"Hell is other people"

A Defense of Journalism

Shabby Commentary

Ideologically purblind fabulist Jonathan Chait threw an incredibly pathetic hissy fit about Jeff Gerth’s piece, The Press Versus the President, published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

His accusations that the CJR report on press Russiagate failures amount to “siding with Trump,” and being “pro Trump,” reveal his rage-fueled bias. Nowhere in Gerth’s 20,000 plus word report does the author mount a defense of Trump. In the author’s own words, “this is a look back at what the press got right, and what it got wrong, about the man who once again wants to be president.”

Chait spends the first few paragraphs flailing helplessly, admitting, sure, there were press mistakes, but the Watergate investigation has mistakes too! He salts the paragraphs with salacious tidbits, like Trump negotiating unsuccessfully in the 90’s with the Russians to put a Trump tower there, and dropping it in such a way the reader could think it happened during Election 2016.

Chait’s most clever truth twisting is where he alleges Hillary had nothing to do with the Trump-Russia hysteria. I guess Chait never got the news about Hillary’s campaign and the DNC paying FEC fines  “for not properly disclosing the money they spent on controversial opposition research that led to the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.”

The bulk of Chait’s piece is a mewling inside baseball complaint about CJR cancelling a piece it has commissioned on The Nation’s suspiciously “pro-Russia” editorial stand. Could be of interest, but it has nothing to do with the integrity and veracity of Gerth’s Russiagate piece in a journal that routinely criticizes Republicans for attacks on journalists and journalism.

Good Journalism

If you want some good commentary from the left, try Matthew Yglesias at Substack, Why you can’t trust the media:

People have access to more and better information than ever before, so they’re more ambiently aware of bad stories than they used to be.

OK, smacks of excuse-making, but he’s being refreshingly honest. Yglesias goes on to cite the straightforward, data-driven approach to business reporting and then contrast that with more narrative-driven news most consumers apparently prefer:

After all, the purpose of journalism is to bring true information to light — so why are so many stories false and misleading, and why do so many true, important facts go under covered?

Here I’m afraid that the main problem is the news-reading audience, which simply does not agree that the purpose of journalism is to bring true information to light. I don’t know why people read what they read, but they are mostly not seeking actionable intelligence about the state of the world and therefore don’t care that much about accuracy.

He concludes:

Either way, you’ll find plenty of articles whose angle you disagree with to get mad about, and if you peer under the hood, you’ll probably find that they’re pretty sloppy. Then you can tell all your friends, and everyone will learn more and more about why the media is worse than ever.

Another good piece pushing back on Gerth’s CJR report comes from Andrew Prokop at Vox:

Does the media’s Trump-Russia coverage hold up? It depends on what coverage you’re talking about. The “Trump as Manchurian candidate” theories, the frenzied hunt to unearth any suspicious-sounding “contacts” with any Russians, and anything based on the Steele dossier — the explosive document that purported to have the goods on Trump but very much didn’t — have not aged well.

But the coverage and scandal were about more than that. Though it’s inconvenient for the revisionists’ narrative, the Russian government really did intervene in the 2016 election by hacking leading Democrats’ emails and having them leaked. Much of the coverage of the scandal now derided as “Russiagate” was about the investigation into whether anyone associated with Trump was involved in that Russian effort, treating this as an open question to which we simply didn’t yet know the answer.


To be clear, there was too much hysterical and flawed reporting in Trump-Russia coverage, and that shouldn’t be defended. But a great deal of thoughtful, rigorous, and newsworthy work took place on that beat too. Journalists did not in the end find that Trump cut a deal with the Kremlin in 2016, but they unearthed a great deal about Trump and his allies in the process.

Both men do a good job honestly addressing Gerth’s piece–and reporting in general–admitting and explaining the inevitable flaws in everyday journalism. They rebut the arguable points of Gerth’s reporting, point our germane omissions, and do it without resorting to lies and diversionary tactics.

Contrary to the blabbering idiots crying “Bothsidesism!!!” Yes, there really are two sides to any given issue. And the more complex and wide-ranging the issue, the less likely one side or the other is 100% right.

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