Jay Rosen is analyzing the continuing aftermath of the CBS memo debacle (Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes). He points to an op-ed by Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page editor Chris Satullo that has much to say (in 668 words) on the subject (Cries of 'media bias' hide sloppy thinking).
Satullo, like Rosen, takes a very balanced view of bloggers and big media, seeing them as symbiotic, benefiting each other. He properly denigrates excessive blog triumphalism as well as big media snobbery. He also says that we must fear "Orwellians" whose "goal isn't better journalism. It's to bully reporters into submission, so that propaganda may flourish."
Well, yes, there are plenty of folk who would prefer to be in charge of the propaganda machine rather than have to survive in a marketplace of ideas. But I don't think "Orwellian" is the right term.
Why? We live in a nation with perhaps the strongest protections for freedom of speech and the press history has ever known. The First Amendment remains a strong bulwark against the prisons and worse that journalists must face in many areas of the world.
So, I ask, what tools are these "Orwellians" using to "bully reporters into submission"? Why are these reporters cowed by the bullying? Why should they fear Brent Bozell? Why is Satullo claiming that "What matters is that journalism survive..."?
Yes, journalism is in crisis. But the enemy is not external "Orwellians" - whoever they are. The "enemy" is within journalism. The "enemy" is whenever an organization ostensibly dedicated to news decides to act like a politician and stonewall. The "enemy" is when a news organization shades its coverage to serve corporate interests. The "enemy" is those who practice poor journalism.
And how do you fight these "Orwellians"? Not with a circle-the-wagons cry of "political jihad" against critics (which only does the "Orwellians'" job for them) but with a renewed commitment to better journalism. If, as Satullo claims (and I agree), journalism is "the craft of speaking truth to power with factual care" then journalists have to hold themselves to that standard.
Satullo says that the battle cries of the Orwellians are "Bias! Arrogance! Monopoly!" Why do the Orwellians use these cries? Why do they resonate with the public? Is it perhaps because there is truth in them? A truth that should be spoken to power?
If journalists weren't so busy claiming that they were objective and, instead, insisted on transparency and accountability, there would be little to be feared from cries of "bias." The forged CBS memos are about CBS News' failure as an institution, and one of those failures was clearly arrogance by the organization and hubris on the part of Dan Rather. And the major news organizations are, and have been, gatekeepers, if not monopolies. As corporations, they want to remain gatekeepers, because it tends to be profitable.
Satullo actually points towards this:
By journalism, I don't mean getting paid $4 million a year to have nice hair and interview Kelsey Grammer. I mean the principled, difficult search for the most thorough, accurate, fair-minded account of current matters that flawed human beings can attain.
Journalism, done right, buoys democracy; hence its place in the First Amendment.
Media conglomerates are not a synonym for journalism. They employ some journalists, and many who only pretend to be. They enable the craft, but also inhibit and cheapen it.
Journalism has enemies, but where there is freedom of expression, then the only enemies journalism has to worry about are those who would destroy it from within by "inhibit[ing] and cheapen[ing] it."
Worrying about "Orwellians" is only a distraction from the real enemies of journalism (bad journalism) and the only tool needed to defend journalism in a nation with freedom of expression (good journalism).
PS I don't think journalism has an explicit place in the First Amendment. Freedom of the press is about government regulation of distribution, not journalism.
UPDATE 2215 PT
The conversation continues on the comment section of Rosen's post: Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes.