Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

ERRORS OF OUR WAY

Bush has a problem with newspapers. He's not the only one.

President Bush bruised the tender sensibilities of newspaper reporters last week when he suggested in an interview with Fox News anchor Brit Hume that he rarely reads papers because "a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news."

Journalists surely were not shocked that this particular commander in chief gives newspapers only the time for a "a glance at the headlines just to kind of (get) a flavor for what's moving." Rather, Bush's diss of newspapers seemed to irk reporters not only because of its audacious context -- gleefully solicited by Hume in an exclusive interview with a news network that is twisting the phrase "fair and balanced" into ideological newspeak with a trademark -- but also because it was yet another in a long and wearying succession of similarly vague accusations of bias from all quarters of the American political spectrum. Criticized for their supposed bias in covering everything from Iraq to media concentration to the complicated life of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, newspaper reporters can be forgiven if they regard this backhanded attack from the biggest political heavyweight around as unnecessary piling-on.

Newspapers these days are victims of loud partisan crowds that contend for influence by claiming to be the bigger victim of the media-- the liberal media, the corporate media, the right-wing media, the elitist media, the media that is dumbing down America. The bias alarms are sounding especially shrill right now. The California recall campaign has liberals scratching at the scab of the last presidential election while an overcrowded field of Democratic candidates bellows to be heard about the next one. Conservative chatterboxes such as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly appear nonstop on television, and churn out newspaper columns and best-sellers -- yet still find the time to complain that the politically correct media is silencing their message.

In another time, newspapers would have taken none of this seriously. But the aftershocks are still rumbling from The New York Times scandal, and one too many Jayson Blairs continue to emerge from newsrooms with depressing regularity. Plagiarism has become the common cold of newspapers, a virus with no other explanation for its appearance but that it is going around. Newspapers are feeling weakened and profoundly distrusted.

The danger is that newspapers will now give unjustified weight to loudmouth activists with political agendas. …

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