U.C. Berkeley Symposium:
Journalism Education: Finding New Leaders for Changing Times
11-12:45: Panel: J. Bradford DeLong, Ted Glasser, Nicholas Lemann, Alan Mutter, Geneva Overholser, and Tom Rosenstiel
As prepared for delivery:
Let me take the long road, and start with three examples that crossed my desk Wednesday from what claims to be--and probably is--America's finest newspaper, the New York Times.
The first by Jason McLure is picked up from Reuters:
Jason McLure: Perry… [said] "While Main Street's been struggling, the cash has still been flowing to Wall Street financiers and Beltway profiteers…. My career has been outside of Washington, always."
Now you and I know that for the past thirty years at least the Republican Party has been the party of less regulation for the banks and less taxes on the bankers, and that that has not changed. Does Jason McLure clue low-information voters into this? No. Low-information readers reading McLure think that Perry wants to be tough on banks.
The second is Tom Friedman:
Here we are in America again on the eve of a major budgetary decision by yet another bipartisan ‘super committee,’” observes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, “and does anyone know what President Obama’s preferred outcome is? Exactly which taxes does he want raised, and which spending does he want cut?
Matthew Yglesias tells Friedman that he could Uncover Presidential Proposals By Using The World-Flattening Internet to read innumerable speeches, volumes of paper, and talking points, and learn that Obama wants to see:
- The American Jobs Act--$200 billion a year over the next two years of tax cuts and infrastructure investments.
- $150 billion a year over the next ten years in tax increases (very heavily weighted toward top earners).
- $120 billion a year over the next ten years in cuts below normal growth rates in "discretionary" programs.
- $100 billion a year over the next ten years in cuts below projected growth in "mandatory" programs--$40 billion a year in reduced debt interest and $30 billion a year from cutting fees paid to specialists and hospitals (and raising those paid to primary care physicians).
Low-information voters reading Friedman think that Obama has not made his preferences clear. And that is just wrong.
The third--and now I am going to pick on Jackie Calmes, who I know knows more than I do about the budget and about internal administration thinking on economic policy--who earlier this week wrote:
Spotlight Fixed on Timothy Geithner, a Man Obama Fought to Keep: [M]any economists fault Mr. Obama and Mr. Geithner for being too timid…. “I just don’t think they tried hard enough, and I’ve told the administration that,” said Alan S. Blinder, an economist at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. “They haven’t done the really difficult things — like using a lot more public money. Yes, there are legal complexities, political difficulties and all that. But stemming this epidemic of foreclosures was — and still is — vitally important.” Officials say that Mr. Obama does not blame Mr. Geithner…. Many underestimated the crisis, they note, and Congressional Republicans’ opposition has limited the administration’s options…
Now us high-information types notice that the people Calmes cites who defend Geithner (a) are currently employees of Barack Obama, and (b) do not give their names.
We think that Jackie Calmes is winking at us.
People who won't give their names have lower credibility than people who do--especially when they people who do give their names are criticizing a political and policy ally. People who work for a principal have lower credibility than outsiders who don't have a direct dog in the fight.
Low-information voters, however, are unlikely to attribute meaning to these subtle cues.
The article they read tells them that Alan Blinder may be being too hard on a dedicated public servant.
If Jackie Calmes had given any of a rather large number of critics a surrebuttal to the unnamed "officials", they would have said:
Nearly all underestimated the crisis in December 2008. But other Obama officials recognized the seriousness of the downturn by February or June or October of 2009 or at the latest by July 2010. And Geithner kept underestimating it, and appears to be underestimating it to this day.
Geithner made--over the objections of many--a host of policy moves--reappointing Bernanke as Fed Chair, leaving other Federal Reserve seats open, not leveraging up TARP authority, not preparing FHFA for a more activist role--that today limit the administration's power all on their own, independent of Congressional Republicans' opposition.
But she does not give Alan Blinder a surrebuttal, and so the story carries an esoteric message for people like me and a much less informative exoteric message for most of its readers.
All three of these seem to me to be examples of journalism that is, frankly, broken.
Now one point of view is that it has always been thus. Beat reporters--whether covering the Perry campaign or the Treasury--need the cooperation of those they cover to match their peer beat reporters, and so the most they can do is to wink at high-information readers to indicate that they are not fooled, and perhaps afterwards write a book. Contrast the reporting on Iraq from the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Tom Ricks in the paper with their subsequent books Imperial Life in the Emerald City and Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, and be amazed.
However, the local media lock on classified ad and other revenue is eroding. The business model supporting opinions-of-shape-of-the-earth-journalism is collapsing. The next journalism dean needs to figure out what will replace it, and how to prepare journalism students to thrive in whatever will replace it.
What? How? God only knows. I do not.