This hasn’t been the most exemplary week for our craft. It’s a week in which popular Independent columnist Johann Hari officially left his job because of plagiarism; in which disgraced journalist (and storyteller) Stephen Glass may be licensed to practise law; in which Rush Limbaugh proposed an investigation into the personal life of the ABC News journalist who had the gall to interview Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife.
Actually, let’s just deal with that last one for now. Some of you might have seen last Thursday’s GOP debate, wherein moderator and CNN anchor John King opened with a question to Gingrich about Brian Ross’s interview with the former speaker’s ex-wife, Marianne Ginther, who said that Newt had asked for an open marriage. To which Gingrich responded: “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”
In any case, Ross’s interview led Rush Limbaugh to question why a journalist’s own personal life should be off-limits, asking, “Are journalists faithful?” His point was that journalists are rarely subjected to the kind of probing their subjects are (obviously). But what Rush the Uniter was getting at, in his inimitable way, was the same age-old issue of the liberalized media. A Gallup poll last fall found that 47 percent of Americans perceive a distinctly liberal bias in the mass media, whereas only 13 percent perceive a conservative one. No surprise there. The issue of media bias—and more precisely, a left-leaning media bias—has been going around (and around, and around…) for decades. It’s a topic that isn’t covered in journalism schools as much as it probably should be.
It’s not just the bias, though: it’s that we’re so blatant about it. Nobody expects a journalist to be completely neutral, and anyone who says she is is full of shit. The interview with Ginther was indeed scandalous, and no hard-hitting reporter (or moderator) would avoid the question. But how ’bout some tact? It’s one thing to ask a scandalous question; it’s quite another to start a supposedly professional debate with the most gossipy issue at hand. It makes all journalists look bad, because the viewer witnesses directly where Gingrich’s response is coming from. (“Goddamn liberals! They’re at it again!”) Journalists aren’t doing themselves any favours with this kind of publicity; there’s a pettiness to the approach that has become more common over the last decade. You can see it in Toronto: more columnists would rather poke fun at Rob Ford’s weight or his cuss words than do the hard work of deducing whatever serious policy faults he might have.
Point the finger where you will. (I blame leftover Gen-X resentment.) And expect to hear more talk than ever in 2012 about an out-of-touch media. Sure, it might get irritating for us journalists. But we can’t say it won’t be exciting, and it’s been too long since our chosen field has been forced to confront itself with this level of bile-fuelled scrutiny. Bring it on. It’s been a bad week, but it’ll be a good year.
Lead image via The Associated Press/The Washington Times.