The media and the shutdown

Last week in class we discussed how different media organizations covered the government shutdown: how much time they spent focusing on it, what aspects they did focus on, etc. I did a little research on how the media feels the media handled the shutdown, with some interesting results.

James Fallows writes for The Atlantic, “any story that presents the disagreements as a ‘standoff’ … or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism and an inability to see or describe what is going on.”

Fallows says that, furthermore, the disagreement in Congress that lead to the shutdown was painted in typical Democrat/Republican terms, but was really triggered by divisions within the Republican Party. He says, “We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.”

The fact that the media was thinking in these terms despite the uniqueness of the situation, one Fallows says is different from anything we’ve ever learned about or been taught to expect, is not only a failure, but is, as Dan Froompkin writes for Al-Jazeera America, possibly dangerous in today’s extreme political climate:

“The political press should be the public’s first line of defense when it comes to assessing who is deviating from historic norms and practices, who is risking serious damage to the nation, whose positions are based in irrational phobias and ignorance rather than data and reason.  Instead journalists have been suckered into embracing “balance” and “neutrality” at all costs, and the consequences of their choice in an era of political extremism will only get worse and worse.”

In class, most people seemed to think the media was doing an okay job of reporting the shutdown. Do these new ideas make you rethink your original thoughts?

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2 Responses to The media and the shutdown

  1. MB says:

    I think the point made by James Fallows is important for journalism students to hear. People may know quality journalism when they see it, but it can be difficult to remember that disagreements framed as ‘standoffs’ are a failure of journalism when we see it so often.

    So much of the content we consume about uses that dichotomy to get readers attention, but then what we end up with is a divided, angry society who sees anyone who disagrees with them as ‘the enemy.’ This attitude thrives when coupled with the modern view of neutrality discussed by Froompkin.

    Fallows point is a helpful reminder that the sensationalized coverage we have today is not journalism, but a failure of journalism. It reminded me of the “this is water” idea we discussed at the beginning of the semester, because when we are surrounded by this type of coverage it can be difficult to discern it as inferior.

    The ideas in this post provide intellectual backup for many of the opinions we shared in class, and give everyone things to be aware of when consuming and producing content.

  2. The coverage was absolutely a failure. Failure on the part of the media market for not pushing the story to the lengths it needed to go to bring to light the relevant inadequacies. As you’ve stated. the crux of the problem was disagreement in the Republican party; the insanity of the Republican party South.

    One of my favorite points that Jon Stewart made in the segment we watched in class was when he told the Crossfire hosts that he had more respect for a network like Fox News than for CNN. His reasoning was that despite the fact that their values are pretty screwed up, Fox News is is loyal to them and pursues them persistently. Stewart claims that this is better than the ‘neutral’ complacence of CNN. I have to agree with Stewart. At least if their were networks as aggressive as Fox on the other side of the line, those who were interested could aggregate valid information from the two sides.

    The coverage was especially unacceptable in this situation, where you had Republican officials calling out their own leaders for being too radical. This information and perspective is absolutely critical for the public to have to form its own opinion. Speed is too highly valued in today’s news market. In my observation, many networks care much more about breaking a story first than complete validity. For a complex situation like this, I as a consumer would rather an in depth piece with insight as to what caused it and how it is developing.

    We as young journalists musts be aware of this complacency and work to break the mold.

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