Picking Up the Slack

It is no secret that the Main Stream Media (MSM), the news reporting services in print, television, and radio, have for years been cutting back on the kinds of stories that require more time and thought than can be summarized in a 5 second sound bite.

Greg Palast has an opinion piece about how the “U.S. media have lost the will to dig deep.”

I know some of the reasons why investigative reporting is on the decline. To begin with, investigations take time and money. A producer from “60 Minutes,” watching my team’s work on another voter purge list, said: “My God! You’d have to make hundreds of calls to make this case.” In America’s cash-short, instant-deadline world, there’s not much room for that.

Are there still aggressive, talented investigative reporters in the U.S.? There are hundreds. I’ll mention two: Seymour Hersh, formerly of the New York Times, and Robert Parry, formerly of the Associated Press, who uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal. The operative word here is “formerly.” Parry tells me that he can no longer do this kind of investigative work within the confines of a U.S. daily newsroom.

One of the biggest disincentives to doing investigative journalism is that it jeopardizes future access to politicians and corporate elite. During the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial, the testimony of Judith Miller and other U.S. journalists about the confidences they were willing to keep in order to maintain access seemed to me sadly illuminating.

Reading Marcy Wheeler’s “Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy,” a detailed and damning examination of how Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover was blown in the service of smearing her husband for daring to criticize the Bush administration’s basis for going to war against Iraq in 2003, serves to underline this point. Marcy describes how the leak was planned and executed, and how ultimately Libby became the Fall Guy, so that Karl Rove could remain free. (I know that my “Currently Reading” link above has Divine Days. I am still reading that rewarding behemoth. I took a short break as I am want to do to read something else. Lately, I have also been dipping into Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” here and there. It’s how I read.)

Had the MSM been doing its job (acting as watchdogs as opposed to managing their Washington Cocktail Party careers), a lot of this mess, and the current War in Iraq, would probably not have happened.

In other news, it was noted a week ago that the Atlanta Journal Constitution eliminated its Book Editor position.

Last week the Atlanta Journal Constitution did a staff reorganization, eliminating its book editor position, which is demoralizing beyond speech. The AJC’s section was run by long-time NBCC member and former board member Teresa Weaver, who put together one of the best-edited literary pages in the country, giving Atlanta — which was #15 on the list of most literate cities in the U.S. (far ahead of New York(#49) — the cultural dialogue it deserved.

The LA Times has also “re-organized” it’s Sunday Book review, combining it with the Opinion section. So the incredibly shrinking book review lives on.

Shying away from big complicated stories and shrinking book review sections might seem to be two dissimilar things. But they are related to the clear dumbing down of the MSM to cheap soundbites, judgments reduced to simply thumbs up/thumbs down. Anything that even has a whiff of complication is cut or ignored. It is deemed too costly; not a significant Return On Investment (ROI). What’s stupid with this trend in print media is that, newspaper readers are in fact “readers.” Why the continuing insult to them by shrinking reviews of books, things readers read, seems just plain idiotic.

We also don’t get to read long interviews with fiction writers in print on a regular basis and we don’t get reviews of books in the big reviews of books other than those with “significant push” by their publishers and those of the generally accepted heavyweight writers.

Every page cut from a Book Review, every resource pulled from investigative reporting, only makes the blogosphere and the web more necessary in this country. It’s people with little or nothing to lose that can write long detailed reviews of books, and spend time sorting out the intricacies of the U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal, as TPMmuckraker did.

So bloggers like Marcy Wheeler get to live-blog the Libby Trial. Or they form a co-op to bring attention to deserving works of fiction. Or they publish a 4-part interview with their favorite writer. Or they get invited to take part in political roundtables like Liberal Lucy and Marcy Wheeler on Off the Record. Even the U.N. has given press credentials to a blogger [NY Times, reg. req.]. Or they write a highly-acclaimed book like Laila Lalami did with “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.” These are all things that show how bloggers can earn legitimacy in the marketplace of ideas.

(I should also say that I believe the Political Sphere gets blogs and the web much better than the Literary Establishment does. You only have to look at the sites for the Obama, Edwards, and Clinton campaigns versus the recent dust-ups over N+1 mag and the cluelessness of the NY Times Book Review editor to see that vast difference.)

Elements of the MSM can complain about the influence of blogs and the web, but we’re only picking up the slack they keep leaving behind.

Note: I am not shocked that the election was rigged in Florida in 2000 in favor of Bush. Any half-wit could see that. (Maybe it’s the Chicagoan in me.) Besides, rigging elections is as American as baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and hating the Yankees. From the Founding Fathers restricting voting privileges to only white male landowners, to the ballot-stuffing of Tammany Hall, to Poll Taxes and “Literacy Tests” in the South, to denying women the right to vote, to the dead voting in Chicago, to systematically purging voter rolls along racial or ethnic lines, vote-rigging (through both legal and illegal means) has a long and storied history in the U.S.A.

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