Taking the wrong marching orders (again)

TAKING THE WRONG MARCHING ORDERS (AGAIN)…. A week ago, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander questioned whether enough attention is being paid to what conservative activists, Fox News, and right-wing talk radio consider important. He lamented the fact that his paper, while offering extensive coverage of important current events, neglected to invest energy into ACORN and Van Jones.

Yesterday, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt followed suit, expressing regret for the paper’s coverage of — you guessed it — ACORN and Van Jones.

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

In the larger context, the NYT‘s hereafter monitoring of “opinion media” seems to be focused on the right. Indeed, the stated goal is to take more of an interest in the “issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio,” not Daily Kos and Air America.

What’s more, the paper’s interest is apparently expanding. Jamison Foser noted, “A few years ago, the New York Times created a conservative beat — a reporter assigned full-time to reporting on the conservative movement (the paper didn’t bother assigning anyone to cover the progressive movement.) Now, in response to right-wing whining, they’re assigning an editor to brief them regularly on Glenn Beck’s latest ravings. I’m sure that will make for some excellent journalism.”

Josh Marshall also raised a good point about the larger context: “You may have seen that there’s a new meme afoot in the news world which has it that the mainstream media either ignores or is insufficiently ‘in touch’ with the right wing noise machine of Fox, Drudge, Glenn Beck, etc. What’s notable however is that the idea seems to be emanating from the folks at Politico whose founders’ theory of the media is that its narratives are largely defined by Matt Drudge and who used Drudge as the key vector to build their national audience. I’m not sure how these two facts compute.”

They don’t.

Two other points to consider here. First, part of responsible journalism is separating fact from fiction, identifying which stories have genuine value, and which don’t. Allowing Fox News and talk radio to become assignment editors for major, legitimate news organizations is backwards — the vast majority of the time they’re pursuing obvious nonsense.

Remember the politicized car dealership story? How about the “muzzled” EPA economist? Or the not-so-scandalous DHS report about potentially violent extremists? Or the outrage that President Obama encouraged children to do well in school? Or the unhinged apoplexy about birth certificates and death panels? Right-wing activists always have something to throw a fit over; that doesn’t make it news and it certainly doesn’t make it true. I’d like to think the boys who cried wolf would get less attention, not more.

Second, the NYT can assign an entire floor to do nothing but monitor what Limbaugh and Beck find important, and it won’t stop conservatives from complaining about the Times. Foser reminds us, “These efforts to bend over backwards to appease the Right — people who will never be appeased — no matter how ridiculous their complaints, in which newspapers like the Times fret over the suspicion of bias regardless of the merits of the complaint, are exactly how the paper ends up handing a presidential election to George W. Bush — and then handing him his Iraq war on a platter.”