“Partisan Accusations” Dressed as Journalism

Megan argued on Campaign Desk recently, after Fox News’s Sean Hannity first interviewed Gov. Sarah Palin (an interview Megan called “essentially a push poll with visuals”) to little day-after examination from media critics:

[W]ho’s holding Hannity accountable? We can say that applying journalistic standards to people who clearly aren’t interested in being journalists is worth neither the breath nor the ink required in the effort. But we’d be wrong. It’s the people who fancy themselves above the law who create the need for laws in the first place. And it’s the people who care about journalism’s standards who should be stepping up to enforce them.

With this in mind, today’s New York Times piece taking a look at Hannity’s hourlong program from Sunday night (“notable,” the Times reports, “in presenting partisan accusations against [Barack] Obama in a journalistic, documentary format in prime time,” “the latest step in the evolution of opinion journalism”) is a welcome sight. The Times’ Jim Rutenberg questions Hannity’s producer about this “evolution.”

Over at TPM, Todd Gitlin thinks
“it’s good that the Times found Hannity’s garbage pail newsworthy,” but goes on to dub the resulting news story “a self-parody of ‘objective journalism’” in which the Times had a “failure of nerve” when it described some of the “things” “raised” during Hannity’s Sunday program as “unsubstantiated accusations” rather than, simply, “false.”

There is something, finally, unsatisfying about Rutenberg’s piece. A sense that Andy Martin (one of the people on Hannity’s show who made these “unsubstantiated accusations”) had his way with the Times. Rutenberg writes up Martin’s claims and then, sort of limply, adds that “various reports, including ones in The New York Times” have begged to differ (so, Martin’s word against ours and who are we to directly say we know better?)

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.