Saturday, August 05, 2006

ANCIENT ENMITIES. Jeff Jarvis is upset that Columbia J-School Dean Nicholas Lemann called out bloggers who herald the demise of the hated MSM. For starters, Jarvis says no blogger has ever argued such a thing:
[Lemann's] strawman king: that bloggers believe they will replace journalists. I don’t know a single blogger who says that with a straight face.
In general Jarvis is right: it's mainly mainstream media figures themselves who make such pronouncements. Like Peggy Noonan ("The MSM rose because it had a monopoly. And it fell because it lost that monopoly"), Newsweek's Howard Fineman ("A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the 'mainstream media'..."), and of course the unnamed (and perhaps unnamable) journalists quoted by the Ole Perfesser.

In fact, factoring out the bottom-feeders, the only mainstream blogger I can find overtly predicting the imminent death of the MSM is Jeff Jarvis:
If I owned a newspaper, I’d sell it, wouldn’t you? If I were Yahoo, would I buy it? Maybe only Yahoo and Google could consolidate the advertising marketplace to make big media work still.

...What we’re seeing, I’ll say again, is just the dinosaurs huddling against the cold of the internet ice age. The poor, old, lumbering beasts have to stick together.
Jarvis liked his dinosaur line so much he repeated it for a Washington Post discussion, which perhaps counts as another MSM-on-death-of-MSM cite. (And come to think of it, didn't Jarvis used to write for TV Guide?)

Jarvis' main point is that journalism has been and will be deeply affected -- not to say herded onto the ice caps -- by the new breed of "citizen journalists":
I so wish I had seen [Lemann] instead imagine the possibilities for news when journalists and bloggers join to work together in a network made possible by the internet. I wish he had seen journalism expanded way past the walls of newsrooms and j-schools to gather and share more information for an informed society...
We live, as ever, in flux, and tomorrow never knows, though Jarvis' blog creditably follows the trends and notes the markers of journalism's digital future.

But let us cut the crap. The general trend of our media criticism, online and off, is and has been for some time neither technological nor futuristic but political -- a concerted attack on the famed "liberal media," a hydra-headed beast so insidiously powerful that it has managed to deliver the White House to its Democratic overlords in all but seven of the past ten Presidential elections.

Such attacks go back to Spiro Agnew -- at least in the popular imagination; or, if one takes the long view, to Robert Welch. In either case, they far precede the golden dawn of blogspot.

When Jarvis' more modern citizen journalists have attacked the MSM, they have done so with charges that seek to discredit its liberal-identified reports -- successfully, as with Rathergate, or less so, as with Haditha. We are a long, long way from the Trent Lott affair, and the bipartisan citizen-journalist comity it supposedly represented (though some of us, I override modesty to admit, knew better even then).

The key involvement of Hugh Hewitt in Jarvis' expanded discussion and citation of the point is an indicator of this: Hewitt is a cheerful Republican operative, author of books with titles like If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It, whose interest in the subject of new media is not, to say the least, limited to a search for Higher Truth.

This connection stems from Lemann's own softball New Yorker profile of Hewitt last year, in which he described Hewitt as an "unlined, inquisitive-looking, forty-nine-year-old with an amiable but relentless manner." Lemann goes on: "Hewitt is definitely a Republican, but he is no mere mouthpiece... he has no problem presenting himself as an active, loyal Republican -- so why won't people who work in the mainstream [media] own up to views that surely affect their work?" Watching Hewitt go to work on liberal apparatchik Dana Milbank (!), Lemann notes that "Hewitt does not, like Bill O'Reilly, become righteously indignant -- he's never confrontational, always friendly -- but he is persistent..."

Lemann conveys Hewitt's liberal-bias-conversion experience: "On Election Night in 2000, Hewitt told me, there were cheers in the [PBS affiliate KCET] studio every time a state went for Gore" -- though Lemann does acknowledge that Hewitt's colleagues at KCET remember it differently, as of course they would, being PBS affiliate employees who are not Hugh Hewitt. Lemann ends by observing that Republicans have "a wonderfully efficient message machine," and that "Democrats aren't going to beat them merely by streamlining the delivery of their message" -- whatever that might mean.

Assuming Lemann's liberal bias -- and how could we not? -- what a unusually, indeed strangely, generous portrayal this is; on a par with Time's Ann Coulter cover story. Given the hysterical terms of our current culture war, it seems almost suicidal; and, indeed, that is how it was taken.

Immdiately after its appearance, the New Yorker softball was gratefully acknowledged by Hewitt himself -- though Hewitt's archives are farblonjet since his Townhall absorption, we still have on record conservative website Powerline, which said, "The New Yorker has a profile of Hugh Hewitt by Nicholas Lemann, a liberal writer I admire. The profile apparently is not available online, but Hugh has reproduced the first and last paragraphs. They support his overall assesment -- 'a very fair but hard hitting piece.'"

In the days following that valentine, though, conservative journal Weekly Standard reported, "There is a new high priest in the dean's office on the seventh floor [of Columbia's Journalism School] - -Nicholas Lemann... Lemann began his [career] scribbling for a New Orleans alternative weekly..." Noting Lemann's arduous pursuit of a spot on the Harvard Crimson, the Standard remarked, "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."

That piece was written by Hugh Hewitt. Citizen Journalist Mark Tapscott called it "fascinating and important." Citizen Journalist Austin Bay said "Lehman really has no answer for embedded ideology and narrow points of view." Many, many, many, many, many other Citizen Journalists (partial list) agreed.

In recent remarks on the Jarvis argument, Hewitt is more charitable toward Lemann, but still hoists a battle flag that precedes Blogger, RSS, and iPods:
Dean Lemann doesn't want to personalize the debate, and he's right not to. It isn't about his personal views or my personal views, but about what can objectively be said about MSM objectivity. Dean Lemann believes in the ideal and is trying to resurrect it. I believe the ideal never existed, but that even its best days are far behind us, and that the idea of MSM objectivity today is preposterous.
You want to know about the relationship of new media to old? Don't think of Markos; think of Spiro. And of countless wishy-washy types who thought they were being fair, but were merely being rolled.

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