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Out of Our Minds
Monday, September 12, 2005 11:46 PM
Journalists as Advocates
Kevin Salwen on Culture

A fascinating byproduct of the disaster in New Orleans is the punditocracy's anointment of a new generation of TV news stars. The New York Times on Monday praised Anderson Cooper for his public chiding of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu after she congratulated other politicians while (in Cooper's words) 'there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats.' Other critics have offered their kudos to NBC anchor Brian Williams (who is making his anchor mark with his reporting on the crisis), CNN's Jeanne Meserve (for her frustrated, teary breakdown on-air) and Fox's Shepherd Smith, who reversed that network's traditional pro-Bush stance and surprisingly became a thorn in the side of the administration. The kudos have gotten so frothy that some in the print media are beginning to refer to this as the time when network journalists have 'regained their teeth.'

In the case of New Orleans, there is little doubt that the outrage among journalists has helped trigger a more aggressive government response, jolting a shockingly lax federal response. But I, for one, am concerned about where it's headed. Journalists who make their name and reputation on advocacy journalism often have a mighty hard time returning to the 'report the facts' practices that most news programming needs. The time of 'call-em-as-I-see-em' journalism -- with the emphasis on the I -- is coming into clear view and it's hard to see how this doesn't escalate into a new generation of anchors and reporters turned editorialists.

What do you think? Are we headed for an era of increasingly opinion-laced 'journalism'? Is that a bad thing?


Deborah White - 9/17/2005 2:24:51 PM
Since when have journalists not been advocates or offered their viewpoints...albeit subtly and through the words of those who they hand-picked to interview?

I say 'Three Cheers' and 'It's About Time' to the direct expression by reporters of moral outrage at obvious wrong-doing. It's time to stand up against media held hostage to 'objective reporting' of lies and other fabrications just because they were spun by someone in elected office.

The Bush Administration has long and openly disdained what it terms the reality-based community, opting instead for the cocoon-like fantasies it chose to create for American consumption.

Thank God that the 'reality-based community' is finally standing up and pointing out that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes. The truth shall set us free.
Hall - 9/14/2005 5:29:30 PM
Kent, Valid argument and it gets to the point of why there should be 'public' television at all? Our tax dollars pay for Bill Moyers and the Wall St Journal edit page to be on television?
Kent - 9/14/2005 4:24:05 PM
In respone to Hall's post, I don't see hypocrisy in this debate, at least in the comments posted here. I, for one, was more bugged by Bill Moyers' 'Now,' which never bothered to get any opposing views to his leftist slant, than I am by Fox's right-wing bias. At least taxpayers aren't subsidizing Fox's bias. And I don't think PBS solved its bias problem by countering Moyers' liberal bias with another show featuring conservative bias from the Wall Street Journal's editorial board. If anybody ought to play news straight, it's public television.
Hall - 9/14/2005 12:13:54 PM
What I love about this debate is the hypocracy: If Fox News editorializes with a conservative bias, it's an outrage. If CNN does it from the left, it's journalism, normal 'outrage.'

For a sense of what the liberals want from this -- holding the Bush Administration's feet (or some other body part) to the fire, read the Village Voice piece...
Robert - 9/13/2005 4:35:43 PM
I think it could be interesting if one reporter or program or even a network breaks out and creates a new space for advocacy-based editorializing, however provided it's clearly 'marked' or branded as such, not unlike a newspaper op-ed section. The audience can decide whether that's good or bad, and tune in or out. The danger is if one program or news brand identity moves seemlessly from reporting-based journalism one minute to opinion-based editorializing the next, then back to fact-based reporting, which is where we seem to be in these instances out of New Orleans. That's confusing and tries to 'be all things to all people' which rarely works in any enterprise, let alone a journalistic organization.

Kent - 9/13/2005 2:19:44 PM
It was refreshing to see Shepherd Smith blast the government's failure to help hurricane victims, but only because of Fox's usual right-wing slant. I don't consider cable news an objective source of news any more -- CNN and MSNBC have followed Fox down the opinion-as-news trail. Now it looks broadcast news may be going down this road.

I don't think it's a good trend, and I hope print journalists don't follow this example. Otherwise all we'll be left with are talking points from each side of a controversy rather than independent fact-finders.
Jeffrey - 9/13/2005 1:19:34 PM
I'm not sure the examples you cite were really 'advocacy' as much as they were aggressive interviewing designed to prevent folks with getting away with the usual platitudes and sound bytes, so I'm not too concerned.


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