09 April 2010

Profiles in Turdage

Plum Line's Greg Sargent elicits George Stephanopoulos' response to criticism over his questioning the President about comments made by Sarah Palin that compared his nuclear policy to a child asking to be beaten up:
"Whatever you think of Sarah Palin, she’s a former VP candidate — and a potential challenger to President Obama — with a strong following in the GOP. She made a pointed critique of a new Presidential policy. By getting the President’s response, I was doing my job."
First of all, here's the "pointed critique" in question:
"It's kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, 'Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.'"
That is what Stephonopoulos, when finding himself in a one-on-one interview with the most powerful man in the world, decided to put on the short list of matters to be addressed.

Think about that:

It is Stephanopoulos' stated understanding that it is his job (as a "journalist," presumably) to solicit the President of the United States' response to what can be charitably described as an ignorant, juvenile attack from an individual with no background, whatsoever, on the policy issues at hand.

And the worst part is, he's probably right.

It is no longer the journalist's job to take a public figure's statements, see how they comport with objective facts, and follow up for an explanation if they fail to do so. The "journalist's" job is simply to pass claims along, uncritically, and, when given the opportunity (as Stephanopoulos was here) to effectively become one of the kids on Palin's imaginary playground, breathlessly sharing overheard insults in the hopes of instigating a fight.

Stephanopoulos--and Sargent, alike--justify this decision in the same, profoundly cowardly way: Palin is popular, therefore her views matter. No effort, whatsoever, is made to claim that this line of questioning was acceptable because she has relevant policy experience or even that her observation is correct, and for good reason: she doesn't and it's not.

While their "popular = newsworthy" argument might explain repeating Palin's childish attacks, it's the unspoken--but clearly evident--way that rule actually works in practice that's far more damaging: Popularity isn't just a standard, it's the only standard, utterly supplanting things like "accuracy." In the field of stenographic journalism, as practiced by Stephanopoulos and defended by Sargent, no matter how asinine or factually bereft the claim, it's presented as if it merits equal weight to the opposing view.

It's this shoulder-shrugging "What can you do? Some say this, some say that?" mentality and the resultant abdication of journalistic responsibility that keeps the decayed corpses of discredited zombie memes (Death Panels, Socialist takeovers, etc.) shambling their way through our public discourse.

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