Is anger a job requirement for reporters?

Mary Mapes on WNYC this afternoon was asked about whether she had it in for George Bush. Her answer was that journalists always “have it in for” those in power. Is that so? Questioning power, yes. Challenging power. OK. Questioning power. Absolutely. But attacking? That moment was a journalist Rorshach test, for it uncovered a belief that is all too common in the craft: that it is the journalist’s job to oppose. It shouldn’t be the journalist’s job to oppose anymore than it is to praise. It is the journalist’s job to ask the powerful the questions we want asked, whether they want to answer or not. That is quite different from “having it in” for them.

  • Kevin

    You never noticed that the journalistic pendulum has swung back toward the William Randolph Hearst days of yellow journalism? I noticed it a while back — we have our new jingoism, we have the media injecting their own opinion into the stories regardless of the truth of the matter, and we even have our own Maine story. Hopefully all the weblog “journalists” can be enough of a force to drag the mainstream media back toward the center.

  • Ravo

    Here’s a little power Mary Mapes ought to be concerned about opposing:

    From what I got from this article, a public school allowed the kids to skip classes, PROVIDING transportation to attend an anti-Bush rally. A teacher chanted anti-Bush songs in class. One student described being totally sickened by it but feared to speak up as the teacher was known to be vindictive.

    Or, how about the “power” of J. Jackson’s abuse of the truth:

    “They’re trapped in those rescue camps,” Jackson explained his humanitarian campaign to the media. “They (the New Orleans refugees) should have the right to return and priority in jobs and housing.” And so he led over 200 of these “trapped New Orleanians” in a five-bus caravan that started in Chicago wound through St Louis, Memphis, Mobile and Jackson and finally pulled up to New Orleans on October 11th.

    “Their accents don’t sound right for New Orleanians,” noted New Orleans natives Shantell and Woodrow Arnold after they boarded one of the Rainbow/Push buses in Jackson Ms. The buses landed amidst much fanfare and the local TV and radio stations were on hand to interview the multitude of returning “New Orleanians.”

    But the accents didn’t sound right to the media people holding the mics either. They went from one returnee to the other, frantically seeking an actual New Orleanian. Turned out, exactly 14 of the 200 people were from New Orleans. And when the rest of the bus riders discovered the state of local conditions 75 per cent of them promptly boarded the buses and fled back to their homes in Memphis, Chicago, Mobile, etc. “It was hard to convince displaced residents to return home,” finally admitted Denise Dixon, national field organizer for the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

    But nary a peep issued from Reverend Jackson regarding the discrepancy


    Where is the media attention to THIS? If this shoe was thrown at the left foot, the media would be all over it. Yeah, we all see journalists doing their duty alright…..NOT!

  • Ravo

    just came across this:

    This week, the book “Truth and Duty” by Mary Mapes, former CBS producer, was released. The book contains several inaccuracies in the description of my participation. Because the book is a public document, I see it as my duty to publicly state the truth about what I said and did.

  • Absolute power corrupts. In our world money buys power. So a scepticism about big business is somewhat understandable but it comes at a cost. France and Germany suffer from 10% unemployment because their citizens are terrified that profit is inherently evil.

    In truly free markets competition works to prevent monopolies and unusualy large aggregations of wealth/power. As it stands, politicians hold the occasional staged hearing to publicly humiliate profitable companies that don’t lobby enough in a display of utter contempt for economics. It does get votes though.

    Journalists can help by keeping an eye on things like intellectual property laws and lobbying but that doesn’t strike a chord with readers like an expose on the myth of gasoline price fixing.

  • Joe Baby

    Mapes’ also seems to be of the opinion that John and Jane Public are so stupid that facts alone won’t suffice. We have to always be fed what the facts really mean.

    Also, if opposing power is so important, why is she stunned when (according to her theory) bloggers sought to tear her and Gunga Dan off their perches?

  • I believe the old bromide goes something like “…to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

    Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

  • What’s wrong with a little skepticism on behalf of the media, Jeff? I’m really tired of them acting like stenographers, that’s for sure. I want the press to be skeptical of the claims of any politician, Democrat or Republican.

  • Wilson Kolb

    Jarvis completely missed the problem. Mary Mapes was lying, if not to her interviewer then to herself. Journalists don’t “have it in” for people in power. Journalists are the ultimate suck-up artists. They’re on the side of whoever’s winning. Always have been, always will be.

  • A little skepticism? Sure. A lot of skepticism? Absolutely. chronic hostility is a different matter.

  • corvan

    Joe Baby raises an interesting question. Is the lesson a reporter wants his audience to take from a story more important than the facts?

  • owl 1

    Anyone ever watch a Presidential news conference or peek at the WH Press C in action? Not only extremely rude to the President but watched a woman actually screaming at McCellan.

    Hostile does not even start to describe these people…attack dogs would be more apt. These people “shape the news” not report it….they “decide what is news” and if it does not fit their agenda, well that takes care of that non-story.

    Mapes is the perfect example of all the bad rolled into one. She only spent about 10 years on her “news story”. The premise of her story was so goofy unimportant, it happened 30 years previously, and Bush never bragged about his service. So where’s the beef? She has to lie to his commander (or so he says) and he still denys that he gave special treatment. Who cared about such a non-story? Mary just knows she has her quarry dead to rights. Dead man’s wife and son say it ain’t so. Any idiot that ever typed in the 60s or 70s can take a good look and say “hey, where did you get a typewriter to do that?” Bush was a chicken. He didn’t fly over Vietnam. Ask any pilot about flying “fighters” because it’s a fact Mary won’t. Chicken fits her story. If Bush had come out and said “I’m a hero because I served” you might have a story Mary. The only Peep saying that at the time, as he beat his chest and repeated it at least 500 times…..well he had 250+ signed statements looking down his throat from fellow vets. See any beef, Mary? Naw, a non-story plus we all just “know” those fellows are lying. But at least they are alive, Mary and absolutely refuse to go away. Persistent little rascals……make that old rascals that keep saying “sue me if it ain’t so….sue me, sue me sue me”. Nope, non-story and all live liars.

    Mary Mapes is only one example of what many of us read everyday. It is news that fits an agenda. Read the headlines. Then read to the bottom of the article and you might get a glimmer of the truth. Read a statement someone made and then read what is wrong with it, according to the journo. After all, they are only pointing out facts. Their facts according to their agenda. Otherwise…..Silence. Now you tell me that Mapes is not telling the truth about “having it in for them”. Finally found common bond.

    Yep, my pet peeve. I have reason. Today’s Media think they have a dog in this fight. They do not report news. Yes, I know the difference between news and Op-ed. They don’t. They should have to “label it” as Right or Left before it is printed or shown. Then set up a Commission to impose those fines and we can all stop paying taxes.

  • Kevin

    So am I the only one left who thinks that the press should be neutral — neither praising nor critical? Skepticism doesn’t equal criticism by any means. A reporter can dig and dig and dig for the truth of the matter without appearing critical as much as he or she can appear critical without having done any digging whatsoever.

  • Kevin, I think reporters have to be adversarial to achieve a neutral result. People (and governments) involved in controversy will always tell you the merits of their position. Uncovering that requires no digging. The hard work comes in finding what they aren’t telling.

    Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget while digging that the point isn’t just to make a deeper hole. The point is to give an accurate picture of the entire situation. Understandably, journalists tend to play up the part of the story that they worked hardest to get. But that doesn’t always leave a balanced picture.

  • Jeffrey

    Nuetrality of the media is to be greatly desired.

    However we live in an age and a culture where everything is politicised, especially language. Journalists can present the facts evenly but the language that they use can be parsed for meaning and bias.

    How much prominence a story is given, what facts are presented, where in the story the facts are placed- it never ends.

    The fact that much of the news media is presented as a narrative rather than a list of objective facts means that news will never be entirely nuetral.

    Worst of all is the tendency of the media to give themselves the elevated status of the fourth estate. The arrogance of reporters on display at White House press briefings alone manages the impossible: to make the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth look like the underdog. This phenomenon makes everything presented as “news” suspect.

    As President Bush said:

    “You’re making a powerful assumption, young man. You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that. . . ”

    Neither do I.