November 17, 2007
Greg Sargent explains, once again, why the smug journalistic assumption that “if both sides are yelling at me, I must be doing my job” is not just vapid, but indicative of a wider problem within journalism as it is now practiced:
The editor of one of the two top newsweeklies tells us he goes to sleep with a smile on his face if he gets lots of criticism, so long as it came from blogs on both sides. But “doing our job” presumably here means “doing good journalism.” So if people on both sides say you aren’t doing good journalism, the correct response isn’t to say, “thanks, I appreciate it.” Rather, one should say, “Hmmm. People are criticizing me. Is there something to what they’re saying? Is one side perhaps right?”
You always hear variations of this. The problem is this presumption that blogospheric criticism from both sides is equally illegitimate because it’s equally rooted in nothing but ideology or partisanship. By this model, blogospheric criticism can’t ever be an accurate response to any actual journalistic failures on your part. It can only be because the bloggers are trying to game the refs and get you to help their cause. If both sides are being equally noisy, this means that your journalism isn’t helping either side and thus is “balanced.” So no blogospheric criticism can ever be substantively legit.
The subtext lurking under this attitude, unwittingly suggested by Meacham here, is even worse: That blogospheric criticism is a goal because it boosts traffic. Blogs are good for traffic and nothing else, so never mind whether the criticism of the quality of our journalism is right or could improve our discourse. If we generate lots of anger and traffic, equally distributed on both sides, we’re “doing our job.”
Thing is, one side can be right, and the other wrong. Not sure why this is difficult to understand.
Or, to put it another way, there’s a big difference between the press criticism on Media Matters For America, which presents complete quotations in their full context, and the Brent Bozell complaint factory, which uses funhouse-mirror “analysis” to bolster its ceaseless, unvarying complaints about liberal bias.
There’s also a big difference between the analysis presented by, say, Glenn Greenwald and the nonsense sluiced out from, oh, that Time magazine-anointed blog of the year, Little Green Footballs. But once smugness and insularity become your default setting for addressing criticism, such subtle distinctions tend to fall by the wayside.