Colbert redux

Wow. I must really be a real-life blogger now.My post this week about [Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House dinner][1] has actually sparked a couple of responses across the Kansas blogosphere, and I'd be remiss if I didn't note them here.[J.D. at "evolution"][2] offered this critique from somewhere over on the right-ish:It's not fair to say most journalists are lazy and dumb. Undoubtedly, some are dumb. Some are lazy. Many are, I believe, simply political partisans (mostly liberal/Democratic, although there are conservative/Republican mouthpieces too) subtly using their journalism as a platform for their politics; whether it's through slipping un-labelled commentary into news coverage or by editorial decisions to spike certain stories and print others. It happens. To think otherwise is to live in a fool's paradise.[Joe at Kansas City Soil][3] has these thoughts:_The issue, obviously, is packaging. A lot of folks seem to prefer getting their news in a repackaged form, be it comedy or blogs. But we still need real reporters going out and getting real news. You need a package to repackage.But if all the eyeballs are shifting to the repackaged stuff, where we gonna get the money for the actual stuff? Journalism isn't free. We need to have journalists drawing steady paychecks and earning annual raises. So, duh! News organizations have adjust the way they deliver their product._Finally, here's just a slice from [Josh Rosenau's length response to me:][4]_But I think it's too dismissive to say that "mocking the news is not news gathering. Having an opinion about the news is not news gathering. News gathering is news gathering."__I'd add to that "News gathering isn't news reporting." Most of the media was aware in 2002 that invading Iraq was a done deal, and that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. But that piece of gathered news didn't manage to get to the public. Shame. Getting that out more widely might just have saved a few thousand soldiers' lives. But this is all besides the point._Interesting takes, all of them.All three of those blogs, by the way, are excellent places for commentary - and entertainment, occasionally - with a Kansas focus. I recommend them, and if the guys at ever get around to letting us have a blogroll, they'll go on my list. [1]: [2]: [3]: [4]:


cwrist 16 years, 2 months ago

Joel, I've loved reading about this topic. I especially enjoy seeing some of the major news networks' programs retaliate by telling people that their shows/networks that were blasted by Colbert still have higher viewership than his months-old program. I'm glad you've shared some of the Kansas bloggers' responses here too. They all add interesting perspective to what is good and what is lacking about media coverage these days. And the comments by Josh Rosenau got me to thinking: Would all of the Iraq business have gone down if Gary Bedore had been a member of the White House press corps? I mean, you see the lengthy notebooks he runs almost daily about KU men's basketball. If the press corps had a reporter there who was as thorough and aggressive as Gary, you've gotta believe the little hints about going into Iraq in early 2002 would've been reported on. Curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Joel 16 years, 2 months ago

Chris: I remember hearing in early 2002 that Iraq was next on the list. It seems that most of that year was spent in building up to the war.

Lots of chatter on this topic at the Washington Post politics chat.

Here's an interesting exchange:

Baton Rouge, La.: We're attacking the Washington press corps because we don't think you've been doing your jobs. The Washington press corps was complicit in the run up to the war in Iraq and has never held Bush accountable for anything. It took Colbert to do the job for you.

Dana Milbank: Here's the lede of a front-page story I wrote in October, 2002. You might have missed it because you were busy complaining that somebody didn't think a Jay Leno routine was funny.

"President Bush, speaking to the nation this month about the need to challenge Saddam Hussein, warned that Iraq has a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used 'for missions targeting the United States.'

"Last month, asked if there were new and conclusive evidence of Hussein's nuclear weapons capabilities, Bush cited a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency saying the Iraqis were 'six months away from developing a weapon.' And last week, the president said objections by a labor union to having customs officials wear radiation detectors has the potential to delay the policy 'for a long period of time.'

"All three assertions were powerful arguments for the actions Bush sought. And all three statements were dubious, if not wrong. Further information revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States; there was no such report by the IAEA; and the customs dispute over the detectors was resolved long ago."

librarymonkey 16 years, 2 months ago

Iraq was on Bush's mind long before 2002. During his campaign in September 2000 the Houston Chronicle reported:

"Philbin asked Bush if he saw an instance in which the United States might again go to war with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, especially because of the rising price of oil.

"I certainly hope not. I'm going to be a president that keeps the peace," Bush said. "But if we catch him moving weapons of mass destruction around the world or if we catch him threatening our friends and allies, there are going to be serious consequences for Saddam Hussein."

And again in his second debate with Al Gore in Oct. 2000 Bush spoke against Hussein and his WMDs:

"It's important to be friends with people when you don't need each other so that when you do there's a strong bond of friendship. And that's going to be particularly important in dealing not only with situations such as now occurring in Israel, but with Saddam Hussein. The coalition against Saddam has fallen apart or it's unraveling, let's put it that way. The sanctions are being violated. We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president. "But it's important to have credibility and credibility is formed by being strong with your friends and resoluting your determination. One of the reasons why I think it's important for this nation to develop an anti-ballistic missile system that we can share with our allies in the Middle East if need be to keep the peace is to be able to say to the Saddam Husseins of the world or the Iranians, don't dare threaten our friends." (

AND, in February of 2001 we bombed Iraq... I think that Bush had it in his mind all along to war with Iraq. Sept. 11 just gave him an excuse.

librarymonkey 16 years, 2 months ago

(And I know the blog is about how the media pays attention --or doesn't-- to newsworthy stories... it just seemed obvious fairly early on)

MyName 16 years, 2 months ago

Many are, I believe, simply political partisans (mostly liberal/Democratic, although there are conservative/Republican mouthpieces too) subtly using their journalism as a platform for their politics; whether it's through slipping un-labelled commentary into news coverage or by editorial decisions to spike certain stories and print others. It happens. To think otherwise is to live in a fool's paradise.

That's one of the things that annoys me about bloggers and blogs in general. Many of the people who run them have some kind of obsession with politics. They read little messages into every turn of the phrase. Some of them probably see political messages in the Weather Channel's reporting in Washington D.C. "Your forecast for today is: partly cloudy with a change of liberal activism".

And if you don't share their myopic obsession, then, obviously, you're "blind". You're "living in a fool's paradise". You're not "in the know". Load of bunk in my opinion (oh wait, was that another political message? Am I secretly harboring a Liberal/Conservative/Libertarian/Existentialist bias??)

Maybe if I watched more Fox News or something, I could see things from their perspective, but I doubt it.

j_d 16 years, 2 months ago

MyName: Thanks, I needed more testimonial quote material.

Terry Bush 16 years, 2 months ago

As usual, I can kind of see things both ways.

On one hand, I've read enough history and science fiction, and known enough journalists personally, to hold the profession in high regard. When there isn't a free and active press, civilizations tend to go into the toilet pretty rapidly. And a good writer who is intent upon uncovering and exposing evil can sometimes mean all the difference in fighting for a better world. Reporters have saved lives, turned countries into something new, and fought for freedoms as much as the military. I would not want to live in a country without freedom of press.

On the other hand.

I have also had a fair amount of experience with reporters who wouldn't report, let alone know, the truth if it smacked them dead in the face and hollered "I am the truth, dammit". There have been far too many times I spent a long time carefully explaining the entire set of the facts, in my personal possession, only to have it all boiled down to a single headline "peanut" that is still incorrect or worse entirely false (if I'm lucky it's merely inaccurate). I've also known members of the media whose word could not be trusted and/or whose main intention was to weild their power to promote their own agendas, all the while claiming to be a member of an elite group with powers to special that mere mortals should never question their motives or tactics.

So, in the end, I come down to this. No one profession is perfect nor is any group made up of all heroes or villans. There is good and bad in almost every human and in every human endeavor.

So I try to get my "news" from a myriad of sources. And I try to get to know the reporter(s) in question (personally) so I don't have to guess about their personal bias or strengths. Like Joel and PQ. While I may not agree with them on everything, I believe they are straight shooters who, if they do have a bias, freely admit to it. I don't like being misinformed or being told what I want to hear if it's not the truth. And anyone who thinks they know it all, has just revealed how ignorant they truly are.

OtherJoel 16 years, 2 months ago

"Most of the media was aware in 2002 that invading Iraq was a done deal, and that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeda. But that piece of gathered news didn't manage to get to the public. "

Actually it depends on what you define as media. In terms of the major conglomerates/MSM, that's true, but these stories were all over the independent press even back then. I was reading about it and quite pissed that the Times and Post were falling in line behind the Bush Administration (that seems to have subsided, thankfully).

This has been said before and I'll say it again: The bias is not inherently liberal or conservative; it's what will sell papers or magazines or web subscriptions or attract advertisers. In 2002, that happened to appear more right-leaning (to me), likely because it was in poor taste in most circles to criticize Bush, who was still enjoying his post-9/11 popularity. Now it is acceptable with W's approval ratings fifty-plus points down from those days, and therefore you see more critical journalism.

But ultimately I agree with ladylaw: "No one profession is perfect nor is any group made up of all heroes or villans. There is good and bad in almost every human and in every human endeavor." I also don't really think that reporters can take all of the responsibility. They do have a duty to report the truth, but there is also pressure from the top, and everyone, regardless of profession, has to balance doing what you feel is right, what the boss wants, and whether the former will allow you to keep your job. Sometimes being there to report the news in the future has some utility as well.

bthom37 16 years, 2 months ago

What, no mention of the LJWorld? And how blatantly they are a tool for Simons politics?

I have now been on the inside of 4 LJWorld stories. And all of them were portrayed either incorrectly, or more importantly, with major facts left out.

Joel 16 years, 2 months ago

bthom: Sorry if you've not felt good about your LJWorld experiences -- I hope you complained to the reporters so that they could correct their mistakes. But, as somebody who works in the LJ newsroom, I can honestly say there's no pressure to pursue a political agenda around here ... everybody's just trying to tell the community about itself in a fair and honest manner.

The editorial pages do advocate in certain directions, but they've got nothing to do with our reporting.

Of course, I've lived in Lawrence long enough to know that some people will never, ever believe that.

bthom37 16 years, 2 months ago

I actually complained to the managing editor the first time. His response was so perfectly insolent that were this another era, I would have slapped him and challenged him to a duel. I had to settle for furious muttering ;)

And if there's no political agenda, this article sure is surprising:

I just find it a cause for concern that of the 4 stories I've had 'inside' information on, all 4 of the articles fell short.

bthom37 16 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, when I say political, I don't mean in a Republican/Democrat way, I mean in a 'biased towards the owner's agenda' way.

Terry Bush 16 years, 2 months ago

I agree with bthom37 on the issues of (1) not having a story covered correctly and (2) finding out the reporter(s) in question could care less about correcting the error (if you can even get them to admit there is/was one in the first place!). Some of the most arrogant people I have ever me were members of the media. I lost a lifetime friendship because one such reporter accused me - in writing - of not doing my job well or correctly (something which any person would take personally, but which I took even more so because I had (a) not been given a chance to work on the issues involved and (b) had told my "friend" that his complaint probably had no merit - ahead of time - out of courtesy.) The issue in question was later decided by a court of law, in exactly the fashion I had predicted; proving I knew my stuff and my "Friend" was a bully using his reporting duties to try to get his way! We haven't spoken for years, and won't until he apologizes. Since his ego is one of the larger things he possesses, I doubt that will ever happen. His loss, not mine.

On the other hand, I am never shocked or surprised when a media outlet is influenced by the thoughts and wishes of its owner. I bet that if there was a survey of 100% of the media outlets in this country (or elsewhere), 99.9% of them would have their basic leanings heavily influenced by their owners. Welcome to human nature 101. I don't think it's fair or realistic to expect that a business, even one whose job it is to provide information, will be sanitized of all bias and pure of all personal motives.

While we might wish that the owners or staff of a news outlet were more neutral, I think that's akin to wishing money grew on trees. It would be nice, but it is not going to happen in this world. People are, in the end, people. Fallible and gullible. Good and bad.

It's why seeking the truth, the whole Truth (capital T), is the duty of each individual. Relying upon another person or source to provide it is always a dangerous idea.

Chris Tackett 16 years, 2 months ago

bthom37, that story is a pretty striking example of sloppy journalism, but i'd be hesitant to say it was a result of ulterior motives. i mean, you can assume of course, but it's hard to prove.

i'm hoping there will be a follow-up to address some of the questions raised in the comments section.

bthom37 16 years, 2 months ago

ladylaw; I can only dream of a world where reporters are neutral and bias-free; I don't expect it, I just would like to see it. It's very frustrating because the World company has a virtual monopoly on news in Lawrence (as I type on a World website, using a World connection, with World cable on in the background, about the World paper).

OnShakedown; You're correct in that I was not in the newsroom, and did not hear the assignment handed out. However, given the clearly editorial nature of the article, treating it as a news article (above the fold!) makes it very suspicious. And I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the questions raised to be answered, I'm afraid.

Terry Bush 16 years, 2 months ago

Monopoly you say? Well, what's the cure for those?

If you like government, you say there should be more regulations to stop monopolies and insert competition as deemed advisable by the government (think public utility laws).

If you don't think/believe/trust the government to do it right or better, then the answer is market pressure...i.e. competitors. Which, if a monolopy is already entrenched can be difficult (which, if you listen to most Chicago school economists, is why the government should either regulate from the get-go, or but out entirely).

SO if you object to the monopoly one company has in the market, you can/should (a) avoid using their services entirely or as much as possible and/or (b) give them some competition.

Since news/media is not (actually) a necessity of life and is probably the least likely area the government will (or even could) regulate, the most likely way to bust up a monopoly of the type you mention is for some enterprising young person to bring in alternatives.

Print another paper. Set up an internet service for less. Give advertisers better service. Provide a news station that people will choose over what is currently offered.

Good luck.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.