Media Blog

“The Voice of the Opposition”

That’s how journalist Michael Massing describes the New York Times.

You’ll find no objection to that from me.
I will object, however, to Massing’s answer to a different question put to him by the HuffPo’s Ankush Khardori:

It’s often said that conservatives are out to decertify the press as unrepresentative of the public, while liberals just think that this institution is failing the public and want to see it do a better job. Is that a valid distinction?
I think that if you listen to Rush Limbaugh, if you listen to Bill O’Reilly, if you listen to Sean Hannity, they over and over and over are hammering away at the press, claiming they don’t talk for anybody, that they represent a very narrow perspective of left-wing opinion in America, that their news is all slanted. I think it’s a very calculated campaign on their behalf to discredit the press.
Now, if you go on the left side of the spectrum, I think you have a division. A lot of liberals get very disgruntled with what they see, especially when the press is not sharp and aggressive enough. They want it to do better. They want it to perform its function of exposing the powerful and comforting the afflicted. [emph. added] Then I think you have people on the left who also see the mainstream media as completely corrupt, completely co-opted by the establishment, and indistinguishable from the government. And they have a demolition-like approach to the media similar to that of the right; they feel it’s so thoroughly corrupted that it has to be discredited.

I’ve written about this many times before, so I’ll refrain from repeating those arguments here. But I will point out one way in which Massing’s response in unintentionally revealing.
Massing says that most conservative press critics want to “discredit” the press whereas at least a subset of liberal press critics only want it “to do better.” Better how? “They want it to perform its function of exposing the powerful and comforting the afflicted.
This definition of the “function” of journalism is fraught with liberal assumptions — it’s an example of what one astute commenter on Jay Rosen’s Pressthink called, “the crusading oxymoron of non-political populism.”
Here is Michael Massing telling us that conservatives want to “discredit” the press because we think it’s somewhat disingenuous that the New York Times continues to masquerade as an objective source of news when Massing himself declares that it’s beginning to look more like an opposition party leaflet. Then he turns around and tells us that liberals just want the press “to do better,” by which he quite explicitly means “advocate populist causes more aggressively.” What’s wrong with this picture? 
P.S. I haven’t yet had a chance to write much about NewAssignment.Net, Jay’s new net journalism project, but for now I do want to say congratulations on what appears to be a promising start. This is an effort news junkies of all political stripes should be watching. Conservatives especially should look for ways to participate (Bruce Kesler has already proposed one such assignment). If there’s a way to improve the press that’s better than the current tug-of-war over “objectivity”, we could be seeing its beginnings.