Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From "Jornolist" to Liberal Activist

Newsman Ezra Klein is making news again.  (See "An Election Season Proposal," 9/10/11)
Klein is famous for starting the secretive political-media members-only clique of some 400 journalists, political operatives, White House staffers, think tankers and lefty economists such as Paul Krugman known as JournoList. Until it was shut down by exposure from the Daily Caller and, the JournoList group discussed talking points to create a media echo chamber, tried to falsely smear opponents as racists, and cooked up ways to take Fox News off the air.
Now he's creating a "new paradigm," at the Washington Post: that of a blogger whose media ethos includes using his perch in prestige media to be an on-the-ground activist that briefs Democratic politicians on talking-points strategy.
The Washington Post's 27-year-old star blogger Ezra Klein has been called "whiz kid," and "brat packer" and a "wunderkind." Now he's actually advising Democratic chiefs of staff, briefing them last week about the supercommittee in Congress, according to a report by Fishbowl-DC on 
That's because Klein himself sports the imprimatur of one of the most vaunted news organizations in the world, the Washington Post. He's supposed to have the Post's high standards. But instead of reporting the news, even at a slant, as bloggers do, Klein takes bias beyond that. Instead of commenting on news, he makes it.
Klein is a rogue, doing what he wants with no consequences from the Post, taking media standards down with him. As a journalist, it's one thing to have an ideological agenda, quite another to work hand-in-glove with a political party and openly advocate its agenda.
Actually, Klein is relatively mainstream for the mainstream media.  It's been apparent for decades that what passes for news in the print and visual media bears more than a striking resemblance to the Democratic Party's talking points.  The difference now is that the media is the tail wagging the political dog.

"I used to have political aspirations," Klein, a former campaigner for Howard Dean, told the Washington Monthly in 2004. "But over time, I found that I enjoy writing far more. More to the point, I think that the creation of a media environment that can sustain and propel progressivism is more important than any single elected official," he said. "The media is as effective and important an agent for change as the legislative bodies, and I think it's where I'm happiest and most effective."
That's succinctly put: the goal of media is to create an "environment that can sustain and propel progressivism."  As the IBD Editorial indicates, this new paradigm for journalism is one that the Washington Post's executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, "would very much like to replicate."

None of this strikes Noman as startling.  His first day at Harvard Law School featured a talk by a recent alumnus, an environmental lawyer, describing how'd she'd used the Boston Globe to kill a development on the Charles River that had otherwise passed regulatory muster.  She was leaving her position in the law to work more with media, which was easier, quicker and more effective.

He can't help wondering, however, given the longstanding, actual condition of mainstream media, if the 4th estate deserves all of its constitutional protections, for example, the right to attribute fabricated quotations to public figures (Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 1991).

An analogy might be worth considering.  After the great crash of 1929, Congress devised securities laws that among other things separated commercial from investment banking.  While banks had traditionally performed both functions under the same roof, Congress wished to preserve and protect the core financial business of receiving deposits and making loans from the substantively different and speculative ones of underwriting companies' securities and trading in them.  Thus, it shielded the former activity from the risk inherent in the latter for the sake of both, and the economy.

While the constitution expressly permits Congress to regulate commerce, and the 1st Amendment expressly prohibits Congress from abridging the freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has nevertheless upheld bubble-zone restrictions against pro-life protestors, and it has never upheld a right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater.

Might preserving the integrity of newspaper and newscast reporting, which informs the public, require a similar separation of news media's constitutional function from its advocacy practices?  Just asking.

Sometimes, Chinese Walls are necessary.

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