Campaign reporters have deeply internalized the need to appear fair, to be above mere partisanship, to criticize or praise both sides in equal measure. The GOP is acutely aware of this dynamic and for years has used it to their advantage. But real fairness is geared to the facts, not to appearances, and today’s right simply lies more, misleads more, and denies established facts more. That is the conclusion a fair-minded appraisal yields. Empirics have a liberal bias, to paraphrase Colbert.
So what do journos do? Do they call them as they see them and get labeled “biased” and “partisan”? Or do they follow the lead of The Washington Post‘s The Fix and cover politics like a theater critic assessing performances? That’s been the default mode for Politico-style journalists (like, say, Mark Halperin) for a long time. It’s safe and comfortable. There’s rarely any penalty for getting things wrong. You can rise quite high among the ranks of Very Serious People in that mode. But for those like Ezra, rankled by facts, irritated by conscience, it’s not a very attractive route.[….]
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have no training in journalism. I was never taught to be even-handed or “neutral.” What training I have for what I do came from two places. The first was a whole lot of time spent with a large extended family in the South (Georgia, mostly) filled with raucous, hyper-verbal drunks with highly sensitive bullsh*t detectors and razor-sharp senses of humor. The second was grad school in philosophy.
In both places, I learned to love arguing, the mechanics of stringing facts and evidence together to reach conclusions. But I also learned that in real-life situations, the technically superior argument does not always carry the day. In real-life situations, the one that wins is the one with wit and timing, the one with the ability to employ mockery, flattery, flirting, storytelling, peer pressure, guile, and the whole array of other non-factual, non-logical communicative tools available to the human animal.
Traditional journalism, particularly in its post-war American variety, has purposefully denuded itself of most of those tools.
I think the phrase “traditional journalism, particularly its post-war American variety” needs the modifier “national” and “establishment”. I’ve spoken with lots of local reporters and they are just as skeptical and bullshit-resistant as sentient human beings are supposed to be.
Likewise, there’s plenty of interesting national reporting and commentary taking place at non-presitge outlets at the fringe of the journalistic establishment — American Prospect and Mother Jones for reporting and New York magazine for commentary (just to cite a few examples).
It’s not that complicated: at local and fringe-national outlets, there’s not as much money floating around. It’t not just that they aren’t necessarily owned by big companies. A lot of local outlets are owned by big companies, but the big companies don’t care that much local construction projects and such, so they don’t put the screws to the reporters the same way. Anyway, a reporter at a smaller outlet might say “shove that 45K a year you’re paying me up your ass”. David Gregory’s never going to say that about his ten million dollar a year salary (I’m estimating here, I know Matthews gets around 5).
Cash is a helluva drug.