Media Blog

An “Oppositional” Press

I would be remiss if I failed to note Jay Rosen’s very good piece in the Washington Post today about the Internet and journalism. In the most interesting part of the article, Rosen writes about how the Net has opened up a debate about “what is and isn’t the job of a journalist”:

The day after President Bush was re-elected in 2004, I suggested on my blog that at least some news organizations should consider themselves the opposition to the White House. Only by going into opposition, I argued, could the press really tell the story of the Bush administration’s vast expansion of executive power.
That notion simply hadn’t been discussed in mainstream newsrooms, which had always been able to limit debate about what is and isn’t the job of the journalist. But now that amateurs had joined pros in the press zone, newsrooms couldn’t afford not to debate their practices. This is disruptive because if the unthinkable cannot be ignored, professional correctness loses its power. […]
… my question was: Why has no major news organization tried to build up credibility as the oppositional (but relentlessly factual) network the way Fox News built credibility as a Bush-friendly channel, which capably won the ratings for its coverage of the 2004 Republic National Convention? After all, the target audience — cable watchers from “blue”America — comprised at least 40 percent of the overall market, plus anyone from the right who would tune in for the outrage factor. Prior to the Internet, the idea that an opposition press could have value would simply have been ignored.

To many conservatives, the idea that any of the mainstream news organizations should go “oppositional” – that is, become openly left-leaning and anti-Bush – might seem horrible. According to them, it’s bad enough when journalists barely conceal their sympathies with the political left. If a network like MSNBC dropped the veneer of neutrality and became openly liberal, they argue, conservatives would be even worse shape.
I disagree. I think it helps tremendously when we admit we’re having a debate. As it stands, the argument between press critics and the media goes like this: A news organization presents a one-sided story. Press critics point out the story’s one-sided nature. The news organization counters that everything it reported is factually accurate, without acknowledging that in making decisions about which facts were newsworthy and important, it gave readers a one-sided account. In other words, the news organization waves off complaints that it is biased by saying that everything it has reported is factual.
The opposite of this is a news source that is transparent about the judgment calls and points of view that go into producing its journalism, yet maintains the highest standards of accuracy and intellectual honesty. Given a variety of such news sources, the skeptical reader could follow arguments, judge the facts for himself and make up his own mind on the issues of the day.
Another reason why conservatives should root for an “oppositional” press is the simple matter of economics. Major news organizations should disclose their liberal sympathies and put their ideas to the test in the marketplace. The dominance of Fox News indicates that such a scenario might work out well for conservatives.

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