Jack Shafer

I don’t trust you, either

Jack Shafer
Sep 29, 2011 20:16 UTC

As long as the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press continues to insist on conducting opinion polls about “trust” and the media, I’ll continue to insist on writing columns like this one.

I’m not knocking Pew. As collators of public opinion go, it’s not a bad organization. But you’ve really got to break the spines on Pew’s trust-in-the-media reports to glean the higher truths about how the public really feels about journalists and journalism.

Pew’s latest survey, released this week, reports that negative opinions about news organization performance have reached new highs, based on many of the measures it has tracked since 1985.

More respondents than ever believe that overall, media stories are often inaccurate (66 percent), news organizations unfairly tend to favor one side (77 percent), and news outlets are often influenced by powerful people and organizations (80 percent). (See the chart from Pew.)

Pew’s respondents are far from being connoisseurs of news. Instead, they appear to be slaves to their televisions, with 66 percent of them claiming to get most of their news from TV. Now, I’ve got nothing against television. I own two and keep one in my office. They are wonderful devices. But as dispensers of news, they’re not sufficient to the task.

You got a license for that keyboard?

Jack Shafer
Sep 27, 2011 22:05 UTC

Ivan Lewis energized freethinkers everywhere today by proposing that the naughty U.K. press be reined in by “a new system of independent regulation.” In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the Labour shadow culture secretary called for the press to “consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off,” by which he meant banned from the practice of journalism.

The U.K. press immediately roared back—all but accusing Lewis of campaigning for a cabinet position as Minister of Censorship. Lewis then retreated on Twitter. “I said industry should consider whether gross malpractice should lead to a journo being struck off and i oppose state oversight of press,” he wrote.

By the end of the day, Lewis was backpedaling faster, telling the BBC, “I regret the fact that there has been a response to something that I didn’t say.”

Bloggy Monday—A slow-loading ombudsman; Herman Cain; and bad hed Edition

Jack Shafer
Sep 26, 2011 19:30 UTC

Another Slow-loading Ombudsman If newspaper ombudsmen have any right to exist—and I’m not suggesting that they do—it is to intervene in a way that solves reader problems. A reader has trouble with home delivery or billing? Expedite, Mr. Ombudsman! A reader can’t get the editors to correct an error? Persuade the editor to amend his ways, Mr. Ombudsman, or shame him in a column.

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Paxton ignores this maxim in his most recent column, “Post Web site loads too slowly.”

After fielding complaints from dozens of bellyaching readers who say the Post‘s website takes forever to download pages, Paxton explains what the Post webmasters have explained to him: Post pages load slowly because they’re are larded with ads, videos, photos, and “plug-ins” that allow the viewing of various kinds of content. And that’s not all. They’re also filled with tracking and marketing code, which compiles dossiers on where viewers come from, and where they go, and helps determine which ads to display on the Post page.

The press critics from Foggy Bottom

Jack Shafer
Sep 22, 2011 22:17 UTC

Everybody thinks of themselves as a press critic these days, even the U.S. State Department.

A slew of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks portrays the State Department as the A.J. Liebling of Foggy Bottom. Drawing on content analysis by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. embassy officials in Qatar in 2005 aggressively leaned on and lobbied the top editors of Al Jazeera, the news channel and website owned by the Qatar monarchy, giving them unsolicited editorial suggestions. It’s quaint to imagine Pentagon employees watching hour after hour of Al Jazeera and clicking the vastness of its website with the diligence that Media Matters for America applies to ferreting out media bias by the Fox News Channel. I wonder if they get pee breaks and snacks.

The release of diplomatic cables from 2005 may have contributed to the ouster this week of Al Jazeera’s news director, Wadah Khanfar, according to a Sept. 20 report in the New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick. The cables portray Khanfar as a pliant vessel in his meetings with hectoring representatives from the U.S. embassy. For instance, an October 2005 cable described a meeting in which a U.S. embassy official gave Khanfar a hard copy of unclassified snippets from a DIA critique of three recent months of Al Jazeera coverage of the Iraq war.

Media bias? Give me more, please!

Jack Shafer
Sep 20, 2011 20:48 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

Before we go any further on the topic, may we first please thank the gods for media bias?

If not for media bias, I’m certain that my news diet would taste so strongly of sawdust and talc that I would abandon news consumption completely. As long as I’m eating news, give me the saffron smoothness of New York Times liberalism and the hallelujah hot sauce excitement of Fox News Channel conservatism. Anything but a menu of balance, moderation, and fairness!

Not that I don’t value balance, moderation, and fairness—a good Associated Press story can nourish the soul as well as a six-pack of Bud on a hot summer day. But as a rule, I like my news chefs to make spicy meals or no meals at all.

Cop-out in London

Jack Shafer
Sep 20, 2011 20:46 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

What were the London police thinking when they invoked the Official Secrets Act last week to compel Guardian reporters Amelia Hill and Nick Davies to disclose the confidential source for their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story? Did they think the Guardian would roll over when they arrived in court on Friday to contest the order? That Hill and Davies would submit? That free-speech advocates, members of Parliament, and journalists around the world would pay no mind to the prosecutorial over-reach?

Whatever the Metropolitan Police thought, they’ve rethought it today, announcing that they’re dropping for the time-being their request for a court order that the Guardian give up its sources.

With the perfect vision that comes with hindsight, it now appears that the court order was a bluff. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the Met did not consult the director of public prosecutions before wielding the Official Secrets Act, as the 1989 law requires. He was only consulted on Monday. In other words, the London police went rogue. If that’s the case, perhaps the goal of the cops was to give the Guardian and its journalists a fright and deter other reporters from investigating the pile-up of journalistic malfeasance, crimes by private detectives, corporate malfeasance at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps., and, of course, bribe-taking by the Metropolitan Police.

London police shoot the messenger

Jack Shafer
Sep 16, 2011 22:41 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who helped cover up the U.K.’s phone-hacking scandal for the better part of a decade, have finally figured out how to crack the case. Attack the press.

The Guardian, which kept the story alive after Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World minions, top politicians, and the cops throttled it, reports that the Metropolitan Police have requested a court order to force two of its reporters, Amelia Hill and Nick Davies, to surrender their confidential sources from their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story. Hill has already been questioned by police.

The Met is making its demand under the  Official Secrets Act, which is usually invoked in national security cases. In 1985, Ministry of Defence employee Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the act for divulging information about the sinking of an Argentinean ship during the Falklands War. In 2002, counter-intelligence officer David Shayler was convicted of giving secret documents to a newspaper. In 2003, U.K. government employee Katharine Gun was charged under the act with leaking to a reporter email from the National Security Agency requesting help in bugging the United Nations offices of six countries.

Crock the Vote

Jack Shafer
Sep 14, 2011 21:14 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The opinions expressed are his own.

In case you haven’t heard, the 2012 presidential election is already over and the Republicans stole it. Both Rolling Stone and Mother Jones report this week that those wascally Wepublicans have already walked away with the ballot boxes.

The Rolling Stone piece (Sept. 15, 2011) finds evidence of an “unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008.”  Comparing the Republican efforts to suppress the vote to the Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests erected by Dixiecrats, writer Ari Berman claims that a “dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting.” By “obstacles” Berman means new laws requiring proof of citizenship in Kansas and Alabama; the repeal of Election Day voter registration in Maine; shortened early voting periods in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia; and the presentation of government-issued ID before casting ballots in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as other new voting measures.

As clampdowns go, these measures seem too anemic to support the Rolling Stone‘s hysterical headline, “The GOP War on Voting,” but it is no journalistic crime to over-promise and under-deliver on a piece, especially a political piece.