I go out of town for two weeks to do our training program at the International AIDS Conference and all kinds of stuff happens. There's the phony video about a non-existent racist speech, distributed by the disreputable eye-poker Andrew Breitbart, which gets a government employee fired and sets off a whole series of apologies and "who's a racist?" deep-thinks from the White House on down. Then there's the Journolist issue (which I'll get to in another post). And then finally New York Times media critic David Carr ventured into the murky swamp of identifying the aforenamed Mr. Breitbart as a real journalist, as if its OK to jettison integrity in favor of a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e.
Carr's column starts off strangely enough by questioning the motives behind The Washington Post's recent series called Top Secret America. "...the newspaper was clearly hoping to force a reconsideration of the priorities that have produced a sprawling infrastructure that seems accountable only to itself." And he knows this -- how?
The next graph goes, "And just in case the series alone didn't do the job ..." Wait -- the job Carr assigns it, or the fact that it was a helluva story?
But he soon comes back to Mr. Breitbart, placing him in a "Web-enabled system of news" and Internet sites that advocates had hoped would bring "accountability and real-time fact-checking to current events."
I could care less about Mr. Breitbart's political leanings. I do care about Mr. Carr's calling him a journalist. Mr. Breitbart is not. He has said at various times (check out the 11-minute interview with Bill Plante of CBS News on You Tube) that someone sent him the video which he had to get on the air. Did he do anything to verify it? Was it edited? Was it fair? Did he do any work at all on it? No. What he did do was use it swiftly, and brilliantly, to stir the political pot, resulting in the slimming of an unsuspecting government worker, a slew of apologies, and a cheapening of our society.
We are in the biggest transformation of journalism in a hundred years, driven by the availability of new platforms. That availability gives everyone a license to write or upload anything they want. The legacy media is shedding jobs. The online media and independent media are growing.
But the nature of real journalism is not changing. It requires verification, it requires a search for truth, and a respect for truth whatever it is.
Andrew Breitbart is not a journalist. He is a polemicist, an advocate for a decided point of view. A review of his actions in this instance, involving a speech by then-USDA official Shirley Sherrod, or anything else on his site, conclusively shows this. His stated reason for sending out the unverified (and selectively edited) video of the speech Ms. Sherrod made at an NAACP banquet was somehow to show her racism, or defend the Tea Party movement, or do something. Watching the whole thing is a head-scratching moment -- how the hell did Breitbart come to THAT conclusion? The answer of course is that Mr. Breitbart didn't want to come to a conclusion based on research and analysis (you know, reporting); he wanted a vehicle to raise the charge of racism against -- wow -- the NAACP, a black president, who knows. (The full Sherrod video can be seen here. A video interview with the farmers stating emphatically that Sherrod acted appropriately in helping save their farm is here. )
The Breitbarts of the world know how to game the system. Good for them. But not for the media critics of the country on whom the profession depends. And frankly, not for those of us who believe in real journalism. We depend on critics, especially the widely read critics like Mr. Carr, to differentiate between manipulators of the digital platforms and people who practice journalism. We need journalists to speak truth to power, and critics to speak truth to the slimy.
-- Bob Meyers
Earlier Blog Posts
NPF Educates Global Health Media in Vienna
July 12, 2010
1997 NPF Winner Nina Totenberg Receives the CPB Murrow…
July 12, 2010
How I Got the Story: Kelly Kennedy
July 1, 2010
NPF Award Winner Highlighted in Kurtz Online Investigations…
June 23, 2010
Many NPF Alums on RRA Board
June 15, 2010