[h/t Heather at VideoCafe]
This moment on This Week wasn't earthshaking. There are no snappy soundbites, no one to get your blood boiling. Yet, it was one of the most interesting topics raised on a Sunday show in a long time not only because of the content but also because it offered a glimpse into how political media looks at political media.
In the course of his interview for 60 Minutes aired Sunday, President Obama addressed the role of Fox News and conservative media on our political reality, saying "If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it."
He mentioned it again at another point in the interview in the context of the balkanization of news, and political news in general. These two mentions raised a rare point of self-examination among the panel members. What I found most interesting was what Steve Inskeep from NPR had to say:
HUGHES: I think that there's a growing sense that there's a need for a media -- for media outlets and media opportunities that are not necessarily centrist, but that have different perspectives and make it easy for us to hear people that we might disagree with and actually engage on the merits, rather than just recycling old ideas.
INSKEEP: There's a specific problem, as well, in that we have all trained ourselves -- or many of us have trained ourselves to go directly past anyone's argument to their motivations, and that actually is what you hear a lot on the more partisan media networks. You don't actually hear the arguments being engaged. You don't actually hear a lot of analysis. You hear a lot people saying, "Remember, whatever he says, don't believe him. Don't trust him."
And that's a danger. That's a difficulty. We face it when we're interviewing people on NPR. Why are you talking to that person on the extreme right? Why are you talking to that person on the extreme left? We hear that from listeners. Why are you putting on this person who makes absolutely no sense? And at some point you have to get a variety of voices out there and trust people to listen carefully to them and actually listen to their arguments.
In a different era, I might actually have agreed with Inskeep on this. There's nothing dangerous about listening to other points of view and weighing their ideas against your own. Challenges to one's dearly-held principles are a good thing. But it's not possible in today's media environment.
Inskeep's idealism is admirable, but we live in the era of the Fox News phony outrage machine. As long as Fox News exists in its current form, we will continue to have balkanized media, on and offline. The only way to balance Fox is to work the refs on the other side, which MSNBC does occasionally, but not enough.
I want to ask Inskeep what price he thinks the craft of journalism has paid for having to contend with a right wing outrage machine whose sole objective is shove this country right and farther right.
The notion of putting on people with extreme views who are then presented as right/left actors is preposterous. They're extremists. It wasn't all that long ago that Fox News presented Glenn Beck as a credible conservative voice, and in fact, they still do. Bill O'Reilly regularly invites Beck on the show to tell us all why BillO is right (and everyone else is wrong). They put on whoever can light their viewers' hair on fire the fastest, and beat the drum for whatever outrage of the day their consultants have selected -- and of course right wing bloggers are already howling on cue.
Sean Hannity. Mike Huckabee. Michelle Malkin. Ann Coulter. These are not credible voices for any movement, conservative or otherwise. They lack the credentials and the knowledge to be credible. The only benefit they offer is the ability to annoy liberals and fire up conservatives with incendiary lies.
With that in mind, it's silly to say that people should approach news with discernment and objective thought processes, and sillier still to believe that people with extreme views should represent the "right" or the "left."
What, after all, is extreme? Would conservatives consider Katrina Vanden Heuvel extreme? Bob Herbert? Would an objective person see a counterbalance between their views and the views of Rush Limbaugh? Hardly.
This is a mistake those of us here at C&L see all the time. Not a day goes by that we don't write about it. Journalists have to understand that conservatives don't have any boundaries. Nothing is off limits. Nothing. From stealing elections to calling President Obama a traitor for daring to see people have access to health care, conservatives do not operate under normal rules for normal behavior. They live by the rule that outrage drives interest; interest drives message absorption.
Journalists have somehow decided the best approach is to simply put these people out there in the name of "diverse voices" without any fact-checks, without any pushback, and without any sense of what is actually reasonable for their viewers and/or readers to hear. Their biggest failure is in the fact-checking realm. David Gregory, for example, routinely allows guests to make outrageous claims and leaves them unchallenged on Meet the Press. But he isn't the only one.
Just today, on Melissa Harris-Perry's show, she allowed her guest from "No Labels" to state unequivocally that a Grand Bargain is imperative, because "entitlements are going to bankrupt the country" and no one pushed back on that. No one asked him if that was the opinion of the corporate backers of his organization, or actual fact. Not one person. His statement was simply allowed to stand. It's not just Fox News, folks. When claims like that are made with no factual analysis of whether they're true or not and no real-time counterweight, they stand as fact to the uninformed viewer whether that person is speaking on Fox News, MSNBC, or Al Jazeera.
Let's not even consider the fact that our media is far too concentrated in the hands of conglomerates and billionaires for a minute, or that journalism will always be imperfect because it involves imperfect humans. It's that we've come to a place where facts take a back seat to opinion, particularly in the political arena. There are so many platforms and so many opportunities to be heard that it's now routine to watch opinions magically morph into facts under the maxim "If a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes fact."
My advice for the next navel gazing session on the Sunday shows? Start by agreeing that you're all a dismal failure, and figure out what you might do to actually become credible again.