Thursday, January 27, 2005
Journalism education: Hindrocket over at Powerline has gotten a little bit of an education in how major (read: large) American newspapers work. The kerfuffle began when a Washington Post article posted online yesterday contained the following paragraph:
Some of the Democrats who opposed Rice were centrists from states in which President Bush won or ran strongly in November, including Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
After some back and forth with the reporter over the article's description of Byrd, Dayton, Levin and Harkin as "centrists," we learn that the offending characterization did not come from the reporter, but from an editor.
So at the Post, at least, liberal slant is added anonymously by unknown editors who are completely unaccountable--in public, at least. This is not exactly how the Post and other MSM outlets present themselves when they brag about their accountability, credibility and "professional" standards.
Curiously, this reminds me of an old Bill Cosby schtick about getting his tonsils removed. The doctor explained to a young Bill that the tonsils were like these two guys guarding his throat. They had machine guns, grenades and bazookas. The doctor told bill that these tonsils were no longer guarding his throat, and that they had now actually joined the other side. That was why they needed to be removed.
Likewise, editors are supposed to be guardians of fairness, accuracy and -- if they can manage it -- objectivity. In this case, they failed (miserably).
But Hindrocket really shouldn't be surprised. The larger the newspaper, the more editors have a hand in shaping an article. When the process is done, oftentimes what the reporter first turned in and what appears in the paper are two drastically different things. Many times, this is a good thing. (I remember having much more sympathy and respect for one editor after I saw what a couple of his reporters were turning in.) But the process can also introduce errors -- and bias. I don't believe that this is intentional.
If everyone around you -- your friends, your co-workers, your family -- is to the left of Harkin, Byrd, Dayton, etc., then they start to look like centrists.
I'll say it again. This wasn't intentional, it's just another manifestation of groupthink in too many of the nation's newsrooms.