Monday, May 30, 2005

Bruce Kesler explains why reporting from Iraq remains schizophrenic, scattered, scanty, obtuse and negative:

" A correspondent in Mosul, Iraq, Michael Yon, recently wrote: "Finding or generating news can be costly ... the media squeezes news cheaply from Iraq." Yon describes, step-by-step, how actual news dispatches are created. Yon points out that with rare exception, the media condenses military action reports into collections of one-line U.S. casualty lists ending with the latest cumulative death count. Yon observes, "a consequence of these media releases is that they allow the press to appear omnipresent on the battlefield, when in fact they usually stay close to the Green Zone in Baghdad." Yon continues: "The math is easy: Send a dozen journalists to Iraq, or hire one cheaply to live in Baghdad. The media gets a bargain rate on instant credibility from their 'embedded journalist in the heart of the Sunni Triangle,' who spends a few minutes a day paraphrasing media releases, then heads downstairs for a beer at the hotel bar.

....The declining market of the leading media is rooted in the twin niche-ditch digging of alienating its customers by being so markedly more liberal in political and social viewpoints and from resulting corporate cost-saving providing a shabby product. It is difficult to see working harder at coordination with society's other most liberal constituency in academia as meeting the most pressing challenges for journalism's successful reform. In the '70s, General Motors kept its engineers in Detroit, while Nissan attracted engineers to Southern California. Today, GM has half the market share it once had, and Nissan's innovative designs increased its market share. "

Go read the whole thing.
That is curious. All of my conservative friends just started drooling at the same time. Oh, I see, they were just reading an article about the liberal main stream media. Pavlov never tried his bell on elephants but it seems to work on them also.

As usual the continued opinionating on the demise of the Main Stream Media (MSM) leads the subjective evaluators to their desired conclusion - The MSM is too liberal and their stubbornness in not correcting this abhorrent behavior is killing them. Well, if this nugget of information was closer to the one hundredth time that it has entered my brain then it is to the one millionth time it might appear to be closer to a golden truth then it does to a foolish farce.

Actually the point in making this simplistic argument is more for the sake of the implied solution then it is for identifying the real problem. The impure logic goes something like this. If reporting by the MSM is too liberal and this has caused it to lose the attention of the listener then to attract more listeners they should become more conservative in their reporting. This always unproven argument, even if it was valid, is so overtly over simplistic that the only people who accept it without question are its advocates in the Republican party and the mooing heard that listens to them.

The problem with the MSM - for those who are really interested in an objective and rational discussion on the subject - cannot be encapsulated by a phrase like "too liberal" any more then the education problems in America can be encapsulated by the phrase "bad teachers". The reason that the old shaky hands which still guide the MSM haven't been seduced by this simplistic argument is that they see it for the self serving straw-man that it is. They realize that those people who are shouting "the MSM is too liberal" the loudest are the ones who are least concerned with finding the truth through objectivity. Instead these biased voices would rather have the MSM project their perceptions directly to their constituents and desired converts.

In truth - for those who prefer reality over perception - the source of the problems with the MSM has little to do with a liberal bias. The source of these problems are more accurately explained by considering the strict market forces that are being applied to the MSM in an age when real time information is readily and cheaply available. And, in my opinion, anyone who discusses the demise of the MSM by placing the mouse sized liberal argument above the elephant sized market based ones has shown themselves to be biased, self serving, and unworthy of the listeners attention.

Hi James

The MSM faces many problems and if my occasional perusal of niche publications like CJR is indicative, media insiders are not yet ready to deal with any of them regardless of whether they are ideological, structural or market driven problems. They are in deep denial.

It is hardly impossible for a news outlet to be both liberal and interesting - I'd point to The Christian Science Monitor for one. NPR and PBS, while not quite mainstream, are long established and are *very* liberal in their bias yet manage to have far more solid reporting than CBS or Newsweek.

It is also possible for a news outlet to be conservative and boring, though right now genuinely conservative MSM companies like FOXnews enjoy comparative advantage for being somewhat different than CNN/ABC/CBS/NBC. Add 100 Foxnews clones and you will have boring, subpar, cheaply produced, conservative news programs with low ratings too.

Moreover, newsroom ideological conformity, regardless of the point on the political spectrum will result in fewer bold or innovative news stories than if there was diversity for reasons of " Death by Homogeny"


Right now, liberal outlets are doing relatively poorly while FOX is doing well. Perhaps the rest of the MSM do not need to become more conservative ( which would be subject to diminishing returns anyway) but they might want to consider doing things differently than they are today.
I certainly concur that there is a lack of good reporting coming out of Iraq right now. It seems to me that one obvious explanation of why news organizations keep a lone reporter stationed in the green zone bars instead of a dozen roaming the streets is that Iraq is really dangerous. This is especially so for foreigners, double-especially for Westerners, and triple especially for Americans. The IED's, car bombs, kidnappings, RPG attacks, beheadings, live burnings, etc. are not simply figments of the "MSM"'s imagination. And while the cost may have something to do with the decision not to send reporters out in the field, especially factoring in the costs of armed escorts, hazard pay for the news crew, etc., the one thing that certain people tend to skip over is that going gallivanting around Iraq as a foreign reporter for a foreign news outlet is a fine way to meet an unpleasant death.
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