The Point of the Exercise

July 25th, 2012 · No Comments · campaign finance reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“The Journal still hasn’t reported Senate Republicans blocked passage of the DISCLOSE Act, aimed at identifying big contributors to non-profits engaging in political activity,” I wrote here July 19.

That’s still true, but an AP Washington Bureau commentary posing as a news story did mention it Friday, July 20 on A6.

I want to zoom in on that story today because it’s a compendium of journalistic bad habits, a shining example of what not to do.

The story ran under Henry C. Jackson’s byline. I’m not familiar with his name; perhaps he’s new to the AP Washington Bureau. If so, he should fit in nicely.

Jackson opined that the DISCLOSE Act vote and other votes pushed by Democrats and Republicans in both Houses were all about “attacking the other party’s presidential candidate,” not doing serious legislative work.

That’s cynicism, of course. He’s almost certainly correct that the votes – both the DISCLOSE Act and the futile House GOP rejection of Obamacare – were political in nature, but only a cynic (or child) attributes any action to just one, unworthy motive.

Surely, even as they seek partisan advantage, both Democrats and Republicans believe the Republic will benefit from passage of their respective bills.

There’s also in Mr. Jackson’s opinion piece more than a hint that partisan politics is dirty and can be sharply distinguished from serious legislative work. This is sophomoric.

His commentary is noteworthy, too, for its adherence to the familiar (if reprehensible) journalistic tradition of blaming “both sides.”

This imposition of a moral framework is a multi-faceted journalistic disaster:

First, it tortures complex reality into an arbitrary dualism. Secondly, it sets up an either-or, spurring emotions and limiting solutions. Thirdly, it enables reporters to congratulate themselves on their objectivity – whatever that means.

And that leads to the ultimate disaster. Having structured the story along “he said, she said” lines, the reporter abandons the keyboard with a satisfied, “I’m superior to those on whom I report, I’ve been objective and I’m outta here.”

The only job undone is the search for the truth of the matter.

Which, last I heard, is the point of the exercise.

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  • Phil Sisneros

    The NM Attorney General is also concerned about the recent blockage of the DISCLOSE Act. I blogged about the AG’s plans to revive similar legislation in New Mexico in the next legislative session. http://nmago.blogspot.com/

  • Cheryl Everett

    Really superior writing by Arthur Alpert here. I’m forwarding it to my 30-something son, who’s the conservative yin to my liberal yang but who shares my skepticism about what passes for even “fact,” let alone truth, in today’s media.

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