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The Asylum

Welcome to the Asylum. This is a site devoted to politics and current events in America, and around the globe. The THREE lunatics posting here are unabashed conservatives that go after the liberal lies and deceit prevalent in the debate of the day. We'd like to add that the views expressed here do not reflect the views of other inmates, nor were any inmates harmed in the creation of this site.

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I Would Play Taps, But The MSM Do Not Deserve It.

As our readers know, we like Hugh Hewitt. We like how funny he is, how insightful his thoughts are, and how smart the man is. (Of course with his life experiences, one would hope he is smart.) We have even gone so far as to make Thursdays our days to cover his topics and guests. It is the least we can do as his topics are right on par with the problems going on in the world today.

Hugh also writes for Weekly Standard and he penned this
piece. It is on one of my favorite subjects, which is the fall of the MSM. Thomas enjoys beating on the papers and the journalists on our site, but I prefer to focus on their gross mismanagement and negligence; how they still blunder through their petty lives, and still have jobs after screwing up so many stories.

To enter Columbia University's graduate school of journalism is to enter the highest temple of a religion in decline. A statue of Thomas Jefferson guards the plaza outside the doors, and the entry room is suitably grand. Two raised platforms proclaim the missions in bold gold letters:
"To Uphold Standards of Excellence in Journalism" and "To Educate the Next Generation of Journalists." The marble floor tells you that the school was endowed by Joseph Pulitzer and erected in 1912 in memory of his daughter Lucille. A bronze quotation from Pulitzer's 1904 cri de coeur in the North American Review is on the wall:

Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve the public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. . . . (Emphasis mine)

There is a new high priest in the dean's office on the seventh floor--Nicholas Lemann, veteran writer for the New Yorker, and before that the national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, where he spent 15 years after stints at the Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, and the Washington Monthly. Lemann began his scribbling for a New Orleans alternative weekly, the Vieux Carré Courier, while still a high school student, covering everything from boxing to city hall to the private school network of the region. Upon entering Harvard in 1972, he immediately "comped" for the Crimson, only to be rejected in his application to join the editorial board of the greatest brand in undergraduate newspapers. "Harvard is filled with this sort of humiliation," Lemann told me in a conversation last fall that capped a two-day visit to the school. He reapplied for a position as a reporter, and the second time was successful, rising through the ranks to become the paper's president in the 1975-76 academic year. Now 51 and two years into a new career, Lemann will need the same persistence if his legacy as dean is to be something other than a footnote in the history of the decline of American media power.

On my first day at Columbia's graduate school of journalism (CSJ), the poster boy for all that has come to plague elite American media--former CBS anchor Dan Rather--took to the podium at Fordham Law School to denounce the "new journalism order." On day two, the New York Times Company announced a cut of 500 employees from its already pared down workforce of 12,300. (The company employed 13,750 as recently as 2001.) On that same day Knight-Ridder slashed its Philadelphia papers' editorial staff by 75 positions at the Inquirer and 25 at the Daily News. "I get 50 calls a day about the crisis in journalism," Lemann deadpanned when I posed the "crisis" question. "Only 50?" I thought.

The denial of MSM people like Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite in regard to the alternative media, and the dropping of advertisers and subscribers are indicative of the the plight the MSM now faces. Like dinosaurs of old facing their own death, and having no clue how to overcome the sad fact, the MSM bungles its way through the twilight years of it's life. A nad-aid here, a bone thrown to alternative media members there, or a glossing over of their old guard in alternative media garb, the MSM is simply clueless. Mr. Lemann should be commended for his attempts to change the way the media operates, however this is simply a case of too little, too late.

The story of what is going on at CSJ cannot be separated from the collapse of credibility of the mainstream media, also known as "elite media" and "old media" among its detractors. The fortunes of the big five papers--the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as the old TV networks and big weekly newsmagazines--are visibly in decline. The upstart blogosphere is ever at the ready to "deconstruct" the work product of the old media's old guard. The very best investigative reporting is being done not by big names at the big papers, but by people like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' journalist in residence Claudia Rosett, who almost singlehandedly unraveled the U.N.-Saddam Oil-for-Food scandal, with much of her work published online. Dan Rather's CBS, eager to impugn George W. Bush's service in the Texas National Guard, got duped by fraudulent documents it took months to obtain and only hours for bloggers and readers to shred.

But I would venture this question to Mr. Hewitt and to Mr. Lemann: Had the media maintained its old integrity and mantra--that the facts, and the devotion to presenting those facts, are necessary for the story, would the MSM still be in this position. My rough guess is that had they maintained the old journalistic ways, it is a possibility that they may have avoided many of the problems they face today. Of course the decline in revenues and subscriptions would, most assuredly, have occurred with the rise of the Internet; averitable one-stop shop for any alternativew media "newshounds." No need to pour over the ink pages, but rather the information is just one click away. The alternative media adapted quickly to the ebb and flow of the daily news, and accelerated its dissemination. The other problem with the MSM is that because of their arrogance they have simply become lethargic and lazy; preferring to "tear them down today, and build them up tomorrow" if it means getting the story out. However, they do not build them up tomorrow. They ignore the story as if it were never run.

This story in its small way partakes of the seismic shift underway. Its origin is an email request from Lemann last spring: Would I be willing to be the subject of a New Yorker profile? I agreed, on the condition that I could have reciprocal access to Lemann and the Columbia Journalism School for this piece. Hedged with some qualifiers--he could not commit any of his faculty to talk to me or guarantee access to classrooms, though everyone proved to be very welcoming--Lemann agreed. Reactions to his profile of me varied among family and friends, but I thought it complete and fair. Before I sat down with Lemann I had read everything he'd written for the New Yorker and was impressed with his profiles of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. (The Cheney profile earned Lemann some animosity among colleagues, who thought him too gentle with the only man the left fears as much as Rove.) The scorn on the center-right for the "objectivity" and "professionalism" of the mainstream media is deep and sincere. I went to Columbia to see if Lemann was the exception that proves the rule, and to test the rule itself.

Of which, for the sake of the MSM, I do hope he was. There are few that can be trusted with teaching this field. Most, like Dan Rather, still believe themselves in Rather's unorthodox and incorrect words, "No longer are we purveyors of fact, but rather purveyors of truth."

What's the rule? That the elite media are hopelessly biased to the left and so blind to their own deficiencies, or so in denial, that they cannot save themselves from irrelevance. They're like the cheater in the clubhouse, whose every mention of a great round of golf is met with rolling eyes and knowing nods.

PULITZER'S ACOLYTES at Columbia undoubtedly believe that they are members of an "able, disinterested, public-spirited press," and not a "cynical, mercenary, demagogic" one. But the widespread perception in the country is that the prestige newsrooms are filled with the latter pretending to be the former. "Public attitudes toward the press, which have been on a downward track for years, have become more negative in several key areas," the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports. It is beyond argument that Pulitzer's dream of the press preserving public virtue has been abandoned, but Lemann is on a mission to help restore credibility to a "profession" without licensing or standards or governing bodies of any sort.

At the least, within the news organizations themselves, should be ombudsmen that can kill a story, or order a rewrite if it's flawed. Dan Rather could have saved himself the embarrassment, scorn, and ridicule had he had one watching over his TANG story. He would have been told that if the documents cannot be authenticated, then he could not run with the story. Dan Rather, or no Dan Rather, and the ombudsman would have saved CBS News the Hell that was so richly deserved for that story.

The first person I met on campus, Bruce Wallace, is a student enrolled in the school's traditional program, intended to result in a Master of Science degree after an intensive year of studies. Lemann has also instituted an ambitious new Master of Arts course of study, which has provoked deep suspicion in many of the school's alums and among the faculty. But with 205 students in the M.S. program and 27 in the M.A. division, there is no doubt that the training of front-line reporters is still the core mission. "How to cover a fire in Brooklyn on deadline" is one catchphrase I hear repeated. It is difficult to picture Pat Buchanan, Newsweek's Rick Smith, CBS's Susan Spencer, or writers Mitch Albom and James McBride--CSJ grads, all--covering fires in Brooklyn on or off deadline. But the M.S. program is in essence a 10-month education in the details and practice of that craft.

Which is just as much a need within the MSM as it is within the blogosphere. It is even more prevalent within the blogosphere. Top of the heap bloggers like Hugh Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin, and Ed Morrissey believe in a deadline; it is a facet of their jobs on the Internet that is self-imposed. That is, what they deem as relevant for the day needs to go up on that day. Relevance is the key to a blogger's deadline. What is news today might have some relevance tomorrow, but it will likely be an irrelevant fact by the end of the week, and not worth noting.

Wallace is a native of Baltimore who left his job as the manager of the classifieds at the San Francisco Guardian, an alternative weekly, to hone the skills that he hopes will take him to a daily to do local political reporting. The 1999 graduate of Kenyon College had done a little campus radio before heading off to tend bar in Alaska. In San Francisco he got hooked on city hall gossip, and though he was no fan of Mayor Willie Brown, or of "corporate power allied with politicians" generally, he's certain he'll be able to bring fairness to his future job as a political reporter. When I trot out my list of "parameter" questions I use to test for basic ideological disposition--Wallace doesn't own a gun; he favors same-sex marriage--there are no surprises.

And hear is where we run into the problem. They all say they hope they can avoid the pitfalls of the arrogance and bias within the MSM, yet none of them show it. They still cling to the same ideology of those in the business right now. That ideology, once met in the news room behind the cameras, or a newsroom with an editor screaming for his three o'clock meeting with his writers in preparation to put the paper to bed, will no longer seem biased to that person; just as it does not seem biased to anyone else who works there. It is insidious in its outcome, but it is blind foolishness that leads them to that overall goal.

Soon Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, arrives. With Michael Shapiro, Hoyt team-teaches the class "Advanced Reporting," into which Wallace and 15 other students are headed, and introduces me to Shapiro, who quickly welcomes me to observe the hour. Shapiro is a gifted teacher who, three weeks into the term, already knows all of his students' names and engages them with ease and good humor. The first half of this hour is given over to outlining a large assignment--a profile of some recently deceased person or the reconstruction of a crime. Shapiro is clearly hoping the students will go for the profile, and spends considerable time instructing his charges on how they might go about selecting their subject. He fences his instructions with cautions about engaging the bereaved ("You need to know, but you can't be a vampire") and tips on tracing the details of the life to be profiled. Hoyt contributes key bits of experience, and the students are curious and attentive to these practical lessons. "You need to make your first phone call today," Shapiro insists. "Tomorrow becomes the next day, which becomes next week. Good reporters make the first call on the first day."

I must give Mr. Shapiro kudos for reinforcing the idea of his students not becoming "vampires" over the bereaved families. All too often we watch the MSM sticking microphones in the faces of those who have lost loved ones, or demanding answers from them, just shortly after the tragedy. This was evident in the Sago Mining accident at the beginning of the month. Just moments after screwing up the story, the media immediately wanted to speak with the grieving families. It is no wonder why so many in the mainstream of America dislike the pariah media.

The 16 students are not evenly split--there are 14 women and just two men. Two-thirds of the M.S. class this year are women, a reflection of what Lemann calls the "feminization" of journalism programs across the country. Robert Mac Donald, the assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, ran down the demographics for me: The average age of an M.S. student is just shy of 28, the mean is 26, the youngest is 20, and the oldest is 63. Whites make up 69 percent of the new class; 11 percent are African American, 7 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, 3 percent Middle Eastern, and 4 percent South Asian. The school doesn't yet keep stats on religious background, though Mac Donald believes there has been a significant increase in Muslim students post 9/11. A fifth of the students are from the New York area, and between 37 to 40 percent are from "the corridor"--from Boston to Washington. Another fifth are from the west coast, and 10 percent are foreign. It is a pretty "blue" student body, and willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of their credentials. A year at CSJ--tuition, living expenses, incidentals--comes to $59,404 according to Mac Donald, though 85 percent of the students receive some financial aid, with packages ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. The average scholarship is $5,200, which means that these students are putting a lot of money into the program.

And it is interesting to note the very "blue" results from these facts. This not only goes to show where these people are coming from, but where they will ultimately land. And for their $59,000 education, they are landing in a profession that is going through a death knell; done in by their own biased ideology and their own haughtiness. A change is needed in the MSM if it is to survive, and based on what has been stated so far, I see no bright and shining resurgance of the media. I see it dying, swinging wildly at its detractors and the disdained bloggers who are helping it along to the grave.

The "blue" nature of the student body is further confirmed by my polling of the class I attended, done with the permission of Shapiro. Six of the 16 were English majors, two studied history, and the balance spread across the humanities. No one had a background in the physical sciences. No one owned a gun. All supported same-sex marriage. Three had been in a house of worship the previous week. Six read blogs. None of them recognized the phrase "Christmas Eve in Cambodia"--though Shapiro not only got the allusion but knew the date of the John Kerry Senate speech in which he made the false claim about his Vietnam war experience. Three quarters of them hope to make more than $100,000 as a journalist, 11 had voted for John Kerry, and one for George Bush (three are from abroad and not eligible, and one didn't vote for either candidate). I concluded by asking them if they "think George Bush is something of a dolt." There was unanimous agreement with this proposition, one of the widely shared views within elite media and elsewhere on the left. The president's Harvard MBA and four consecutive victories over Democrats judged "smarter" than him haven't made even a dent in that prejudice.

And therein lies the ultimate problem with the MSM. So secure are they in the information they receive that none of these people were willing to check out the president's academic records. None of them appear willing to obtain an alternative viewpoint--SIX people had read blogs. When news dissemination dies with the news people, then there is a problem. And that dissemination does not just extend to the students. From Ed Henry to Michael Hiltzik journalists look to the blogosphere and talk radio as upstarts; people with an opinion, and a rabid following of readers and listeners. Those people that follow the alternative media are belittled and looked down on. One would think that after the muck-raking in pajamas comments made by Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw at the height of the Rathergate fiasco that the media would pay closer attention to the professionalism driving the blogosphere. Further, it is a proven fact that the people who listen to talk radio, those who do read blogs, are far more savvy in terms of politics and current events over those that rely solely on the MSM.

The intake valve at the elite media's equivalent of the Army's war college isn't pulling in many conservatives. In fact, it isn't pulling in many moderates. After the class, a few students linger. Their backgrounds are interesting. Rachel Templeton is from Alaska, graduated from the University of Washington, and has spent a few years at the Henry Jackson Foundation. She's moving to Israel after this year, where she hopes to pick up freelance work. Bree Nordenson is from Freeport, Maine, a graduate of Minnesota's Carleton College, and is transitioning from her work as a psychiatric counselor in Boston. Andreea Plesea is from Rumania and her Facebook entry announces her goal is to "become a top notch investigative reporter" and to "pursue a degree in law." Stina Lunden is from Sweden, and spent her last year as a Washington Post intern in France working for Keith B. Richburg. Lanie Shapiro was in PR for Simon & Schuster and Random House. Sophia Chang, originally from Texas, has been a reporter for the past four years.

The goals are laid out. The resumes are present. But what I find lacking in the above is what these people are willing to do to save a dying industry. The MSM is much like the buggy-whip manufacturers at the turn of the 20th Century, shortly before the advent of the car. The last MSM source to go out of business will be much like the best buggy-whip manufacturer. But, eventually, the industry will die out, and it will come froma lack of evolving with the changing times. We see newspapers like the WaPo and the LA Times producing a "blog" for one of their reporters, but just because you slap the name "blog" on it does not mean that it reflects the alrtternative media. If it is still the same one-sided, biased reporting that the news source furnishes to begin with, nothing has changed.

These six want to pursue the idea of "objectivity," and most had read Lemann's profile of me, which included my very skeptical assessment of the objectivity of the mainstream media. Lunden is particularly animated. "You can't draw conclusions that our opinions will influence our reporting," she says, launching into a familiar defense of the ability of journalists to put aside their points of view. Shapiro stresses that all of her professors have been teaching "the value of objectivity," but Nordenson isn't buying it. "It is dangerous to think you are objective." Plesea is cynical: "You don't get truth in political reporting," an opinion she didn't confine to the countries of the former Soviet Union, with which she is familiar.

On the contrary, it is not dangerous to deal with issues from an objective standpoint. Take the Harriet Miers nomination. When the nomination first came down, our site jumped on her immediately, and began to disseminate the nominee. Whereas Thomas was avidly against her, based on his research, Sabrina and I were in favor of her. In the end, we reached a consensus: We would allow her to go before the committee and defend herself. The objectivity involved in that debate was tough for all three of us. Thomas' astute research showed Miers to be a capable lawyer, and a close friend of the president--someone who shared the president's philosophy. We, too, found that in her. But it was Thomas who pointed to a single, glaring fact--she did not know enough about Constitutional law to warrant a seat on the high court. Indeed, this is what turned Sabrina and I for her to against her. And it was no more evident than watching Judge Alito in front of the committee two weeks ago. I sincerely doubt that Miers would have made it. As bloggers, we present commentary to go with the story. We still present the facts, and usually reserve judgment for a later time, unless the story has something so egregious within it that it demands a decision about the issue, one way or another. Objectivity is key to a journalist not coming across as a biased observer. Journalists should always remain neutral.

I am not here to debate the proposition, but find it interesting that the three-week wonders are already committed to the defense of their new profession's reputation for objectivity. With a faculty that does not appear to count among its number even one prominent name from the center-right, but does include respected voices of the left such as Todd Gitlin and Victor Navasky, it is difficult to see where they will acquire any useful skepticism about their own craft's motives and abilities.

In short, the MSM has forgotten the mantra of the past: Fair and balanced reporting. This is why FOX News is surpassing the cable giants, and were it on netowrk TV, it would likely be beating those old guards--ABC, CBS, and NBC--as well.

THE WORST MOMENTS in recent history for the mainstream media--Rathergate, Jayson Blair's fabrications at the New York Times, the slander by CNN executive Eason Jordan that the U.S. military in Iraq was targeting journalists for assassination--were all still in the future when Columbia president Lee Bollinger was presented with an opening in the deanship by the retirement of Lemann's predecessor, Tom Goldstein. Bollinger, a First Amendment expert, former president of the University of Michigan, and former dean of its law school (I took media law from him in the spring of 1983, and the quiet, brooding, and even moody Bollinger hasn't changed much in 22 years, according to reports) seized the moment. He launched a controversial top-to-bottom look at the journalism
school, empaneling a committee that met a dozen or so times to debate the future of the school. Lemann was among the panel's members, and delivered a paper to the group in the spring of 2003 that urged the one-year M.S. degree be replaced by a two-year Master of Arts program. Bollinger obviously warmed to some part of the Lemann pitch, and offered him the deanship.

I do hope that within that diatribe, Mr. Bollinger also invested some time into the MSM itself, though Hugh does not mention it. The future of the academics of journalism is good, but it is not the shcools that need to be addresseed as much as the sources for news themselves. As Hugh pointed out above, the students he spoke with seemed rather "blue;" that being that they tend to be more center-left than center-right. As a matter of fact, he also states that the CJS is not attracting many moderates. The campus, it can then be assumed, is majority Left of center. Again, this does not help out the MSM centers in the nation; the objectivity of the MSM is already on its death bed if not already in the ground.

Lemann quickly realized that alumni and faculty would unite to kill any idea of a uniform two-year degree at CSJ. "Of 24 or 25 faculty," he told me, "I'd have had maybe two votes." But there are other ways to pursue change and reform. After another year of meetings with industry types, he launched a second degree track: a year-long Masters of Arts program open only to practicing journalists, aiming to enhance and deepen their skills. Lemann is clearly hoping that the best and brightest of the M.S. grads will be willing to stay a second year and also go for the M.A. This year a pool of 70 applicants yielded a class of 27. The goal is a class of 60 drawn from 250 applicants.

My second classroom experience is in an M.A. class, "Evidence and Inference," which includes all 27 students. It is the meta-class for the new track, and is co-taught by Lemann and associate dean Evan Cornog, as well as a series of academic and media guest-lecturers. Today marks the third in three lectures by the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Columbia's Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs Kenneth Prewitt, on the use of race as a classifying device. Prewitt's lecture is a fascinating look at the introduction of racial categories into the census and the evolution of those categories, as well as the limits of the utility of that data. An interesting and provocative 90 minutes later, though, I am left wondering how much the Prewitt lecture will do for these students unless they are fortuitously assigned some future story on the census or a related topic having to do with, say, racial classifications in university admissions.

In my humble, amateur opinion, I would then assume that this lecture series was a waste of time for the students. It is a good idea to teach them about race and categories--being journalists they should know this--it is entirely useless to define it into such a narrow parameter. By doing so it is much like the insignificant course taught in college or high school that we paid little attention to, until later in life when we needed it that one particular moment, and failed to recall it. Schools, like the CJS, should be preparing the next generation to jump into their profession, even if it is at the bottom of the ladder, and that means that every class counts. Every lecture counts. I can attest that my second year in college, thus far, has netted me at least two lectures that will serve me only in specific instances, and not in life in general. And I chalk this up to the typical nature of higher education institutes.

Lemann's hope for this course is to cultivate in his students a capacity to discover and analyze data. He repeatedly uses the term "power skills," and he has in mind a deeper appreciation, and use, of more sophisticated research and analytical skills than most journalists bring to the table. "Regression analysis is the best example," he tells me. "Every social science study in the United States depends upon regression analysis, but almost no reporters understand it. You can't read and understand these studies if you don't know how regression analysis works. I taught myself how to do it, and we are going to teach the M.A. students, equipping them to go beyond their ordinary reliance on dueling experts interpreting studies."

And that, I feel, is the key to the mess of journalism. No one does solid research any longer. They rely far too heavily on "experts" that, more often than not, do have a slighted bias to their opinions. There are notable exceptions to this. Cass Sunstein is one of them, as Hugh pointed out weeks ago when the media-driven NSA controversy began. But all too often we are "entertained" by experts who put a noticeable spin on what they are presenting. Analysis, research, getting to know a subject from all facets ... these are the things that can propel a journalist to higher levels.

That, in a nutshell, is Lemann's grand plan for salvaging the profession: Teaching reporters new skills that will make them more competent amateurs in the worlds of other professionals. The school's newsletter, 116th & Broadway, carried a letter from Lemann on its front cover for the summer '05 issue. Lemann noted that the spring of 2006 would see the school of journalism confer its first new professional degree in 70 years. He was eager that alums understand what the M.A. program was all about. Among other points, he wanted to emphasize:

* The M.A. program will accept not only holders of the Journalism School's M.S. degree, but also journalists who can demonstrate to us that they are already working at a level of skill commensurate with that of M.S. holders.

* For the first couple of years, the program will be tuition-free to students for whom paying tuition imposes a financial difficulty. . . .

* The program involves greatly deepening the ties between the Journalism School and the rest of the university, mainly by bringing academic faculty people here to teach in partnership with the journalists on our faculty, so as to marry deep substantive knowledge to journalistic practice.

It is a sound idea, but the question remains as to whether or not they can practice what is being preached. Again, I sincerely doubt it. It is the deepening void within the journalistic fields that research is not the necessary component in a story. For example, if the New York Times had simply done the research (rather than letting bloggers uncover it) they would have discovered that NSA intercept programs had been going on for quite some time, spanning the course of the president's four predecessors. Instead, they ignored it, and in doing so they put a spin on a non-story.

If ever a class is given on the elegant insertion of the thin edge of a wedge, this would make a fine piece of assigned reading. The M.S. holders are assured of the status of their credential; the applicant pool sees a hint of tuition deals; Columbia faculty are given their props; and the industry gets a promise of "deep substantive knowledge" on the way. In that last phrase is the figure in the carpet, the grand design for saving journalism. And also an admission of great significance about all that ails the craft today.

At least there is that acknowledgement. In the past few years journalists have defended their craft instead of looking at it from a distance--without the biased eye--to see if they see what we see. Bernie Goldberg did two phenomenal books on the subject where he acknowledged the bias. Mr. Goldberg is an admitted liberal--that fact was made glaringly aware in his first book "Bias." Yet he can step back, with an objective eye, and level scrutiny at his industry. And that scrutiny is no different today from bloggers as it was from him.

LEMANN'S PROJECT is either a masterful flanking of the dominant critique of the mainstream media--thoroughgoing left-wing bias among its practitioners--or an irrelevant and doomed exercise in beside-the-pointism. The big battle in American journalism is over the very idea of objectivity. Lemann assumes that objectivity is possible, but that the skills of reporters need burnishing if their reputation for disinterestedness is to be recovered.

Objectivity in the old guard of the MSM is truly dead. And Hugh is right. Should these students not embrace Mr. Lemann's ideas, then the media is truly dead. Objectivity in reporting and researching are musts for the industry to survive, even if for a little longer. Eventually, like the buggy-whip manufacturers, the media will go out of business, or it will evolve into something else. I am hedgng my best on the fact that it will die. We can see it happening already. Gone are the days of the singular news anchor, and what is surfacing is a sort of "face-lift" for the media sources. They are looking for new, likable blood. But it is not the face that attracts people to the news source. It is how the source conducts its business that attracts people.

The genuine enthusiasm for a new program's launch is always difficult to gauge, but one measurement that simply does not lie in the world of academia is donor support. CSJ's associate dean of university development and alumni relations, Jeffrey H. Richard, briefed me on Lemann's work as change agent and chief fundraiser. Three $5 million gifts do not a conclusion render, but are more than a good start. David and Katherine Moore have given a $5 million gift to endow a faculty position to cover government and public affairs in both the M.S. and M.A. programs. David is the grandson of Joseph Pulitzer, so that sounds to an outsider like a crucial endorsement of the innovations underway. Another $5 million is arriving from Leo Hindery, formerly of the YES Entertainment Network, and the father of a CSJ grad--another category of endorsement crucial to the school's constituencies. This gift is available for scholarships, an underfunded and pressing need for new and old programs alike. The third of the big three came to found a Center for Investigative Journalism, and came via a big name in that business, Toni Stabile, whose reporting on the cosmetics industry in the '60s and '70s set a high bar for future practitioners of the craft.

"Fundraising," says Richard, "is about relationships, about earning people's trust. They sense the excitement about what we are doing here." Lemann "has a vision," he adds, and "there's a general consensus that having journalists who better understand what they are doing is needed." Richard expects that corporate America will welcome--and fund--the emphasis on more sophisticated skills, but is careful to underscore that no gift from industry can be accompanied by any hint of compromise or strings attached.

Contributions are nice things. They keep the student body there, keep the faculty there, and keep the programs rolling. However it still goes back to what they are learning. And what if one of those corporate sponsors, say a Viacom, does give up some contributions. Is Mr. Lemann willing to tell them that their donation is welcome, but Dan Rather is not going to conduct a lecture series? Again, the focus of Mr. Lemann's prospective programs should be in making a change for the better; to keep the media alive with fresh ideas. These ideas are hardly new, but a return to the older ones cast aside by the dominant Left embedded in the industry for so many years.

"Authority is a construct," Lemann tells me on my second day at the school. And the "authority" of journalism with the American public is clearly at a modern low point. Lemann intends to reconstruct journalism's shaky reputation via an infusion of specific and measurable skills--either you can or you can't do regression analysis; either you can or you can't follow a case citation sequence or decode an annual audit report--and thus ignite a demand among editors not for the bright young reporters from campus newspapers, but for really smart alums of graduate schools of all sorts who can be tempted into the field despite its pay and present status somewhere near the carnival barker's.

The key to the future is not to breed or create right-center journalists. It should be to mold yound minds with the keys to journalism that made it a force in the past. News stories have facts. Those facts should be reported. When you omit them, people cannot discern atruth to the story. ALL THE FACTS must be presented. Minute or extremely detailed facts can be simplified for people, but they still must be there. The "smart alums" that Hugh refers to will either get the concept, or will not. They will fly or they will flounder. They will either be hailed as a new genration of journalists on the cutting edge of news reporting, or the same old rehashes we have been handed for the better part of thirty years. What is key about Mr. Lemann's vision is not only giving these students the tools they will need to succeed, but also the drive to make a difference on their industry; not a name for themselves and the self-adulation that comes with it. Prizes and accolades are nice, but as I am often reminded by Thomas, "to thine ownself be true." If I do a terrible job at a post or on my assignments from school, I do not want people congratulating me on a "job well done." If I feel I did a bad job, I want an honest critique of my mistakes, not a self-esteem boost. That was what the "circle the wagons" mentality was during the Rathergate debacle; "Good job Dan, even though you blew it with your credibility."

This objective is both large and novel. Joseph Pulitzer wasn't a skills man, though his detour from reporting to law school suggests at least a hint of Lemann's recognition that reporters are often overmatched by the complexities of the stories they are assigned. Pulitzer was very much a crusader, though, and his 1904 North American Review article "The College of Journalism," which Lemann points me to, is almost hilariously optimistic in its aims for the profession:

There are many political reformers among the clergy, but the pulpit as an institution is concerned with the Kingdom of Heaven, not with the Republic of America. There are many public-spirited lawyers, but the bar as a profession works for its retainers, and no law-defying trust ever came to grief from a dearth of legal talent to serve it. Physicians work for their patients and architects for their patrons. The press alone makes the public interests its own.

It is optimistic, and had the journalists of today paid attention to it, then maybe, just maybe, they might not be where they are today. But they alone believe they are the "purveyors of truth," as Dan Rather noted years ago. They alone hold the keys, and we merely wait on the side with bated breath for them to report their "facts." Those facts amount to little today in the way of the definition of a fact. To return to the NSA story, nowhere in the original story was there mention of Presidents Clinton, Bush (41), Reagan, or Carter using the same methods. No, this was solely President Bush's fiasco to deal with, and no one before him had utiulized such methods. Nevermind that the bloggers uncovered the times that those four presidents had used it, or that FDR had read the mail from soldiers abroad during World War II to make sure nothing was "leaking" from the troops or that the enemy was not being corresponded with in America. "Surveillance" has been key to every president since Washington; he believed that the use of spies and the practice of espionage was key to the security of the nation.

"What is everybody's business is nobody's business"--except the journalist's; it is his by adoption. But for his care almost every reform would fall stillborn. He holds officials to their duty. He exposes secret schemes of plunder. . . . He brings all classes, all professions together, and teaches them to act in concert on the basis of their common citizenship.

And that is not the role of a journalist. They are not the movers and shakers of the world or the nation. They have a simple job, which is to report the news. Gone are the days of Hearst who would provide the pictures to go with the war. The media does not raise a star or destroy one. they do not have the influence any longer that they used to have. And frankly, that mindset is foolish. It is as foolish and unprofessional as jurists on the bench enacting law from whole cloth. A jurist's job is to render decisions rooted in jurisprudence. A journalist's job is to report the news based on facts.

The Greeks thought that no republic could be successfully governed if it were too large for all the citizens to come together in one place. The Athenian democracy could all meet in the popular assembly. There public opinion was made, and accordingly as the people listened to a Pericles or to a Cleon the state flourished or declined. The orator that reaches the American democracy is the newspaper. It alone makes it possible to keep the political blood in healthful circulation in the veins of a continental republic. . . . Virtue, said Montesquieu, is the principle of a republic, and therefore a republic . . . is the hardest of all to preserve. For there is nothing more subject to decay than virtue.

And as we have seen, the emperor has no clothes; there is little virtue left in the MSM to draw any solid morals from. Indeed, as I stated earlier, the media no longer truly cares as to whether they get a story right or not. Going back to the Sago Mine accident, the day after the miners were found, the nation was bemused and angered by the conflicting headlines. Why was it that so many papers ran with the joyful, but highly inaccurate headline of the miners being found alive when others told the truth. In Arizona we witnessed that firsthand. The Arizona Republic ran with the news of the "rescue" and the "survivors" while the East Valley Tribune had the correct story. (I do have a copy of both papers already packed away for posterity; just another notch in the slow death of the MSM.) "Mainstream" papers like the LA Times, the WaPo, and the New York Times put their papers to bed as soon as the good news was heard without checking it first; preferring to run off of third-hand information rather than a confirmation from the mine spokesman.

This vision, from which the quotations in the school's entrance lobby are excerpted, can hardly be read with a straight face these days. And it has very little in common with Lemann's project. Pulitzer wanted reporters to push for virtue. Lemann endorses, first and emphatically, "truth-seeking." They are very different projects, proceeding from very different ideologies. Virtue, as Pulitzer understood it, was not so difficult to figure out. Truth is elusive.

And whereas truth may ultimately come from a news story, it is the facts that are integral. You report the facts and you let the public decide what is and is not true. We still deal with the OJ verdict in debates today as to his guilt or innocence. Based on the evidence and testimony presented during the trial, the past relationship that he had with his wife, it is difficult to ascertain why a guilty verdict was not reached. But that is in the jury's hands, not mine. I can only go off of the facts that I am aware of, and based on those facts, I have developed a "truth" that I believe he is guilty. Until I see facts to the contrary, I cannot change what I believe to be the truth in my eyes. See, even with this, there is a level of objectivity involved. My personal belief is that he is guilty. However my professional side states that he received his trial, and a jury of twelve of his peers found him not guilty. Case closed.

Lemann also recommends to me the 1920 Walter Lippmann essay "Liberty and the News," but curiously not Lippmann's better known 1922 opus, Public Opinion, which opens this way:

There is an island in the ocean where in 1914 a few Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans lived. No cable reaches that island, and the British mail steamer comes but once in sixty days. In September it had not yet come, and the islanders were still talking about the latest newspaper which told about the approaching trial of Madame Caillaux for the shooting of Gaston Calmette. It was, therefore, with more than usual eagerness that the whole colony assembled at the quay on a day in mid-September to hear from the captain what the verdict had been. They learned that for over six weeks now those of them who were English and those of them who were French had been fighting in behalf of the sanctity of treaties against those of them who were Germans. For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies.

Quite interesting that. It reminds me of the stories we heard after World War II of Japanese soldiers still willing to fight on the Pacific Islands well after the terms of surrender had been signed by the Japanese government.

You can put Lippmann's book down after page one, his 1920 essay, and Pulitzer's vision statement for his school as well. Lippmann's world, Pulitzer's world, even Nicholas Lemann's world of the Harvard Crimson from 1972 to 1976--they are all gone. Every conversation with one of the old guard citing the old proof texts comes down to this point: There is too much expertise, all of it almost instantly available now, for the traditional idea of journalism to last much longer. In the past, almost every bit of information was difficult and expensive to acquire and was therefore mediated by journalists whom readers and viewers were usually in no position to second-guess. Authority has drained from journalism for a reason. Too many of its practitioners have been easily exposed as poseurs.

But it is those poseurs that still maintain the industry today. And it is they who destroyed it. From Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather, Eason Jordan to Ed Henry, and Evan Thomas to Michael Hiltzik, they have wrecked the industry. They have not done so to perpetuate the MSM into the ground; simply misguided was there motivations to tailor the news to fit an audience. That audience embraced only so long until the new medium on the block showed up and started showing their mistakes. Again, the emperor has no clothes.

Lemann understands completely what has happened. I think he regrets it. He is certainly trying to salvage the situation. And there is simply no way he can succeed.

I must agree with Hugh on that point. There is no way to save this dying industry. Give it ten years, maybe fifteen, and they will die out. The mantle will have been taken up by another. Right now, that mantle is being held onto--in a tight game of tug-of-war--by the alternative media. We know that we are the next current step. But as bloggers grasp the concept of better technology, such as podcasting, our medium will evolve. The MSM has nothing to evolve into.

He can create more savvy people to deal with news stories, current events, business and technology reporting, etc., but it will be the independent that does that. As the "golden age" of the old media is long gone, it is independents that have taken the reins over. We are the ones dealing with the news. And whereas we will use a news story to convey the facts, we also fact-check it ourselves. Research and analysis goes into what a blogger does. We do not simply put up a story and say "there you go." The media does that on their own; they need little assistance from bloggers when it comes to shooting themselves in the foot. But I have cited a few news stories where the MSM obviously dropped the ball. It took bloggers like us, like Hugh, like Ed Morrissey and Michelle Malkin to give a level of truth to the reporting.

This is not to say that bloggers do not make mistakes. We, too, have made mistakes. However ours is a bit more legitimate than the media's. Ours comes from moving forward with all the facts in hand we have at the time, where the media's comes from laziness and arrogance. And bloggers are more apt to issue apologies to aggrieved parties, or to their readers for thei misspoken posts. The media is always reluctant to give corrections, and their list of corrections are usually buried deep within their paper. It took Dan Rather weeks to give a half-hearted apology over the phony memos, and even then it was not really an apology. It was more along the lines of what bloggers termed "fake but accurate."

And that has become the mantra of the MSM and agenda journalism. The "facts" they present mesh with the story they have concocted. Therefore, when the story is disproven by bloggers, they fall back on "fake but accurate." The story itself is true even though the facts are extremely suspect. And that has continued even up through today. Mary Mapes still believes in the story, as Dan Rather does. His rivals in the MSM came to his defense, and the higher-ups at CBS News did, as well. In the end the damage done by him was too great, and a tarnished reputation left the air. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

It is a misnomer on the part of those in the media with their apparent biases to believe we want the media to be center-right. We do not. We do not wish this anymore than we wish to have a theocratic government established for the far Right. We want objective, honest journalism. Mr. Lemann's attempts are admirable, but utterly futile. Nothing can save the old media. It is in its hilarious death throes. I imagine Dan Rather swimming around in the vat of molten metal like the T-1000 from Terminator 2, flailing about as it dies. Funny image, but not too funny when we realize that the dinosaurs in the media have not adapted to the changing times. Between their lack of evolving and their inherent bias, they are doomed. And no program at the CJS can change that. It can only slow the process.

The Bunny ;)


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