Agenda Journalism

Pages: 1 2

In Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, James Fallows cites Homer Bigart, the doyen of the Vietnam War press corps, who “used to tell younger reporters that their first task was to drop the assumption that they understood a story before they reported it”—sage advice that has gone largely unheeded. Indeed, today the media game has changed dramatically. Reporters and news writers not only assume that they understand a story before it unfolds, they approach events with a cookie-cutter mentality, a prefabricated plot line. They come equipped with an entrenched political perspective that enables them to shape the news according to prior specification, a practice that has come to be known as “agenda journalism.”

For example, former head of India’s counter-terrorism agency Bahukutumbi Raman, writing for the South East Asia Analysis group, refers to “agenda and motivated journalism.” Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary deplores the “agenda journalism” at The New York Times, which has “graduated into agitprop style distortions of the truth,” and Simon Plosker at Honest Reporting skewers the “Guardian’s agenda journalism.” More recently, Tom Blumer at PJ Media takes issue with the Associated Press’ promotion of something called “The New Distinctiveness” or “Journalism with Voice” which, as Blumer shows, quoting several salient examples, “has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with spin.” In short, “Journalism with Voice” is merely a fancy term for “agenda journalism.”

Blumer renames the Associated Press as the Administration’s Press since its chief purpose appears not to report the news fairly and accurately but to re-elect the Obama administration. But AP is only one division in the president’s army. It is no secret that Barack Obama rode to electoral victory in the armor-plated limousine provided by the mainstream media. The propaganda vehicle successfully deflected every salient criticism along with the hail of biographical data that would have put his campaign in serious jeopardy.

Similarly, the controversy over the now-defunct Journolist group does not cloud the fact that a number of its members were clearly playing partisan politics, attacking Republicans and suppressing unsavory facts about Obama. Jonathan Chait in The New Republic considered the rumpus exaggerated, but Mark Fitzgibbons writing in American Thinker and Roger Simon at Politico reveal the “malice” (Fitzgibbon’s word) and discernibly left-wing bias that governed the listserve’s procedures. One recalls, too, the forced resignations of CBS anchor Dan Rather and CNN executive vice president Eason Jordan, implicated in their respective scandals. And who can forget Newsweek’s mutilation of the truth in its Koran-flushing perjury? (The editors were obviously unfamiliar with H.J. Simson’s classic 1937 study, British Rule, and Rebellion, where he discusses the Koran-shredding ploy used by the Arabs to incriminate British officers during the Palestinian rebellion of 1936—though Newsweek was plainly, so to speak, on the same Palestinian page.) None of this should surprise us. In today’s media consortium in the West—the European media are guilty of the same kind of yellow journalism—it is obvious that a basic trust has been broken. The Fourth Estate has become the Fifth Column.

Naturally, journalism was always to some extent agenda driven. Every shade of the political spectrum boasted its particular newspaper, patronized by its targeted readership. The agenda was pretty well explicit. The difference today is threefold: the mantle of principled objectivity in which our journalists conspicuously garb themselves; the fact that the agenda is often undeclared, allowing the media to sail under false colors; and the expansion of global coverage into the visual, electronic and digital dimensions which purport to be mere aggregate news gatherers transposing the world directly and without deviation to the airwaves and the screen. In this way, the media is able to caramelize its product and, as a result, the underlying cookery generally goes undetected.

Robert Kaplan has justly written in Policy Review for December 2004 that “the ongoing centralization of major media outlets, the magnification of the media’s influence through various electronic means and satellite printing…has created new realms of authority akin to the emergence of a superpower with similarly profound geopolitical consequences.” This “superpower” has, for the most part, invaded the public mind with an army of reporters, columnists, think-tankers and editors engaged in the diffusion of fables and distortions. For what we used to call “journalistic integrity” is a rara avis and news reporting has come increasingly to reflect editorial policy—even the headline will often flaunt a compressed editorial opinion—making it difficult for the interested reader or viewer to arrive at a reasonable approximation of the truth, so far as it can be reliably determined.

As I mused in The Big Lie, when even so sedate a commentator as William Watson refers in passing in a National Post column to that “demonic moron” George W. Bush, we know we are no longer in the world of accountable journalism, a world shrinking at a vertiginous rate. Another example of such a betrayal of responsibility is Charles Brooker’s now-infamous column in The Guardian for October 23, 2004 in which he called for the assassination of President Bush: “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr.—where are you now that we need you.” Such jaundiced sentiment masking as informed opinion shows how corrupt our press has become and explains how Aidan White, general secretary of the International Association of Journalists, can describe Hezbollah’s propaganda tool, the Al-Manar television network, as a “free press.” Like to like.

Foreign correspondence features the same decadent symptoms as the national brand of specious advocacy and cultivated ignorance. The Western media today is terminally infected by the lazy incompetence of journalists who are generally unfamiliar with the areas and issues they report upon, have little or no knowledge of the languages of the regions to which they have been posted, rely on “fixers” and second-hand or biased sources of information, arrive on the job with their own set of prejudices, and are, for the most part, profoundly uneducated in politics and history. The general modus operandi is simple: jump to premature conclusions, accept orchestrated events as veridical and interpretation as fact, ignore confuting or problematic data, and suppress or damp down countervailing intel when the truth eventually emerges. There is now little that may serve to distinguish our notable news organs from, let us say, the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida or the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera.

Pages: 1 2

  • Brain

    Glad at least one percent of the journalists out there have some semblance of integrity and tact. I myself am tired of searching for the truth when those who claim to tout it lie to my face through TV, internet, and print. Good article, it's a shame that it will fall on so many deaf ears though.

  • JustSayin'

    I would buy this article's arguments if everyone agreed on one thing — No one has the right to torture or kill an innocent person. However, whether it's Fox News or MoveOn.Org, the right and left have never actually put themselves under God's law and we are reaping the ugly fruits of both sides torture of innocents as we approach a world war. Your own Web site employs Jamie Glazov, who cries tears over how leftists harassed his family in the Soviet Union, but who turns positively gleeful when describing the great Ronald Reagan, a man whose administration sanctified the murder and torture of Irish Catholics as well as thousands and thousands of innocent Latin Americans. I despise the right and the left for their coddling of mass murderers and torturers, from Pinochet to Castro, Thatcher to Reagan, Saddam to Salazar. Please don't act like you're better than the left — you're not. The only difference is whose souls you sear. What kind of a person thinks they're "right" for supporting an idiot like Bush over a jackal like Obama? They're BOTH a threat to our future — the only decent man running for president is Ron Paul, but the Republican globalists will make sure their Obama Lite candidate Romney gets the nomination. And you folks at FP will celebrate his victory as if it means something when all it means as that the launch to the globalist system of slavery continues unimpeded.

  • Jim_C

    Several thoughts.

    Commentary, though "journalism" of a sort, is not really journalism, and thus has much more leeway in terms of bias. So a commentator may say something you vehemently disagree with–but that's his job. If a commentator is anti-Bush, or anti-Clinton, or whatever, so be it.

    Reportage, on the other hand, should be held to a more rigorous standard. Many here will decry the "water carrying" for the democrats (as many democrats will decry journalist's water carrying for big business).

    But the salient point made in this article with regard to serious journalism is in the pretensions to expertise–and it's flipside: the shameless lack of such.

    There are many, many talented journalists of the highest quality, most operating without regard to fame or face time. And we probably take their work for granted.

    But all too often, the cushiest jobs in journalism go to the well-connected and well-heeled, and very often these people have led rather sheltered lives to begin with. Thus, it is with smugness they approach their work.

    I think of two examples of the serious failure of (mainstream) journalism in recent times: the complacency and collusion in the run-up to the Iraq War; and the idiotic questions for the Bush Administration once that ill-conceived war started. On one hand, you had Washington cronyism dropping the ball as far as information to the public. On the other, you had a (red-faced?) press with seemingly no idea what sorts of questions are even appropriate for a commander-in-chief in wartime. Not any sense of historical context whatsoever.

    That said, we news/politics junkies know where to go for information, and how to weigh it against other info. And as the article rightly points out, bias in journalism actually was actually the norm for most of our history (and English history). So the skill, these days, is critical thinking and reading. That's all. No longer are we "ministered to" through our TVs at dinner time.

    • Carl

      Yes, bias in journalism has been part of our history. But those rags didn't deny it. You knew who published them and therefore knew the leanings of the paper. Today, reputable newspapers like the New York Times deny partisanship while at the same time deliver it every day. On top of this, they consider themselves THE highest standard of journalism and have convinced many, many people of this. They're also in bed with Columbia University School of Journalism, who also consider themselves THE standard in the field. And let me tell you, you'd be extremely hard pressed to find three conservative students among any graduating class–I'd dare say one. Not really sure why there is SUCH an imbalance in the field, but there is today.

  • carl

    Last May during the commencement ceremony, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism [considered one of the top J-schools in the country] awarded Al Jazeera English their top journalism prize. And it's no secret where they stand in regard to Israel.

    good article.

  • Ella Eyer

    When can you start? cuckshare how can they do that? xvideohost Ese buey de que le sirve ese pene si no tiene nada de espermas ,para espermas los mios muchosucko i wish i was with them