Framing the debate

September 22nd, 2006 → 12:14 pm @

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