Thursday, May 26, 2005

This column gave me whiplash

Using the Media for a Magic Trick, by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, is a brilliantly-written column with which I alternately agreed and disagreed vehemently while reading. Here's an overview of the back and forth:

AGREE: "If we covered government, business, foreign affairs, sports, entertainment and the rest of modern existence as aggressively and thoroughly as we cover ourselves, we might not have to worry so much about declining newspaper circulation and anemic television ratings."

DISAGREE: "And even if the so-called mainstream media turn out to be dinosaurs, fated to suffocate in the oxygen-poor, fact-free Internet blogosphere, at least we'd go down swinging." (Emphasis added)

AGREE: "That was an awfully neat parlor trick the Bush administration performed last week, focusing attention on the reporting and editing process at Newsweek and away from more inconvenient facts."

These first three sentences followed one after the other, causing the worst of the whiplash. But it continues:

DISAGREE: "It's the job of a free press to watch the hand the magician wants everyone to ignore. Normally we do a decent job." (Comment: Not so much lately.)

DISAGREE: "[Isikoff] accurately wrote what he had been told by a person in a position to know. That's what reporters do." (Comment: This is a cop out. Argh! Two disagrees in a row.)

AGREE: "But without unnamed sources, we -- and you -- would be less well-informed. To cite just one example, Watergate would be nothing more than the name of an expensive apartment building overlooking the Potomac... this is the most secretive administration in recent memory. If you say inconvenient things out loud, with your name attached, you get frozen out. Unnamed sources are a necessity."

AGREE: "Let me get this straight: The White House makes a mistake on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, relying heavily on its own unidentified sources who turn out to have their own political agendas, and what follows is a war in which tens of thousands of Iraqis die.... And we're supposed to blame Newsweek's editorial procedures?" (Comment: There! Two agrees in a row. That balances things out.)