Passion and Delivery

All right, look. I don’t want to get into it over the iPad or whatever the fuck new shiny thing is coming along tomorrow that will “save newspapers.” It’sbullshit, I’ve been saying it’s bullshit, you all know about it.

What I do want to talk about is this:

But leaving aside any discussion of Brooks the human being, this
latest column of his is something that has to be discussed. The
propagandistic argument he makes about the dangers of “populism” is
spelled out here as clearly as you’ll ever see it expressed in print,
and this exact thing is a key reason why so much of the corruption that
went on on Wall Street in the past few decades was allowed to spread
unchecked.

That’s because this argument is tacitly accepted by almost everyone
in our business, and most particularly is internalized in the thinking
of most newspaper editors and TV news producers, who over time develop
an ingrained habitual fear of publishing material that seems hysterical
or angry.

This certainly has an effect on the content of news reporting, but perhaps even more importantly, it impacts thetoneof
news coverage, where outrages are covered without outrage, and stories
that are not particularly “balanced” in reality — stories that for
instance are quite plainly about one group of people screwing another
group of people — become transformed into cool, “objective” news
stories in which both the plainly bogus version of events and the real
and infuriating version are given equal weight.

I’ve said before that the tendency to mistake passion for bias is far more destructive than any bias ever could be, because it makes stakeholders suspect and gives automatic preference to any claim of impartiality. It makes argument distasteful. I cannot comprehend this, and I feel like it’s a recent thing, like in order to differentiate themselves from cable/radio screamers who scream all the time about stuff that isn’t worth screaming about, newspapers decided to never scream ever no matter what, and somehow that evolved into this milquetoast bullshit where the only people who get to talk are the ones who have nothing to say.

I don’t get this because I don’t think argument is distasteful. Argument isheaven. Argument is like cotton-candy-covered chocolate caffeine sex all day long on acid, argument is why we’re on this planet. God dances when His children defeat Him in argument. Argument is how we learn and grow and push and change. It’s how welive. If you’re not here to argue — and I don’t mean that literally, you can say just as much with your actions — but if you’re not here to say something somehow in whatever voice you possess, then God, I don’t know what to do with you.

When you lionize the refusal to raise one’s voice no matter the provocation, when you chalk an automatic in the loss column because somebody feels something, you’re making the world around you just a little more dead. And you can put that shit on an iPad or on a piece of paper or in a newscast or in a Happy Meal, and the delivery mechanism won’t matter. People won’t pay for it. And you know what? Even if you gave it to them for free, they won’t read it. Because it doesn’t matter.

A good newspaper bleeds love for its community, cheerleads shamelessly for the betterment of all the people in its purview, argues passionately on behalf of those who cannot argue for themselves, and fights for what its leaders have decided to fight for, loudly and boldly and without apology. A lot of people think the problem with our elite media is that they fight for the powerful and comfortable and there’s lots of remedies prescribed for that (Stop hiring white college grads! Stop hiring inside the community! Stop hiring outside the community! Stop unpaid internships! Start unpaid “citizen journalism!” GAH, to all of it.). I think the problem is they don’t fightat all because they consider it uncouth.

When you stifle the voices of passionate debate because they upset people, when you choose the blandest and least offensive tack in every situation, when you work so hard to fight for nothing that anyone with an opinion is automatically ruled out of order, you are not creating a newspaper that deserves to survive, no matter what format you decide to put it in. And that’s what’s happened over the past 20 years (one could argue, over the past 60). We’ve made ourselves smaller and smaller, hoping we’ll upset nobody, and it’s worked. Nobody’s upset. Nobody’s upset at all.

That’s a problem Steve Jobs has no possible way of solving for us.

A.

—–

7 thoughts on “Passion and Delivery

  1. Jude says:

    What if Steve Jobs’ iPad sucks balls, and people are upset aboutthat? What then, I ask?
    Sorry, sorry. The first comment shouldn’t be so smart-assed.

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  2. Look, some of my best friends are college grads! It’s not that they should stop hiring college grads. It’s thatthey shouldn’t make having a college degree a condition of hiring. I once had a job offer so close, I could taste it (third interview) but as soon as they found out I didn’t have a degree, they visibly blanched — despite my extensive experience, state-wide awards, loving my clips, etc.
    So what we have as a result is, in general, a class of journalists who identify with (or aspire to) the exploiters, and not the exploited.
    We had a lot more passion among journalists when they were from the same communities they covered. They lived with the results of bad policy, they identified with it. Now they identify instead with the re-election chances of their favorite politicians, or insider baseball.
    Maybe it’s not the class issue I think it is. But I haven’t heard another theory that seems to explain it.

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  3. virgotex says:

    Taibbi:
    This certainly has an effect on the content of news reporting, but perhaps even more importantly, it impacts the tone of news coverage, where outrages are covered without outrage, and stories that are not particularly “balanced” in reality — stories that for instance are quite plainly about one group of people screwing another group of people — become transformed into cool, “objective” news stories in which both the plainly bogus version of events and the real and infuriating version are given equal weight.
    This. This right here.
    example:
    Brooks:
    Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.
    Consumers/voters may have been stupid, even irresponsible. BUT investment bankers did not act like idiots- they acted like CRIMINALS, like thugs, like victimizing scumsuckers with no conscious.
    people have a right to be upset. An obligation even.

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  4. Athenae says:

    We had a lot more passion among journalists when they were from the same communities they covered.
    I don’t think you can make that an ironclad rule, though. I had editors that used to say this kind of thing all the time, that we just needed to hire somebody from Town X, as if that’s all it took. When you live in a community you sometimes are unable to see its flaws for what they are. I’m not defending bigfoot journalism, but geography can’t compensate for stupidity. I would say instead, and what I think you’re saying, is that we need to hire smart people who give a shit regardless of where they come from. Yeah, Tribune, I’m looking at you and your Medill pipeline.
    We had a lot more passion among journalists before corporate ownership of media and the consultant/focus group/newsroom “manager” culture beat the shit out of anybody who gave a damn enough to piss people off.
    A.

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  5. leinie says:

    Was thinking this morning that I hoped you’d seen that from Taibbi and would chime in. As I was reading it a couple of days ago, I thought “He’s channeling A. She should read this.”
    Brooks equating the behavior of the financial institutes and people who got into debt is absurd. It’s just absurd – especially when you consider that the people in debt *couldn’t have got there without the financial institutions extending the credit* so they HAD to facilitate it, just makes me want to scream. Yeah, I’m passionate about it. I wish someone other than the guy who writes for Rolling Fucking Stone in the media was passionate about it as well.
    They well and truly fucked us. They’re getting ready to do it again. But we’re all gonna look the other way cuz it would be class warfare and just plain unpleasant to do anything but that.

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  6. pansypoo says:

    meh. i see the ipad as another expensive thing to break.
    brooks? god forbid the losing poor attack the winning side in class warfare. GFY.

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  7. montag says:

    Time to recall Finley Peter Dunne’s dictum: “Th newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”
    Dunne was suggesting that newspapers had a lot of power, and wielded that power, at times, imprecisely, but, in fact, their power to move society in one direction or another was always overrated.
    The bit that Brooks ignores, of course, is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I doubt that newspapers ever treated that as their core mission (I have trouble imagining Col. McCormick thinking that way, for example), but, it’s impossible for Brooks to do the latter when he’s so comfortable himself and sees himself as an integral part of the comfortable class.
    For that matter, theNew York Times of late has pretty much tried to pretend that a class war is not going on, when, in fact, the battle lines have always been there, and the poor, thanks to increasingly friendly relations between government and corporations, have been getting the shit kicked out of them.
    I’d be very much surprised if Brooks even noticed. It’s much easier to blame the victim and be done with it until the next column’s due.

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