Framing the debate

September 22nd, 2006 → 12:14 pm @ // No Comments

Earlier today, the Huffington Post put up an interview with press critic, Committee to Protect Journalists co-founder, and New York Review of Books contributor Michael Massing. It’s a long, interesting piece; I don’t always agree with Massing, but I’m (almost) always interested in what he has to say.

But one of Massing’s answers particularly bothered me. When asked about the political pressures today’s media outlets need to deal with — pressures that are both very real and very frightening — Massing says, “If you look at The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times – probably our three top newspapers – it’s pretty extraordinary what they’ve been running. The New York Times has in some ways become the voice of the opposition in this country. Day after day, I’ve been looking at the Times and have been struck by how much they’ve been willing to run stories exposing incompetence and wrongdoing and documenting things that have been going wrong around the world.”

First off, it’s incredible (and incredibly upsetting) that coverage of politics has devolved to the point where people are struck by the extent to which the media is doing its job. Just as troubling is the way in which Massing frames this coverage: as the “voice of the opposition.” This is language that is (and should be) used to describe a political party not in power. It’s precisely this type of language that gives ammunition to politicians (in this instance, the Bush administration) who want to paint negative coverage as fundamentally stemming from a ideological divide (the NY liberal elite versus the politicians that represent the hoi polloi). Exposing incompetence and wrongdoing, documenting problems in the world — that doesn’t mean the Times (or any other outlet, for that matter), is the voice of the opposition, it means the paper is doing its job: ferreting out the truths that the politicians, business leaders, etc., want to hide from the public. Massing is right to say this important work is under attack, but when he uses language that makes it sound like it’s the voice of the opposition and not the voice of a free press that’s being muzzled, he must be warming Karl Rove’s heart.

Post Categories: Media reporting & Michael Massing & New York Times

3 Comments → “Framing the debate”

  1. Ogie Oglethorpe

    17 years ago

    As an admitted hater of the media I have to admit that they do serve a purpose. Their job is to bring things to our attention that should concern us but don’t have the resources, time or insight to investigate on our own. But I can’t stand how papers have become (maybe they always have been) polarized in their reporting. Some papers are ultra-right and some are ultra-left when they should be impartial observers. Reporting both good and bad stories from both points of view. Also, anybody who is sort sighted enough to believe that the world fits neatly into either the Liberal or Conservation ideology is just as misguided as people around the world who want to do us harm because of our religious or economic beliefs. If you are a member of the middle-class in America the truth is that neither the Republicans or Democrats are out for your best interests.


  2. lperdue

    17 years ago

    A good journalist is skeptical of those on ALL sides of an issue, but should be especially skeptical of those with whom they AGREE most. Only then are they worthy of being called a journalist.


  3. miles44

    17 years ago

    That reminds me of Chris Rock’s line about people bragging about stuff they’re supposed to do in the first place. “‘I ain’t never been to jail.’ What do you want, a cookie? You’re not supposed to go to jail!”

    The media is supposed to hold those in power accountable, regardless of party affiliation and regardless of what’s popular. That the media doing its job is such a revelation speaks to how much the press has shirked its duty recently.


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