This isn't journalism

Posted by Jack Mumby on February 4, 2014

Fox News scored a coup over the weekend, landing an interview with the President in the run-up to the Super Bowl. If they'd assigned a journalist to do the questioning, we might have learned whether Barack Obama has plausible answers to tough questions about how his government can help get Americans back to work or address income inequality.

Instead, we got Bill O'Reilly, who used the time to bicker with Obama over conspiracy theories relevant only to the most avid Republican partisans. In the process, O'Reilly demonstrated why so many Americans have tuned our media out altogether.

Far too much of the media conversation in our nations' capital these days is dominated by talking heads like O'Reilly and pundits who seem more interested in keeping score than in examining issues or enlightening readers and viewers.

A POLITICO piece last week, for example, characterized a State Department report on the potential environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as "a body blow to environmentalists," but had precious little analysis of the report's actual contents.

The story read like something you'd expect to find on the sports pages, suggesting the report might upset a few climate conscious political donors. Nothing was said about how Koch-linked front groups like Americans for Prosperity and other big corporate spenders might react.

Other media last week paid closer attention to a joke petition to deport Justin Bieber than to the plight of the hundreds of undocumented workers deported every day.

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol ignored those workers altogether, penning a column that treated them strictly as a political problem for his fellow Republicans. "Since there really is no need to act this year on immigration, don't. Don't even try" he advised the GOP.

Even the grey lady, the New York Times, seems to have slipped. In one column last week, David Brooks ruminated on the justness of the war on drugs without mentioning the legions of Americans, mostly young men of color, behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

My point is that there's too often a massive disconnect between what America at large is thinking, feeling, and doing, and what's being discussed by Washington's journalists and opinion-shapers.

It's no surprise why this happens -- David Brooks speaks only to his own experience, and that's one of a life untouched by the prison-industrial complex. And for people who fancy themselves politicos, the Beltway implications of a story might be all that matters.

But when talking heads talk and pundits pontificate about such a narrow sliver of the American experience, a huge section of the public rightfully feels shut out of the national discourse, and tunes out.

The sad fact is that too much of our opinion class focuses on speaking to and impressing itself, and that's hurting our democracy. A perpetually distracted media will always fail at its basic duties: keeping the public informed, elevating the voiceless, and holding power accountable.

Office: Common Cause National

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