p.140)