Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Matthew Yglesias explains why very, very few people outside the newspaper industry think that it is worthwhile to try to slowdown the transition from fishwrap, or to try to ensure that the organizations and reporters that produce fishwrap have a place in the internet-driven public infosphere of the twenty-first century:
"There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication,” Mr. Jackson said. “We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix.”
A lot of people I’ve interacted with in the newspaper industry seem a bit taken aback that some nice, decent, reasonable liberal people aren’t actually all that sympathetic to their plight. But this right here is the rub. Some 30-40 years ago, the mainstream media came under sustained attack from the conservative movement. The critique was that, basically, the press should compromise its mission of doing its best to tell the truth and instead give equal rate to the truth and to whatever the conservative movement wanted to convince people of on any given day. Virtually every institution decided that the best way to cope was to slowly but surely give in to that pressure.
Meanwhile, technological change has undermined the financial viability of a lot of these institutions. And now they’re feeling sorry for themselves. But the very same changes open up possibilities for new institutions--institutions that are not as compromised by decades-worth of burning their own credibility--to do amazing work. On balance, I’m excited about the new era.
With this as context, it is worth looking at Ezra Klein's thoughts on his forthcoming move to the Washington Post from the American Prospect:
Ezra Klein Weblog: This will be my last real blog post at The American Prospect.... Monday, [my weblog] will move to the Washington Post.... http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/.... [T]oday does mark an end. I've been at TAP for almost four years. I moved to Washington, DC in September of 2005 to take the writing fellowship.... And there's not been a day that I haven't been proud to work here.
That's true, of course, because of the magazine's politics. But also because of its approach. The Prospect is one of the few unrepentantly wonkish outfits in existence. It's one of the few magazines where I could've pitched a profile of Congressional Budget Director Peter Orszag -- this was before he became a star, mind you -- and been given the enthusiastic go-ahead.... Pause on that for a minute. The Prospect, to its credit, has always rejected the idea that readers wouldn't be interested in something even though it was important.... [W]e've... learned to pay attention to adult things. The Prospect has been doing that for almost two decades now, and they provided me with a home to do the same. And the Prospect was right. Turns out that you can build an audience with charts and graphs and hearings and budget commentary. The words "reconciliation," "nationalization," and "community rating" do not scare readers away. Scatterplots do not harm your traffic. Indeed, the Washington Post is asking me to cover the same topics in the same way at their site. But I would never have had this opportunity, or been able to build this model, without TAP -- both the space it gave me and the guidance it provided me. I'll be forever grateful to it.
Which is why, even though I'm leaving, I urge you to stay. That's not to say you shouldn't immediately bookmark my new blog and check it obsessively.... But make sure Tapped is on your blogroll, too. And make sure you're receiving the American Prospect magazine at home. And make sure you're checking out the [American Prospect] homepage every morning.
This is most interesting for me because of what Ezra does not say. He does not say that he will be proud every day to work for the Washington Post: how could he after the past decade? Nobody is. He doesn't say that you should make sure you are checking out the Washington Post's homepage every day: how could he?
It is interesting that Ezra says that the Brauchli Post news division is hiring him to do the kind of writing that would have gotten him fired for the Downey Post news division in a New York minute...
UPDATE: The Philadelphia Inquirer defends it's hiring of John Yoo by saying that people don't care what it publishes.
Steve Benen reports:
The Washington Monthly: YOO CAN'T BE SERIOUS.... The Philadelphia Inquirer's defense for hiring John Yoo as a columnist was even worse yesterday than it was the day before:
Harold Jackson, The Inquirer's editorial page editor, said he was surprised by the sudden delayed anger directed his way over Mr. Yoo. He said the decision to hire a columnist was his, but that "Mr. Yoo was suggested by the publisher," Brian Tierney. "There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication," Mr. Jackson said. "We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix." Asked if the release of the memos affected his view of hiring Mr. Yoo, Mr. Jackson said: "From a personal perspective, yes. We certainly know more now than we did then, but we didn't go into that contract blindly. I'm not going to say the same decision wouldn't have been made." But Tierney said the memos did not alter his opinion.
This doesn't work at all. First, there was "delayed anger" because no one knew -- and the paper didn't announce -- that the Inquirer had actually hired Yoo until this past weekend. As a rule, people rarely complain about a development before learning about it.
Second, hiring the author of torture memos to prove the paper isn't liberal is just crazy. The Inquirer, which publishes in one of the nation's most Democratic cities, is already paying Rick Santorum, for crying out loud. What some in the media fail to realize is that reflexive conservatives, who expect all news outlets to follow the standards of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, won't be impressed. Republicans who think the paper is a "knee-jerk liberal publication" will continue to think that whether or not it pays John Yoo for poorly written columns.
I was most surprised, though, to see the Inquirer brass say they just didn't care much about Yoo's work. It seemed at least plausible to me the paper might argue, "When we hired Yoo, the torture memos hadn't been released yet." That wouldn't have been persuasive -- Yoo's record and tolerance for routine law-breaking was already clear -- but it would have at least offered the Inquirer some deniability. Yoo was hired in November 2008; Yoo's memos were released in April 2009.
But the paper's publisher and editorial page editor seem largely unfazed, and suggested Yoo would have been hired anyway. The torture advocate runs the risk of getting arrested if he leaves the country, but the Inquirer is nevertheless pleased to pay him to share his insights on current events.
There are probably some creative, thoughtful right-of-center writers in Philly who could write some interesting columns. The problem isn't that the Philadelphia Inquirer hired another conservative, it's that the paper hired someone who made alleged war crimes possible.
Post Script: Tierney told the NYT few of his readers actually care about this: "I've gotten more mail recently on our making our comics smaller than I have on John Yoo." Here's hoping that changes fairly soon.