Jonah and His Whale-Sized Loathing of Journalism

August 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

I’m glad to see that fired U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod is filing suit against blogger Andrew Breitbart, because while defamation of character technically isn’t a criminal matter  (rectifying such behavior is done in civil court), it is a crime against society, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

What does this have to do with the Albuquerque Journal?

Last Wednesday’s editorial page carried a column by Jonah Goldberg (linked here from another site), who in his piece described himself as a friend of Brietbart, and who then impugned – with discernable gusto – the character and legacy of Walter Cronkite.

A venerable newsman, Cronkite over the course of a lifetime did his best to keep personal views out of his news dispatches and reports.

But in this column, which the Journal ran under the headline,”Even Old Watchdogs Need Watching,” Goldberg trivialized Cronkite as “the dashboard saint of American bourgeois conformity” and called him “easily one of the most overrated American icons.”

This comes from a pundit, not a newsman, whose works give the impression he finds facts shamefully naked when unadorned by commentary or allowed to stand on their own.

What set Goldberg off in this particular column was a statement former green jobs administrator Van Jones made in a New York Times piece the previous Sunday. Jones had written that:

The high standards and wise judgment of people like Walter Cronkite once acted as a national immune system, zapping scandal mongers and quashing wild rumors.

Goldberg called this statement “hilarious,” coming as it does from Jones, whom he called a “Communist” and “revolutionary”(among other fear-baiting labels) and who he says “became grist for the Fox news mill.”

Goldberg then proceeded to make this apparent point: Breitbart can post online anything he wants because he’s part of a media revolution that is partly “consumer backlash against the House of Cronkite.”

Over several column-inches, Goldberg excoriated what he calls “legacy media” and “the House that Cronkite built” by listing sometimes arguable examples of mistakes and missteps the Fourth Estate has made.

Never mind that Brietbart apparently does not vet or exercise due diligence on the information he posts. (Veteran newspaper and broadcast organizations,including the Journal, at least have a goal of fairness and accuracy, and attempt to reach that goal by employing reporters who — trained in the importance of verifying information – work closely with editors who discuss and edit the work before publication or broadcast.)

Never mind that Goldberg’s examples involve numerous news organization over several decades, yet Breitbart alone has been the source of two rather spectacular fabrication story/incidents in less than a year.

To recap: The first incident — before the Sherrod affair — was Brietbart’s airing of last year’s highly edited video that made it appear the community advocate group, ACORN, was actually cooperating with a man who presented himself as a pimp, a smear story from which ACORN has still not recovered, despite being exonerated by subsequent investigation. (As I wrote in a post last October , it did appear from the video that was released that the workers were cooperating with the fake pimp. As it turns out, ACORN workers were apparently humoring him and contacted authorities about the incident as soon as the imposter left.)

And as far as the Journal is concerned: Regardless of what happened with ACORN at the national level, it still behooves the Journal to report on what has happened to ACORN’s offices in Las Cruces and Albuquerque in the wake of that months-long scandalization of the group. By unfair omission of an obvious local story, one could safely posit that the state’s leading newspaper has a negative opinion about ACORN and its services, violating its unwritten covenant with readers to be impartial and to deliver news.

But back to Goldberg, who says old school journalists (my term, not his) have:

… locked out competing points of view, buried inconvenient bodies, spun the news with centrifugal force and racked up a formidable list of Shirley Sherrods all its own.

This “formidable list of Shirley Sherrods” by the “liberal” “legacy media,” he said, includes leaking vital state secrets (in the guise of “great journalism”) but only when that news “reinforces liberal assumptions.” His examples include the outing of Valerie Plame, “a shocking scandal that tore at the heart of the Bush administration.”

Among others on his list:

The New York Times whitewashed Stalin’s genocide.

Cronkite misreported the significance of the Tet Offensive to say the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Talk about blaming the messenger.

His conclusion in full:

The media environment today is dizzying not because of one revolution but two complimentary ones. First there’s the churn of the Internet, from Wikileaks to wilding bloggers.

But there’s also a second revolution that amounts to consumer backlash against the House of Cronkite. It has fueled the rise of Fox News and the new alternative media.

This pincer movement can be scary. But it’s progress.

Actually, I think Goldberg’s come up with a good one with that “wilding bloggers” term – describing as it does those who will put anything online without a care in the world about who – individually or collectively – will be irreparably damaged by the gossip, innuendo or falsehoods being spread.

I wouldn’t call it progress. I’d call it irresponsible.

By the way, Goldberg’s column also assured us that:

Breitbart, a friend of mine, insists to me that he did not edit the (Sherrod) video himself.

At this point, I share Jones’ view of traditional journalism. If he could, Cronkite would have killed this garbage.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Michael Garcia

    God, I loath Goldberg! His columns are an exercise in subterfuge, misrepresentation, and often, plain old lying. His book, Liberal Fascism-rewrites history and has become the bible for the “right is left, up is down” Tea Party crowd. When his column began running in the Journal, it was confirmed to me, even if they try to slyly deny it, that the paper is planted firmly on the right.

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