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Marty Baron: Investigate the media

Hi Marty. I just finished watching Spotlight. I’d read that you moved on from the Boston Globe to The Washington Post. To be honest, I took WaPo out of my twitter feed. Over the years, I’ve become sensitized to artfully crafted turns of phrase, carefully selected words with specific connotations, and media narratives. I can tell when the media is trying to shape what I think and, since I prefer to draw my own conclusions, I don’t read as much of your paper anymore.

You probably don’t know who I am. I’m just a blogger, sitting out here in the Oort belt of the blogosphere. I’ve been posting semi-regularly and editing infrequently since 2008. There are a lot of adjectives in my posts.

Another reason you may not have heard of me may be attributed to the fact that female bloggers do not usually make the cut in Greg Sargent’s Plum Line. I’m not complaining for myself. I’ve never wanted to be famous or widely read. If I had any ambitions in that regard, I would have spent more time trying to toe the party line, jazzing up my CSS and editing. I might have chosen a more gender neutral pen name as well. Digby has done that. She had to.

Greg Sargent works for you, doesn’t he? At one point a few years ago, I was trying to find a way to represent how underrepresented women were in getting their opinions mentioned in the traditional media, and considered using the Plum Line’s evening round-up as an index. But then real life intervened and I was laid off for an extended period of time. Long term unemployment didn’t get a lot of attention in the major newspapers in the past five or six years. Maybe journalists found it boring or they were “whistling past the graveyard”. But I did find an interesting pattern with respect to the NYTimes coverage of the long term unemployed back in about 2010. It bore no resemblance to any reality I knew and looked like gratuitous kicking of people when they were down. Not only that but it was bound to have an effect on HR hiring managers and talent acquisition specialists. You may want to have a look at that post and tell me what you think. What were the NYTimes journalists up to?

You may be wondering why I am writing what seems to be a long, rambling, “stream of consciousness” blog post to someone who doesn’t have time to read long, rambling “stream of consciousness” blog posts from a virtual nobody who doesn’t read your paper. Recent events have compelled me to write this, specifically the collective freak out over Donald Trump. I am not a Donald Trump supporter. No, I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter for about 23 years since I was just a young suburban mom and scientist in New Jersey. I also haven’t been a Barack Obama supporter. In fact, I didn’t vote for him twice. There are many reasons for this, racism not being one of them. I’ve blogged about what I saw happening in my party, the media, my industry, and my own series of unfortunate events, since January 2008, if you’re interested in my perspective.

I’m writing to you because the media may be overlooking its own culpability in the strength of Donald Trump’s presidential run. Maybe that is intentional. After all, it’s a story, in a presidential election year, and it features a candidate who must be making David Broder roll over in his grave. These kinds of stories almost write themselves. It must be difficult for reporters to check their enthusiasm.

My opinion, for what it’s worth (see above for Plum Line index commentary) is that the public is reacting to the media’s obsession with 1.) covering Donald Trump and 2.) getting Hillary Clinton by any means necessary. It has succeeded beyond its wildest expectations where Hillary is concerned. Nobody trusts her. That could be a problem because even Hillary’s staunchest critics have to admit that she is the most qualified of the current crop of candidates and the one least likely to make a rookie mistake. That’s not a plug for my candidate. It’s just happens to be the truth. But she’s got an uphill climb to convince many Americans that she can be trusted.

Let’s take a news article about Hillary on today’s front page of The Washington Post. Here’s the headline and the blurb:

Clinton used private server to write 104 emails later deemed classified

The finding is the first accounting of her personal role in placing information now considered sensitive into insecure messages during her State Department tenure.

Do I need to read any further? I am assuming that the truth is in the headline. The emails were later deemed classified. That means, at the time they were written, they weren’t classified. I don’t know why they were classified later or what the subjects of the emails were. I have to ask myself, if she wrote emails on her gmail account and not her private server, and those emails were later classified, would we consider this a legitmate news story?

There were 104 emails. I’m sure that if there was something earth shatteringly critical and dangerous for the enemy to know, you would have put that in the headline. But this article looks like just another hit on Clinton. Now, I have to ask myself whose water you are carrying? Are those persons using The Washington Post because they know you are compliant? Is that compliancy the result of genuine study or previous bias?  You may consider this an unfair characterization of the Hillary pieces you run routinely. I might agree with you but I don’t find this kind of coverage for any other candidate. At this point, it’s just boring but it still serves the purpose of undermining her credibility. I don’t trust your motives. What’s in it for me, an average American, if you take down the one person I can safely rely on to not blow up the world while you let other lesser candidates bogart your main headlines?

This is one of the reasons why I don’t read your paper. It’s dishonest even when it’s reporting the truth. And if you’re dishonest about Hillary, who or what else are you not being honest about?

Donald Trump, on the other hand, can do no wrong. By that I mean, short of molesting a kid on live TV, the more that gets thrown at him, the more support he seems to attract. Even live TV child molestation might not work. He might say, “That’s not my short, stubby penis, I don’t know who that penis belongs to. I’ve never even met that kid and if I did, I don’t remember it.” And the journalists will try try again and people will ignore them and cheer and go vote for Trump anyway. To me, that’s a sign that the media narratives may only have limited traction these days. I used to think that was a good thing. Now, I’m not so sure.

So, if Trump really is as dangerous, unscrupulous and unpresidential as we are told, maybe you might want to investigate why it is that no one cares anymore.

Could it be that the major media has not been sufficiently critical of itself? Has it become a player instead of an objective analyst, with or without adjectives? Does the telecast of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner suggest a certain vanity?

Have you asked yourself whether Thomas Friedman’s chat with various cab drivers conveys sufficient understanding of the plight of the average American? Are you comfortable with the accusation of racism that the administration and its surrogates casually throw out when it is criticized? Could it be possible that not challenging this accusation has lead many people to feel powerless to get their concerns heard? Is it possible that not all of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists but are frustrated at having their issues ignored?

Has your paper been fair in reporting what it is that concerns Americans? Has it dug deep into the problem of long term unemployment and underemployment? Does it know what it’s like to live on Social Security in retirement without a pension? Has it done any investigative reporting on the 401K problem? I have to give credit to the NYTimes for its series on the cost of healthcare. Have you done any reporting on how the ACA was developed and who the major players were? What were their goals? How much skin in the game did they decide would cripple the act?

Has your paper examined why it has such hatred of the Clintons? At this point, after years of investigations that went nowhere and several searches of the Clintons’ underwear drawer, it’s starting to look like this is personal. I’m not singling out the Washington Post on this but the media does seem a little bit incestuous. There are only so many major newspapers in the country and it seems like most of the reporters have jumped from one to the other, and back again. Does it feel too clubby? Do you all hate the right people?

Major papers do not change their columnists frequently either. Do you think the shortage of female opinion columnists has anything to do with the treatment of Hillary Clinton or lack of interest in issues important to women in general?  How many female columnists would it take to balance this inequity? Studies have previously suggested that when women represent 30% of country’s government, this can have a substantial positive impact on the overall quality of life in that country. Are you prepared to increase the number of women on your editorial page to improve its quality?

Do you find there is a problem with credentialism in your newsroom? Do you only hire from certain schools? Does it help to be a legacy? Is it better to hire someone with contacts in government who are friends and acquaintances?

I ask these questions because the quality of journalism can also have a systemic effect on the news. If your newsrooms are cluttered with journalists who are captured by their social group, academic credentials or gender, that is going to be reflected in what hits the front pages and gets covered by cable news. If your reporters and columnists do not accurately report the news, or care to understand what it is like to live as a middle class to low middle class American, or how the powers that be have affected that American’s life and future, does your paper remain relevant? Should you be surprised when Donald Trump starts winning primaries?

Maybe someone is trying to tell you something.


24 Responses

  1. An excellent essay. And without repeating any of it, I will note that indeed the WAPO headline is intended to imply some serious breach of authority, when in fact it is saying nothing at all. The classification system has changed in the three years that Hillary has been out of the cabinet, and apparently the State Department and the FBI are battling over the new classification system. The mails that Hillary sent back then, fit under the “not classified” rubric. The fact that some entity now, for whatever bureaucratic reasons, wants to change the classification, has zero to do with 3-7 years ago. The headline is either incredibly stupidly written, or it is written with deliberate purpose. In fact, I think the article itself has no place in the paper, because it is worthless. How many emails did Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice send in their own terms of office, which are now deemed as classified? Why do we not see one single article about that? Because it is effectively unimportant? I imagine so.

    As to why there is this absolute campaign to destroy Hillary Clinton, and has been such for at least the last eight years, I do not even know the twisted antecedents. Some of the media, like Maureen Dowd, have this literally insane hatred of her. Some are jealous. Some hate Clintons in general. And of course there is this coterie of men who use her as a target for their own insecure masculinity. And then there are those self-styled “Progressives” who have convinced themselves that she is not the politically pure soul that they naively imagine people like Obama or Sanders or Warren to be. But even with all this, not as legitimate explanation, but as rationale, the coverage is disgraceful for purported journalists and news networks. And yes, you are right that the media figures have become so full of themselves, so willing to equate themselves to the actual people in office, that they think that they are themselves the kingmakers, the Fourth Estate, the people who decide for us who the President should be. They got Bush elected, they got Obama elected; they don’t want Hillary elected.

    And if it is indeed true that the media is so corrupt and so controlled by corporate will; and so disregarding of fairness and the truth; and so unutterably obtuse as to not even understand the stories they writing, then we are probably destroyed as a democracy. The oligarchs choose the puppet whom they want to put in office; the media follows their dictates, and lies and misrepresents in order to create the false narratives which will accomplish it. How much different is this from the horrifying time of Hitler and Goebbels?

  2. Great essay RD, Thanks a bunch for your writing and blog…

  3. Really stunning. Bravo.

  4. I do hope you sent a copy of this to Mr. Baron at the Post.

    • Are you kidding? There are a S{#%load of grammatical errors, noun-verb inconsistencies and missing words. Plus, I’m sure I used too many adjectives.
      Too lazy to edit. The last thing I want is for it to come back with proofreading marks.

      • Awwww… but you spelled Oort correctly, that alone bests me 🙂

        great post RD, thanks

  5. Same message, more detail: thedailybanter.com/2016/01/hillary-gop-smears/

    • What a great article. Thanks for linking it. Everyone in the country should read it, because it is the potential antidote to the poisonous Republican lie machine.

  6. Well, this is not the WP, this is CNN, and the debate tonight. The moderator gives Sanders a question…”What experiences have you had that have helped you understand the mindset and values of another culture?” allowing a candidate to advertise themselves and their experiences. He then tells Clinton ‘we all have racial bias,’ and asks her what her racial bias is.

    To her credit, she answered the former question posed to Sanders, instead. And the moderator then asked both of them the racial bias question, as it should have been.

    This stuff is everywhere.

    • Hmmm. . . it is unfortunate that Sanders did not discuss learning the culture of small town and country Vermont and its differences from gigantic city New York where he came from. I am assuming that they are two significantly different cultures.

  7. Bernie should buy one of those giant, fan foam fingers and waggle it at Hillary throughout their next debate: that’ll put her in her place.

  8. Thanks for the post. LOVE paragraphs 15 and 16.

    Believe me, I’m not a Trump voter (far from it), but he is talking about what few will: the gutting of domestic jobs. And calling someone a racist is a great way to try to shut them up. If a purple octopus could slop it’s way up to the podium and give some folks a voice about disappearing jobs, the purple octopus would be giving Trump a run for his money (literally, I guess). Orange hair and email servers are just distractions on our march back to Victorian England. At this rate, my retirement plan will include a workhouse, not an active adult community.

    I check in here every day – love it!

  9. Yes, it’s all about creating ‘smoke” and then screaming “if there’s smoke there must be fire”. The press is terribly afraid of the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world therefore they much carry water for them. I hate to tell them but Rush caters to a declining demographic in this country.

  10. Right now, Sanders is ahead in Michigan. It is early, but this really surprises me, particularly after the debate and town halls this last few days. Wondering if the Dem ballot shortages (‘we told voters to go home and come back in a few hours’) in at least two large African-American areas, and the 3% of Repubs voting in the Dem primary is affecting things at all. In any case, she was ahead 20-35 pts. in MI according to the latest polls this morning…

    • And all night, the media have performed a stunning pivot… Hillary is unelectable, ‘Hillary is losing the Af-Am vote’ (!! 65% of the Af-Am vote in MI is less than in SC, so she is ‘losing’). This is hard to take; echoes of 2008 coverage. Sanders won 70% of MI independents, and this was an open primary. More than 12K independents voted Dem… We’ll see if they call this a tie, the way they did in Iowa early on, when she was 2 pts ahead of Sanders. I suspect not…

      • It has become an article of faith, with both Ian Welsh himself and the majority of the people who frequent his blog, that the polls which suggest that Sanders has the better chance of beating whomever the Reptilians choose than Clinton does are accurate.

        Those polls, and Welsh and others who praise those polls, fail to take into account the fact that the Reptilian attack machine has largely left Sanders alone so far.

        What happens if Sanders does win the nomination, and then the GOP attack machine goes after him the way it’s gone after the Clintons for some 38 years now (counting Bill’s Arkanshire years)?

        The past of Sanders contains some, ahem, eccentricities which would provide a rich vein of material for GOP opposition researchers. 😮

        • You’re not kidding. One week of PAC ads with Bernie’s baggage would be enough to collapse his campaign in short order for sure.

  11. As to the Trump phenomenon, this is an excerpt from a Credo petition I received and signed last week.

    ‘Early this week, CBS CEO Les Moonves came out and said it: Profiting from hate is not only more important to him than the good of the country — he wants to do more of it.

    ‘Speaking on a panel in San Francisco, Moonves said Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” and that “The money’s rolling in, this is fun.” He went on to say, “it’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going.” ‘

    It’s pretty obvious that ratings matter more than responsible reporting. Murrow must be rolling over, well, you know…

    The petition is here (you might need to copy and paste)

    They’ve only reached 70% of their goal of 150,000 signatures so far.

  12. Investigate, hell. Defenestrate the media. 😈

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