Halperin on ‘the media spiral’

HALPERIN ON ‘THE MEDIA SPIRAL’…. At first blush, Mark Halperin’s latest piece in Time deals with subjects I’m not inclined to read more about: O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial and the media’s handling of the Shirley Sherrod story. But there are actually some noteworthy observations in the piece, with real merit. (via Adam Serwer)

[T]he coverage of both sagas — Simpson’s, literally, for years; Sherrod’s for the better part of a week — was insanely overblown. The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny.

Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

So the news-and-information conveyor belt moves stories like the Sherrod case from Point A to Point Z without any of the standards or norms of traditional journalism, not only resulting in grievous harm to the apparently blameless, such as Sherrod, but also crowding out news about virtually anything else.

I take issue, from time to time, with Halperin’s coverage of the political world, but on this, he couldn’t be more right. It’s an observation that usually goes overlooked, which makes it all the more encouraging that it’s coming from Halperin — who enjoys enormous credibility with the political media establishment.

He concludes that last week’s obsession was a “low point” for political reporting, which should lead the media to “start climbing out of the pit.”

Halperin doesn’t explicitly call himself out on this — The Page was complicit with last week’s coverage — and the piece brushes past the racial component of both stories. Nevertheless, he deserves a lot of credit for making plain how that conveyor belt operates, and highlighting why it’s not working.

Here’s hoping Halperin’s piece is taken seriously by his colleagues.