Why We Fight: Holding Journalists' Feet To The Fire

Reporting in Washington isn't a game, isn't a horse race. It's people's lives and reporters need to remember and contextualize that.

Meet the Press, Sept. 15, 2013

This is what David Gregory, Chuck Todd and NBC News think is journalism. They cover politics as if it was sports. They report stats, they list plays in the game and the players. It's dispassionate and focuses not on the policies themselves, but the dance of politicos.

It's also fundamentally dishonest. Politics is not a game and shouldn't be treated like a sporting event. At no point during that little cheerful recitation of polling results does either Gregory or Todd actually point out that the raising of the debt ceiling has never been a point of extortion until President Obama took office. Nor did they bother to mention that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with cutting costs, as it only reflect already-committed budgetary items. Do any of the people who they poll understand that the GOP is essentially refusing to actually pay for items they've already approved spending on?

And that's not even getting into the real world impact of this political gamesmanship. Lee Fang at The Nation shames NBC News pathetic excuse for political coverage of GOP obstructionism of Obamacare with just four photographs. Photographs that will never be broadcast on NBC News.

Dan Froomkin took it further, and castigated the heartlessness that masks as "neutral" journalism covering the House Republicans vote cutting SNAP benefits:

The Republican-led House yesterday voted to make deep cuts to the food stamps program that has kept millions of American families from going hungry since the recession hit, saying its response to growing need was instead a sign of bloat and abuse.

The New York Times editorial board this morning said the vote "can be seen only as an act of supreme indifference."

But that's not the way the paper's own reporters covered it. Like those at essentially every other mainstream news organization, they wrote it straight. They focused on procedure. They quoted both sides. And they called it a day.

I decided to closely examine this morning's coverage of the vote because such a blatantly absurd and cruel move struck me as a good test of whether the Washington press corps could ever bring itself to call things as they so obviously are -- or whether they would check their very good brains at the door and just write triangulating mush that leaves readers to fend for themselves. It was no contest.

That's the key, isn't it? This may seem like some intellectual exercise of strategy and positioning to Todd and Gregory, but these are actions that affect real lives. Maybe they'd care if defaulting on the full faith and credit of the country causes another global economic collapse, but even that is a fairly esoteric thought exercise for them. But take it down to the personal level. What does a "win" for conservatism do for the single mother struggling to feed and house her kids on a minimum wage job? How does it impact the stateside family of a military person stationed in Afghanistan when paychecks don't come? Does Chuck and David spend a moment of thought for the family teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of recission saved by the restrictions placed on insurance companies, thanks to Obamacare?

Of course they don't. And while I totally admit that Chuck Todd isn't the only, or even the most egregious, transgressor in the Beltway Bubble, he is the one who vocalized the prevailing attitude amongst the DC journalists. Charlie Pierce:

And this is what is really goddamn dangerous about what my man Chuck Todd said the other day. (Chuck's feeling a bit put upon these days. Tough.) According to Chuck's notion of what his job is, when conservative politicians latch onto a phony Fox News story in order to make policy, it is the job of the Democrats -- or, perhaps, of the SNAP recipients themselves, who have, as we know, virtually unlimited access to the airwaves -- to correct the arrant bullshit. Or, when politicians of both parties latch onto a phony "scandal" in the SSI program, it is the job of the embattled people running the program -- or, perhaps, of Marcus Stephens's parents, both of whom were, of course, important newspaper columnists of the day -- to get out the truth. Chuck's just the messenger. Thus does the oligarchy tell stories to itself.

And of course, what Digby said:

I suspect that much of this blasé journalistic attitude stems from the fact that these cuts will not become law due to the Democratic Senate and White House. And that's correct. But the problem is that in doing so, they are normalizing this nihilistic argument. And when the Republicans once again obtain power, they will have persuaded a good many Americans that the food stamp program is a form of welfare that creates dependency on government. A lot of their own people already believe that, despite the fact that just a few years ago there was a bipartisan consensus that we shouldn't allow people to go without food in America. Just as welfare took years of propagandizing to become unpopular among a majority, so too will cutting food stamps. And a lot of the reason it could ultimately succeed will be the media's failure to take it seriously as a policy when it had no chance of being signed into law.

This is why we fight. This is why we need to call out hacks like Chuck Todd and David Gregory and make sure that they know we think they need to do their job much, much better.

About Nicole Belle

Nicole Belle's picture
Mom, Wife, Media Critic/Political Analyst, Blogger, Austen Fanatic, Unapologetic Liberal NicoleBelle@crooksandliars.com

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