The press corps refuses to cover the press!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

Carr maintains the pretense: It’s just as we’ve told you for so many years: The press corps refuses to cover the press corps.

You can see this age-old culture at play in Christopher Hayes’ plainly sincere new book. You can see the culture in its slipperiest form in David Carr’s column in today’s New York Times.

In the column, Carr performs an ancient one-two: He pretends to be giving the press corps a whack while actually giving his colleagues a pass. This type of Potemkin press criticism is remarkably common.

On the one hand, Carr seems to be criticizing the press. According to Carr, the press corps has failed to give sufficient coverage to the scandal plaguing News International, the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Should that scandal get more coverage here? Color us less-than-excited. At any rate, Carr is soon saying that our own American press corps has some problems too!

That is where the con takes shape. Gaze on Carr’s list of horribles:
CARR (7/30/12): But journalism’s ills don’t live exclusively on Fleet Street or stop at British shores...

There is no accusation here of a broad, corporate-sanctioned effort to break the law in pursuit of the news. But the pratfalls have been tough to miss, including fundamental lapses in ethics: Casey Anthony, accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, was acquitted of that offense in spite of significant evidence. When it was revealed that ABC News paid for most of her legal defense, through payments for exclusive photos, very few eyebrows were raised.

The Wild West ethos that often prevails has led to some startling mistakes. After the Supreme Court health care ruling in June, Bloomberg News bragged that it had beat Reuters by 12 seconds in reporting the decision, but the public was less interested in who went first than the fact that both CNN and Fox News got it wrong. When speed is the priority, the truth can be run over in the rush. Not only was the Supreme Court ruling mauled in haste, but a Colorado Tea Party organization was falsely linked by ABC News to the deadly theater shooting in Aurora.
Over here, on this side of the pond, Carr is aware of three “lapses in ethics.” In the course of his discussion, he even finds two errors in reporting, one of which lasted maybe five minutes before it was corrected.

Note the way Carr pretends that “the public” was upset by that error.

Whatever Carr’s intent might be, gullible readers of the Times get conned by columns like this. They get the impression that scrupulous watch-dogs are tracking every step by the American press.

That is absolute nonsense. Who knows? Maybe Carr really can’t think of bigger lapses by our own press corps. But might we suggest these few?

The biggest tax increase in history: After that same Supreme Court decision, a riot of disinformation ensued. Night after night, for several weeks, major pundits and major news orgs kept insisting that the health care law (or perhaps its penalty payment) was “the biggest tax increase in history.”

This disinformation was pushed for weeks. Newspapers like the New York Times didn’t say boo. (It isn’t done!) Today, Carr substitutes a brief misreading of the Court’s ruling for a weeks-long campaign which disinformed millions of voters.

Disinformation in Florida: Carr cites behavior by ABC in the Casey Anthony case. He cites no misreporting, just an alleged divergence from standards concerning payment.

But in a more recent Florida case, a major news org pushed reams of disinformation for weeks on end. Night after night, MSNBC pushed the following claims (and others), all of which were bogus:
Actual disinformation from Florida:
The Sanford police let Zimmerman walk away with his gun.
The police didn’t even take his clothing for forensic analysis.
For three days, the police didn’t let the Martins know what had happened to their son.
Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds, Martin just 140.
A police dispatcher told Zimmerman that he should stay in his car.
Zimmerman couldn’t have a broken nose. Lawrence and Charles could just tell!
All those claims (and many others) were false. The false claim about the police dispatcher was even repeated in a New York Times editorial. But so what? MSNBC pimped those claims for weeks, disinforming millions of people in tbhe process.

The New York Times said nothing about it—and neither does Carr. He substitutes an older, much more trivial lapse from a different Florida court case.

The endless bungling and hoaxing: The hopelessness of America’s “press corps” knows no limit or bounds. Two weeks ago, a reporter at Forbes published a sad but detailed account of the way a professional hoaxster got himself quoted as an expert or as a witness in numerous major news stories.

We haven’t fact-checked all of David Thier’s examples. But as part of his Forbes report, Thier links to quite a few news reports which include corrections of the hoaxing. One such hoaxing/correction occurred at the Times (click here).

We’ll guess you haven’t seen Thier’s report discussed. Darlings, it just isn’t done!

Carr’s piece follows a classic, repetitive pattern. The alleged press critic cites minor errors, thereby giving us rubes the impression that snarling watchdogs are ferreting out the press corps' every lapse.

Nothing like that is true. And by the way, before he’s done, Carr delivers the ultimate insult. Why doesn’t the press corps correct itself more? Gaze on Carr’s explanation!
CARR: We depend on the Web to serve as a self-cleaning oven, revealing bad reporting and mistakes of fact and then fixing those pixels to reflect the current truth. But the big industrial-strength pat-down is barely in sight when it comes to the business of journalism.

The news media often fail to turn the X-ray machine on themselves because, in part, journalists assign a nobility to the profession that obscures the flaws within it. We think of ourselves as doing the People’s work, and write off lapses in ethics and practices as potholes on the way to a Greater Truth.
It isn’t that journalists cover up for the guild; it’s just that they think their colleagues are noble! In that way, Carr turns a classic con into a smirking attack on his readers’ intelligence.

Gullible readers get conned by these plays. But then, what else is new?


  1. Oh, I believe Carr!

    It's certainly true that the media views itself as being a combination League of Super Heros/priesthood.

  2. Carr's reasoning is unbelievably naive.

    When a story goes viral on the web, the falsehoods get repeated over and over and over.
    Sometimes there will be hundreds of sites spreading the false story against one or two correcting the falsehoods.

    True investigative research takes time, and by the time real reporters have got the story straight, something else has taken over the headlines, so the public is left with hundreds of sites and blogs filled with falsehoods.

    For example, we heard David Cameron was insulted by Romney's comment about the London Olympic site. It was big news.

    Meanwhile, Romney is raising money in England and Israel. Isn't that supposed to be illegal? Shouldn't that create major headlines? Isn't it more important than who wins the most gold medals?

    Is it unbelievably naive to expect the media to cover this?

    The press claims the fundraisers are private, so they don't know what goes on.

    They are like the cub reporter sent to cover a celebrity wedding.
    Hours later, the editor asks the kid if he filed the wedding story.
    "There was no story, Chief, the groom didn't show."

  3. I would suggest the two biggest Carr missed were systematic in nature: the revelation that our elite media institutions, including the New York Times, gave "quote approval" to the Obama administration and Romney campaign; and the Journatic saga, which includes fake bylines in scads of newspapers across the country, among other ethical issues.

  4. There is a problem with perspective of the us or them type, and there appears to be an inability to experience shame.

    A psychology professor warned his students that a person who was incapable of feeling embarrassed could not be trusted. Does the same idea apply to shame?

    The arrogance of some journalists appears to be based on their possession of insider knowledge, but how can we know when they have abandoned their duty to inform when mendacity is the most valuable talent they share.