Lost in translation

Bertrand Pecquerie, director of the World Editors Forum, has long had a political agenda about the U.S. and its press (as well as bloggers — whom he has called McCarthyite). At CBSNews.com’s Public Eye, he lays out that agenda a little more clearly than probably even he knows, as he asks whether American journalism is self-destructing. A sample:

Why does this model seem to be dying today? First, I cannot help but emphasize the collateral victim of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: American “mainstream” journalism. Everything that was positive – prosperity, diversity, credibility, the struggle for power – quickly turned negative simply because American media, and not just Fox News, transformed itself into a war machine alongside the Bush administration. From one day to the next, a “media nationalism” made them lose their critical spirit.

Go ahead and roll that fine French whine around on the palate and pick up the nuance. Taint of vinegar, eh? Pecquerie can’t stand anything that isn’t critical of Bush; that’s what this is about. But he also despises the democratization of the press. See how he goes after blogs:

What worries me most is the process of self-destruction into which American journalism seems to be falling since the wave of grassroots or “citizen journalism.” It is very difficult to understand how theories such as “news is no longer a lecture but a conversation” and “breaking news is the beginning, not the end of the news process” have imposed themselves on the media scene….

What surprises me the most is the ease with which the American journalistic community has accepted this process of self-weakening and, in the long term, self-destruction. Why doesn’t anybody dispute Dan Gillmor and Jeff Jarvis? Who will contest these theories, which could very well be just another “Internet bubble?” Who doesn’t see that under the new cover of “virtual democracy,” real democracy is being weakened?

Evil wizards that Dan and I are. Don’t flatter me, Bertrand. I’m just riding this train.

In the U.S., people blog but they don’t vote. Virtual democracy doesn’t seem to have any affect on real democracy. In Europe, we vote (last week’s elections in Italy, for instance, had an 83% voter turnout), but we blog in the political sense very little. Which democracy is the most vibrant?

Hmmm. And in France, they riot and burn and strike when they see a law they don’t like. Which democracy is the most vibrant?

Sorry, but here in the U.S., we call that a softball.

  • john franklin

    Sorry Bertard it’s even worse than you think. I am a 64 year old exnews paper addict. I read Time. News Week, etc. several news papers but I started to notice that a story I read today would prove to be either partially or totally mis reported. I would pin a suspect story on a board and follow up and I was stunned at how much total crap I was getting as “news”. Now with the www and the blogs I can get the whole story now and from several sources. Thank the news God for the blogs. It’s over for the msm and they have no clue. I’m just old joe blow but I have seen the light.

  • Vanco

    Sure Jeff, just fire away. Kill’em all.
    First the Afgans, then Iraqis, now Iranians, a bit of illegal immigrants (but not all of them, you Americans need them for your sweat-shops), and then, on to Europe: those French are really annoying.
    And then close your eyes, maybe, when you open them, it will all vanish.

  • I don’t agree with the previous poster that it is over for the mainstream media, but I do think they will have to be a lot more careful what they publish in future. In the past they lept on any politicians’ every mistake and yet they were able to get away with writing the most sensationalist stories imaginable. Bloggers and sites like MediaMatters.org will most definitely keep them on the toes and hopefully lead to a process whereby the truth comes out somewhere. I definitely don’t see it as “self-destruction” or “self-weakening” and I don’t see the difficulty in understanding why news has become a conversation. While previously people were only able to write letters to the editor, which weren’t necessarily published, now they are able to give immediate feedback. In the long-term it will be the media outlets that adapt that survive and, in contrast to what Bertrand Pecquerie states, the mainstream media will be stronger as a result.

  • My, my Vanco, you have all the subtlety of…. Bertrand. Disagree with me? Want to start a riot?

  • Betrand doesn’t seem to understand the concept of people having opinions. He understands participation, he understands action. And his list of what was “good” in the MSM pre-9/11, “prosperity, diversity, credibility, the struggle for power,” all reflects a media that doesn’t allow for talking or reflection and instead makes certain values manifest, or keeps the political in line. It’s about power or displaying power for him. How the media does so is unimportant to him. I wonder if he understands why 83% of Italians voted; I wonder if he understands why people vote at all.

    The beginning of politics isn’t having the Truth, or knowing exactly how something is to work exactly. It’s really about having opinions, and asking other people what they think, and continuing that dialogue as much as possible.

  • It’s a mistake to try to superimpose the political template of one country onto another.

    We don’t have soccer hooligans here either– so, what does that prove?

  • Bertrand would be on stronger grounds to criticize the gerrymandering which makes most Congressional districts a “lock” for one Demopublican or another Repocrat (from a Libertarian). Most voters mostly think their vote won’t matter much; and they’re mostly correct.

    Who would one vote for if one favored less gov’t spending, for instance?

    But his whining about loss of credibility is hiding the problem — the bias of most Democrat (90%?) press people, in what is covered and what is not, and how it is covered; it is the press bias which has cost credibility.

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  • Old Grouch

    Quotes are from the Public Eye essay:

    “[American journalism was founded on] clear concept of a Fourth Estate — the role of journalists was to question the power of the three others and big business.”
    By beginning with this assumption, Mr. Pecquerie misses most of the argument. Many Americans see the role of journalism as “delivering the news,” not “serving as the opposition.” The extent that the press has perverted the first function in order to favor the second explains much of its loss of credibility.

    “[T]he education of journalists was very different — real journalists were experts in their fields, capable of anticipating technological and economic evolutions.”
    He spoils his point by getting the progression backward: Formerly, “real journalists” were generalists who combined street smarts with expertise gained through long-term familiarity with their beats. Most weren’t “educated” into their specialty, they learned on the job. Todays professionalization of journalism (and management’s simultaneous uptake of the idea that reporters are interchangable) has produced a generation of reporters who know how to “do journalism,” but know so little about what they cover that they can’t tell the truth from the b*s*.

    “From one day to the next [after 9/11], a ‘media nationalism’ made them lose their critical spirit.”
    Mr. Pecquerie appears unfamiliar with The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, CBS, etc., etc.

    “It is very difficult to understand how theories such as ‘news is no longer a lecture but a conversation’ and ‘breaking news is the beginning, not the end of the news process’ have imposed themselves on the media scene.
    It is very difficult to understand how someone cannot see these ideas as axiomatic. News is now a conversation because outsiders have greater ability to question the authority of the press than they have ever had before. And if the process doesn’t begin with “breaking news,” then where does it begin?

    …Eason Jordan — most of the pressure in the blogosphere was placed on Jordan to resign, completely overshadowing the real issue — whether journalists were being targeted in Iraq.
    Eason Jordan made a charge, and was challenged to back it up. He failed to do so. Mr. Pecquerie seems to be saying that Jordan’s remarks should be treated as an ex cathedra pronouncement, with their validity unquestioned.

    A small number of bloggers were able to turn the attention of the public and the media from major issues to secondary details.
    Vastly overstating the power of the bloggers. Would he have us believe that a few bloggers could dissuade the all of the press (both American and foreign) from investigating Jordan’s charges, or prevent it from revealing any findings that might have supported them?

    Why doesn’t anybody dispute Dan Gillmor and Jeff Jarvis?
    Mr. Pecquerie appears unfamiliar with the comments section of this weblog.