The media are accustomed to accusations of hype, inaccuracy and general foolishness. But charges of hypocrisy cut deep because these get to the heart of what we say we try to do: tell the truth in an impartial way.
Let me count the ways.
We cover a famous football player's funeral in the hope of showing that he lived a worthwhile life and had many friends and fans -- and come away being excoriated. People accuse us of leaving an impression that he was a punk who kind of got what he deserved, somehow.
Journalists try to show some civic-minded instincts by holding a presidential debate, and instead wind up getting discredited for the effort. The topics covered at the debate were considered to be so insipid that they lacked any shred of genuine news value.
We convey a feeling that presidential candidates are not all they seem, in the guise of balanced reporting.
Then there's the saga of the newsweeklies and Karl Rove.
The media didn't exactly cover itself in glory the other day at the funeral of Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor, who was shot in his home during what police described as a botched robbery attempt. He later died from his injuries.
As Michael David Smith wrote on the AOL Sports Fanhouse blog: "Otis Wallace, the mayor of Florida City, Fla., spoke at the service, and he had harsh words for the members of the media who wrote about troubles in Taylor's life in the days after he was shot. Wallace, who has known Taylor for years and works with Taylor's father, the police chief in Florida City, said that if any good could come of Taylor's death, he hoped it would be [that] 'the media getting a small lesson in grace and humility.'"
Wallace also said the media had implied that Taylor's actions had placed him in a position to get shot: "'They should be ashamed.' That got a loud standing ovation, the most enthusiastic response from the crowd all day."
You know, it's really bad when the media are singled out for abuse at a funeral.
But wait, there's more.
Michael Calderone of Politico.com noted that the Washington Post's Nov. 29 front-page piece on presidential candidate Barack Obama's "rumored Muslim ties came with a twist: Many voices within its own newsroom joined in the firestorm."
Calderone wrote: "Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles lampooned it on the editorial page last Friday, and media critic Howard Kurtz wrote Monday that he didn't 'believe the piece was well executed.'
"Assistant Managing Editor Bill Hamilton, who oversees political coverage and edited the article, said that he was 'a little puzzled' that readers didn't see that the paper's intention was to call into question rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim (rather than a Christian), and was educated in an Indonesian madrassa." "I'm sorry it was misunderstood," Hamilton was quoted as saying. "'It obviously makes me think about how I edited it."
Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times blasted CNN for its presidential debate.
He pointed out: "The United States is at war in the Middle East and Central Asia, the economy is writhing like a snake with a broken back, oil prices are relentlessly climbing toward $100 a barrel and an increasing number of Americans just can't afford to be sick with anything that won't be treated with aspirin and bed rest."So, when CNN brought the Republican presidential candidates together this week for what is loosely termed a 'debate,' What did the country get but a discussion of immigration, Biblical inerrancy and the propriety of flying the Confederate flag?"
For my two cents, I called CNN out in my column last Wednesday for trumpeting that it had hired Carl Bernstein to add toits 2008 presidential coverage. Yes, Bernstein wrote a well-regarded biography of Hillary Clinton, but we all know he's most famous for exposing the Watergate scandal -- more than three decades ago.
I contend that CNN signed up Bernstein because he has a big name and because the network figures that nostalgic baby boomers will like seeing Bernstein on the tube. Fame has outweighed substance, again.
Speaking of how fame outweighs substance, we come to the curious debate between Time and Newsweek, concerning which magazine actually had the first dibs on Karl Rove's occasional column.
The upshot is that Time insists that Team Rove reached out to it first as he was leaving the Bush administration. Newsweek editor Jon Meacham told me that he and Rove communicated about a column on the day that Rove announced he'd be rejoining the private sector. (Rove will be publishing his memoirs in the not too distant future, so it couldn't hurt his prospective sales to have a national magazine like Time or Newsweek put its muscle behind the book, either.)
My problem here is that both magazines wanted people who are as famous as the former Bush administration senior adviser. Time and Newsweek would have us believe someone like Rove could be valuable because he has so much political experience and can impart pearls to prospective voters. Sure he can, but ...
Time representatives say they wouldn't bring on Rove because of ethical problems -- though I suspect that Time's biggest ethical problem with Rove was the turmoil the whole Valerie Plame investigation caused the magazine, its publisher Time Inc. and parent Time Warner Inc. Rove was accused of being mixed up in the Plame affair.
Newsweek ended up with Rove and hopes that his fame will goose Web traffic and magazine sales.
You've got to love the media. We get angry when politicians, sports stars, entertainers and business leaders mislead the public for their own gain. Then we do it too.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who is most hypocritical of all, the media, CEOs or politicians?
MONDAY REPORT CARD: The Internet proved its mettle last week in the wake of the horrific shootings in an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall. It seemed that some of the timeliest reporting of all could be found online. Bloggers showed restraint, too, instead of lashing out with knee-jerk reports.
THE READERS RESPOND: "I agree with you completely that the names of these unfortunate misfits in society should not be immortalized in the media. Maybe if they saw that they would get no recognition; they would stop this horrible waste of innocent life." Lois Seidel
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By Jon Friedman