For years, Jay Rosen, the well-known journalism professor, blogger and citizen journalism advocate, has been in the forefront of those probing, and criticizing, the “he said/she said” kind of “balanced” journalism that often passes for reporting in the United States on politics and topical issues. He gave it a name that has stuck: The View from Nowhere, which he once defined this way: “Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position impartial.” Besides allowing lazy work habits, it’s a way to counter claims of bias.
Rosen was also a pioneer in probing “the savvy”—saviness as the new prime goal for a certain kind of political or DC insider reporting.
So it takes a lot to impress Rosen as an especially egregious example, but he had to tip his hat a week or so ago to a piece at the popular The Fix political section at the Washington Post. He flagged it on Twitter, which I happily re-tweeted while suspecting there was more to come. Nick Fox, an editor in the opinion section at the New York Times, also RTed, adding: “Can’t recall more cynical political rptg than this.” Michael Powell, a Times metro columnist, tweeted of the piece in question: “In which reporter locates his brain’s off switch.”
And sure enough, a full critique by Rosen arrived yesterday, at his long-running and influential Press Think blog.
All of this was sparked by the tempest in a Tea Party pot created when the Romney camp ripped a few ill-chosen words by Obama out of context and built a week of ads—hell, the entire focus of their campaign—out of it. I refer, of course, to the “you can’t build that” meme, with Obama supposedly (but not really) dismissing the efforts of big and small business in America. It took a few days for mainstream news outlets and fact-checking sites to label the GOP effort hogwash. As often the case, Jon Stewart got there first.
Alec MacGillis at The New Republic was appalled on July 26 when he observed that possibly the media had already forgotten this lesson, in the form of a new post at The Fix. This is the very popular feature run by the tireless Chris Cillizza for several years, although now others post there as well. In this case, the offending piece was written by Aaron Blake and headlined “Context be Damned,” a promising start but done in by what followed. Blake covered a new GOP campaign focus based on another Obama quote (“It worked”) that it was again exploiting in a completely misleading fashion. “Context be damned,” Blake decided. “Obama’s ‘It worked’ quote should work for Republicans.…
“The problem is, the gray area is just too gray. Fact-checkers are great…but as long as either side has an argument to justify its attacks, the history of politics dictates that it’s all fair game. Romney’s team is exploiting that fact—to the credit of its political acumen, if not its strict adherence to accuracy.”