Yesterday, Matthew Yglesias wrote on his blog about a panel discussion he participated in with Washington Post reporter Mike Allen. Yglesias, according to his account, said that journalists often try to act as “neutral arbiters” between opposing parties, and Allen took issue with that characterization, arguing that, as Yglesias puts it, “news writers are trying to present both sides’ points-of-view … [but] they’re trying to present these points-of-view in such a way so that a discerning reader can tell who’s right based on reading the story.” (Italics Yglesias’.)
While there’s no doubt that Allen is a crack reporter, we found his comment a little alarming. His argument, as conveyed by Yglesias, seems to be that journalists churn out “he said/she said” journalism for the edification of their dumber readers, but include little clues in their stories so that smarter readers — or, um, more “discerning” ones — know the truth. In other words, there’s a code to break when one reads the Post, or at least reads Mike Allen in the Post, and you better hope you’re smart enough to crack it and get to the real story.
If Allen is right — and what’s disturbing is that we think he is, at least to some degree — journalists have become so intimidated by media bias warriors that they’re now making a conscious decision to only hint at the conclusions their reporting leads them to, instead of explicitly stating them. Of course, according to Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and his brethren, even those hints reflect left-wing bias. And sometimes they do. But more often, they represent efforts by boxed-in reporters to level with readers. Critics like Bozell seem to want false equivalence to reign supreme — they want reporters to treat bullshitters the same as credible voices. To us, that’s the greater threat to journalism — not the media bias that right-wing partisans think they detect everywhere from the Post to the Dogpatch Weekly Trumpet.
Here’s hoping journalists soon start pushing back, and perhaps even find a more direct outlet for the truth than mere clues. A good news story can mean different things to different people, but none of us should have to search it for hidden messages directed to an elite few.