Positive = Right

In the Kitty vs. Mattie transcript that Holden linked to this morning, something struck me.

Matt spends the first few minutes of the interview challenging Kitty’s accuracy:

Lauer: “He says he gave up drinking in 1986 and became much more religious, embraced religion, so  you want us to believe that two years after that change in his life, he’s doing cocaine at Camp David? How many sources do you have on that story?”

Kelley: “Two.”

Lauer: “One is unnamed?”

Kelley: “One is unnamed. The lawyers have it.”

Lauer: “The other?”

And the next few minutes berating her for not presenting a “positive” picture of the Bushes to somehow “balance” the negatives:

Lauer:  “Most people, no matter what their politics, would say that if a family has three generations of public service, the reality has to be that there are some nice things that need to be said about them, and why aren’t they in this book?”


Lauer:  “But every – but where are the positives, Kitty?”

Setting aside the point that Kitty is under no obligation to write any book other than the one she chooses to write and therefore Lauer’s just being a prick, the message I got from Lauer’s behavior throughout the interview was that he was saying being innacurate is bad; just as bad is being “negative.” Even if the positives are lies and the negatives are truths. Even if being right and being happy-skippy-joy-joy have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Look. News orgs for years have been battered with two accusations. One, that they’re liberal. And two, that they’re “negative.” You never tell the positive stories, viewers and subscribers whine, and so out come the animal stories and the “someone you should know” segments, in an effort to placate a constituency instead of educate it.

Educate it how? Well, for starters, people who complain about positive and negative stories understand very little about journalism. In good journalism, there is no positive or negative story. There’s just a story. Look at the recent Catholic Church sex scandal in Boston. People victimized by the priests the Boston Globe exposed found it immensely “positive” that these monsters were no longer stalking children due to the intervention of the newspaper. The church found the stories negative and cast them as an anti-Catholic attack. In both cases, it wasn’t the story itself. It was the subjects’ reaction to it.

I get frustrated often with the administration line that “the media are only reporting the bad news out of Iraq.” I want to point them to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is doing a fantastic job of presenting the warts-and-all travails of a company of Wisconsin soldiers. The paper’s stories are stories; people will take them however they want depending on both the subject matter and their position in relation to it. I also want to point out to these administration numbskulls that if they see something they perceive as negative, they fix the problem instead of bitching at the people bringing it to their attention.

(Understand I’m talking about news stories here, not analysis, not columns, not opinion pieces. Those kinds of commentary, which make up most of what’s presented as campaign journalism, are in a separate category all their own, and I’ll leave picking apart that category to the experts.)

If media outlets and media critics truly wanted to educate their audience instead of gossip, they’d point things like this out instead of writing suck-up pieces about Laura Ingraham and worrying about when their colleagues were going to retire. Why no, Howie, I wasn’t looking at you. Not at all.

Maureen Dowd said during the Clinton impeachment that the danger would be that during the next scandal, reporters would make a sort of vicious equivalence between what was popular and what was right. Looking at Matt’s questioning of Kitty Kelley, looking at how he first attacks her as wrong and then as negative as if one was just as bad as the other, I’m thinking Maureen was onto something, though she wasn’t all the way there.

We’ve made a false equation between what is positive and what is right. And in the end, because that equation is dishonest from its start, it’s neither.