The Newspaper Bailout

I don’t think anyone would deny that good journalism is both disciplined and increasingly not the domain of newspapers and broadcast media, but I find it interesting that the President would specifically latch on to the notion of a newspaper bailout by the Federal government as a potentially necessary step to combat the blogosphere.

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said.

[From Obama open to newspaper bailout bill – The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room]

If one is going to use fact checking and story context as the criteria for determining good journalism, then the traditional print and broadcast media are culpable.

Let’s start with what brought down Dan Rather, the fake Bush national guard stories (which were of course exposed by a blog) and move on to the impressively expanding NY Times corrections page, which featured perhaps the most ironic mother of all corrections, the Walter Cronkite obituary, but I thought the Charlton Heston obituary was even more noteworthy because the NY Times managed to not only get a raft of meaningful details wrong but also Heston’s name and age.

The supposedly platinum standard for journalism, the NY Times, which is subject to a growing number of blogs that track their errors, and I don’t hear the President complaining about the most linked to content in the NYTimes, the op-ed pages which feature the chronically error filled Krugman and Dowd columns… all opinion, intensely partisan opinion.

I could also go on and on about how editors at major newspapers tweak headlines and selectively edit stories to give them the inappropriate or partisan context, something the President himself acknowledged but pointed to only in reference to blogs. Take,. for example, the SF Chronicle’s coverage of the Mayo Clinic’s statements on President Obama’s healthcare bill, which the Chronicle used one quote praising a change in the Medicare payment policy as a proxy for overarching endorsement of the President’s plans, completely omitting the first half of the statement that said the proposals “failed to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients, in fact it will do the opposite”.

When I emailed Ms. Lochhead about this she responded (promptly I should add) that “the dual Mayo references were thought to be confusing so the first was omitted. I agree this is misleading and I’m trying to get it fixed”. As of today that article has not been edited to reflect the entirety of the Mayo Clinic statement on the healthcare reform proposals.

In the final analysis I fail to see how the Federal government extending anything that could be construed as a bailout to newspaper companies could be considered appropriate or ethical. An independent media is certainly not ensured when the Federal government rescues media companies that are failing because of changes in consumer behavior and perhaps equally because of dismay and disgust at the partisan bias that newspapers and news magazines have displayed (I mean really, how many Time magazine covers featuring President Obama will they publish… I thought only Oprah Magazine could be counted on for such predictable covers?).

UPDATE: Today I learned that the Washington Post, the President’s hometown newspaper, ran 960 corrections in 2008 and still has a backlog of “hundreds, some dating to 2004” in the queue… so much for the President’s claim that only the blogosphere lacks “serious fact checking”.