printing what you preach: transparency and questioning motives within the media
John David Dyche's response in the C-J to C-J publisher Andre Garson's piece in the Sunday paper.
Garson tried to do two things: explain why the C-J is unabashedly liberal on its editorial page; and assert that its news coverage is "apolitical".
Garson was reasonably compelling on #1. (See also: the recent C-J piece on David Hawpe, announcing his retirement and reflecting on his career.)
Likewise, one could easily make the argument that a paper like the Indy Star could have optimal value as a prominent conservative "mouthpiece". Back in the day, both the C-J and the Star were more influential-- and more impressively partisan.
But Dyche takes Garson to task on #2.
It is (theoretically) possible for a newspaper to be neutral. But it would take Herculean efforts and the purest of motives to approach that goal-- in day-to-day operations and in hiring an array of people who can execute that combo. This is, it seems to me, (extremely) unlikely.
In any case, Gerson's broader point can be applied to the newspaper's news coverage as well (assuming some/much blindness on his part)-- if people are able to perceive whatever bias is present (as with their editorials).
Anyway, here's some of what Dyche says (and good for the C-J in publishing it!), starting with his assessment:
News editors and reporters carry out their newspapers' political agendas differently than editorial writers do. Cloaked in virtual anonymity, editors infuse news pages with leftist tint with almost every decision they make.
What stories will the paper cover? What resources will the paper devote to which stories? What reporters will cover what stories? What parts of their stories will survive into print? On what page and where on the page will the stories run? What will the headlines say? What photographs will accompany the stories? How will the photo captions read? Will there be follow-up?
In answering each of these value-laden questions, news staffs at The Courier-Journal and its ilk consistently carry out the same liberal mission as the editorial staffs. This does not come as news to anyone in Louisville, of course. Even the most casual readers of The Courier-Journal know and often laugh about it.
Amazingly, executives like Garson, convinced since they were cubs of the nobility and purity of the journalistic enterprise, seem to honestly believe the long and self-perpetuated myth of their own superhuman impartiality. The rest of us are supposed to accept their neutrality on faith simply because they say it is so.
Then, to the ironies/hypocrisies-- and some interesting solutions:
The irony is overwhelming. The Courier-Journal in particular, and the mainstream media in general, rarely if ever assume the good faith or take the word of anyone they cover. The newspaper tenaciously demands all the documents, facts, records, and rumors required to expose every relevant relationship and question every motive — except its own, of course.
Instead of just pronouncing its objectivity from on high, The Courier-Journal should focus some of its famously withering scrutiny inward by disclosing more facts about its people and processes so readers can decide for themselves whether the paper's news coverage is actually apolitical.
For example, what is the party registration of every editor and reporter? For whom have they voted? Why not post the raw versions of reporters' notes, interviews, and submitted news stories on the Web site? How about live-streaming what goes on in the editors' offices and newsroom? Is there any reason not to list the story ideas and articles that the editors reject?
Sanctimoniously chanting mantras of openness and sunshine, The Courier-Journal has waged many memorable court battles to compel production of information others wanted to keep secret. Since the press regards itself as a quasi-public trust enjoying special legal status, it should subject itself to the same standards of disclosure that it so aggressively applies to others in the public arena.
To offer apolitical news coverage is an admirable, if unattainable, ideal for a newspaper. Some, such as Garson, are evidently convinced that they and their staffs are actually achieving it....