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There Really Is No Magic

After traveling during the holiday week I just caught up with this column by Howard Kurtz in which he muses about the reasons for the wall-to-wall coverage of Tim Russert’s death. Kurtz wrote:

And so the emotional farewells to Russert, which ultimately came to feel excessive, seemed rooted in journalism’s crisis of confidence. Russert was a popular figure in a field whose practitioners are often mocked and derided, a credible commentator in a widely distrusted profession. Journalists of all stripes wanted to be associated with him, perhaps hoping a little of the magic dust would rub off.

But they really can’t be so confused about what made Russert unusual — in fact, they all discussed it for a week. To name just a few keys to Russert’s success: 1) He asked questions, did not interrupt and did not speechify when asking what someone else thought. 2) He put in time to research and present what the interviewee had actually said and done in the past. 3) He was not rude or personally unkind to those he interviewed and did not attack his competitors. 4) He proved you can be even-handed. 5) He was an unabashed patriot, and 6) He realized that he was not the story and his opinions were not what should guide viewers in reaching their judgments about issues and candidates.

Each of these rules is routinely violated by most of the cable news outlets and the major mainstream newspapers and news magazines. Abe’s dissection of the New York Times’ use of language in reporting on Iraq is just one example. It has become an ingrained habit of many MSM outlets to put their thumbs on the scale –never quite putting all the facts out without spin and using loaded language to manipulate their readers. Likewise, the propensity to ignore facts altogether if they spell trouble for their favorite candidate or a particular agenda often puts the mainstream media in the position of racing to catch up to a story. Sooner or later they must reveal their own agenda when finally forced to come clean.

That is not to say all outlets are equally blameworthy. Some are clearly trying and some reporters are dogged in their fair and exacting coverage. But there is really no magic to this and no reason why they all couldn’t be better. They may not be as skilled as Russert, but they could be as honest and straight-shooting.



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