Sunday, April 14, 2013

Balance v. Advocacy

At The New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that journalists often pursue inconsistent goals of fairness and advocacy.  Below is an excerpt.  The entire article is worth a look.  What do you think?
Consider, for instance, the Washington press’s tendency toward what critics have dubbed “bipartisanthink” — in which journalists fetishize centrism and deal making, and assume that the best of all possible legislation, regardless of its actual content, is the kind that has both parties’ fingerprints on it. By conflating the march of progress with the march of legislation through Congress, bipartisanthink allows journalists to take sides and root for particular outcomes without having to explicitly choose sides.
Usually this happens on fiscal issues, where the mainstream press’s attitude for the last few years has often been: “We need a grand bargain and we don’t care what is in it!” And usually bipartisanthink irritates liberals more than conservatives, because liberals sense — accurately enough — that many of the media personalities talking up, say, the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan would actually be perfectly happy with President Obama’s deficit plan, but feel a professional obligation not to admit it. Conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more frustrated by bipartisanthink’s cousin, “leading the conversation.” This is how the mainstream media tend to cover social issues, and it involves acting as a crusading vanguard while denying, often self-righteously, that anything of the sort is happening.
I’m borrowing the term from The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz, who used it to describe how the press (while also “being fair to all sides”) should handle the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. The trouble is that when you set out to “lead” a conversation, you often end up deciding where it goes, which side wins the arguments and even who gets to participate. This was clear enough in Kurtz’s own piece, which assumed that stricter gun control was the only rational policy response to Newtown. And it’s been clear enough in all of the culturally charged debates — over guns and gay marriage, immigration and abortion — that have attracted media attention of late.
Time reports:
Some journalists are asking why the murder trial of a Philadelphia abortion doctor isn’t receiving more coverage. 
In 2010, police raided Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic, called the Women’s Medical Society, in a low-income neighborhood of West Philadelphia and found what a grand jury report called a “baby charnel house” where illegal and late term abortions were performed under dangerous conditions. Now on trial, Gosnell is charged with the deaths of one patient and seven babies allegedly born alive during abortion procedures; eight former employees–none of whom were certified doctors–may also face prison time.
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While Gosnell’s trial began on March 18, media controversy is now mounting after USA Today contributor Kirsten Powers wrote a column chastising the media for the lack of trial coverage, arguing that bias obstructed the story from making headlines.

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Other outlets and columnists have since weighed in as well. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf [Pomona alum] called the news value of the story “undeniable,” and Megan McArdle, a special correspondent for The Daily Beast wrote a commentary, “Why I Didn’t Write About Gosnell’s Trial–And Why I Should Have,” saying, “I wish I had followed it more closely, even though I’d rather not.”


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