Andy Ferguson Narrows the Field

 

In all the hoo-hah about them over the last 10 or so days, one of the things I found most annoying was that Brian Williams and Jon Stewart kept being described as journalists. Performers, yes, but journalists? Either of them? Not even close.

That was my reaction, anyway, but then I got to wondering: Does journalism, real journalism, even exist anymore? Original research and reporting, good, accessible writing, all presented with freshness and energy and intelligence? Is it still around? Or has journalism become so debased that we might as well concede the collapse of another corner of what used to be called Western Civilization and go ahead and grant that, by current standards, Williams and Stewart really sort of were journalists?

The answer is that there’s still good stuff around — stuff good enough to evoke admiration and even a kind of awe at the sheer craftsmanship it involves. To wit, Andy Ferguson in the current Weekly Standard:

Boy, that didn’t take long. Over the span of a few short days in late January and early February, three members of the top tier of Republican presidential candidates demonstrated why they’ll never be president. They didn’t do anything to disqualify themselves directly, just revealed the traits that will make them appear unsuitable to most voters by the time the campaign really heats up, say, when the presidential election is a mere 18 months away. As it is, all three of them—Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Chris Christie—can pack it in right now and save months of time and tons of money. They’d be doing themselves a favor, and us too.

Provocative, funny, and, as you’ll see when you read the whole piece, argued.

Andy’s conclusion:

We are a forgiving people, but there are many qualities Americans will not accept in a president. They wouldn’t, we can assume, want a professional gambler, a sex offender, a fashion designer, or a collector of 19th-century dollhouses. No race car drivers, stand-up comics, or Esperanto-speakers need apply. Neither, just as reliably, do they want a prig [Huckabee], a prickly, unconvincing hipster [Rand Paul], or a 52-year-old man who still plays air guitar [Chris Christie].

In one piece, Andy demonstrates the standards according to which journalists ought to be judged–which is to say that he not only demolishes three presidential candidates but two former anchors.

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  1. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Peter Robinson:

    Does journalism, real journalism, even exist anymore? Original research and reporting, good, accessible writing, all presented with freshness and energy and intelligence? Is it still around?

    Sharyl Attkisson. Katie Pavlich.  And yes, James O’Keefe.

    • #1
  2. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    The American public twice elected a buffoon who played the saxophone embarrassingly badly on late-night TV while wearing Ray-Bans in a pitiful attempt to look hip.

    I’m not convinced there is any idiocy that is intolerable to the voters.

    • #2
  3. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    Perhaps this should have been titled, “Peter’s Mancrush Redux?”  Not that Andy isn’t a witty and courageous writer, he is.  But so is Jonah, Lileks, Rob, P.J., Anne even at times Charles and George.  There are others I’m sure I’ve left out.

    But where are the witty, courageous Liberal Journalists (the ones not accused of making facts up or plaigerism)?  That’s what I want to know.  And Jon Stewart doesn’t count.

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Journalist. One who writes for a journal.

    • #4
  5. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    “We are a forgiving people, but there are many qualities Americans will not accept in a president. They wouldn’t, we can assume, want a professional gambler, a sex offender, a fashion designer, or a collector of 19th-century dollhouses. No race car drivers, stand-up comics, or Esperanto-speakers need apply. Neither, just as reliably, do they want a prig [Huckabee], a prickly, unconvincing hipster [Rand Paul], or a 52-year-old man who still plays air guitar [Chris Christie].”

    Ouch, that last one hurt, as I am 53 and play air guitar – to make matters worse, often to Springsteen.  In my defense, I play actual guitar in a band, therefore, when I play air guitar, I am playing actual chords.  Well, it seems like a defense, anyway.

    Over the past couple of days, I have been thinking about those things that we might want our president to be able to do, rather than not do.  Things that have nothing to do with the presidency.  I got to thinking about this after Mike Rowe’s brilliant Facebook post about Howard Dean’s deeming Scott Walker to be unknowledgable due to the latter’s failure to finish his senior year (and we all know how much studying goes on at that time in a college career).

    My fantasy is this:  A presidential “debate” including candidates from both parties.  It wouldn’t really be a debate because there would be little or no speaking.  It wouldn’t even be a contest, though there could be timed race element to it.  It would be more of an exhibition.  The candidates doing things that normal Americans do – perhaps even things that the average man or woman ought to be able to do.  Such things as:

    • Loading and firing a gun.
    • Changing a car’s oil and oil filter.
    • Repairing a leaky faucet by replacing a washer.
    • Installing an electrical outlet.

    Are these too male-centric?  We could add “Baking cookies” for Mrs. Clinton’s benefit; as First Lady, she was allegedly terrific at that task.

    Don’t you think this would be a fascinating spectacle?  Imagine the ratings!

    My point (if there is one) is that most politicians are so far removed from the average American’s everyday reality that many of them would embarrass themselves if they were put on the spot by having to do an everyday task.  We already see this happen occasionally on the campaign trail.

    My guess is that Scott Walker could do all the tasks above, including the cookie-baking.

    • #5
  6. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    I like a man who can cover some Led Zeppelin with an air guitar.

    But seriously. A big part of the problem is that local news sources don’t seem to train their people to really dig in. At least here it’s car crashed, the occasional fire, and local “feel good” stuff. The one exception is the Great Falls Tribune which still does some real, and largely nonpartisan, investigative journalism. All the other papers in Montana are owned by Lee Enterprises–weak tea.

    The TV stations are a lost cause.

    Radio, unfortunately, is limited to national programming like Rush Limbaugh.

    If I were running the world, and God knows I should be, I’d hire students with degrees in philosophy, literature, and the hard sciences. When well schooled those are the young people who know how to dig–and write.

    • #6
  7. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Nothing screams “professional snobbery” quite so loudly as refusal to acknowledge the worst members of one’s industry as true, however flawed, practitioners. Good journalists should be willing to admit the existence, and even the promotion, of bad journalists. Neither quality nor ethics are omnipotent aspects of journalism.

    Brian Williams directed a major news agency with the attention of millions. It’s okay to call him a journalist, Peter. He was that and a liar, both.

    Scientists share this conceit, as if only careful and ethical research can be scientific.

    • #7
  8. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Peter – I think one of the problems here is that the term is being used too broadly. Broadcasting and print are two different art forms and squeezing them into one encompassing word like “journalism” is unfair.

    Neither is it fair to lump Mr. Williams and Mr. Stewart into the same pigeon hole as “performer.” What they do takes an entirely different skill set.

    If journalism is the “first draft of history” then broadcasting is it’s master of ceremonies, the man who introduces it in brief and concise terms. It is often slap-dash and wrong. Romanticize the era of the big three with big budgets and massive audiences but they didn’t handle breaking news any better.

    Brian Williams may not be fit to hold the late Frank Reynolds tie clasp, but few who witnessed it can forget the late ABC anchor’s melt down on erroneously reporting Jim Brady’s death during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.

    The ability to distill incoming information by pictures and at the same time having one or more people talk to you in your ear and still speak intelligible whole sentences is its own art form. And it’s one Mr. Williams does very well. And that skill is still there, it is his personal integrity that has failed him.

    Mr. Stewart, on the other hand, is a satirist who used the format of “news broadcast” to make his point. Unlike Will Rogers or Bob Hope his schtick was more than rattling off one-liners. He was the front man for an army as big as the staff that gets any network newscast on the air. We’ll see how well he transitions out of that. His predecessor, Craig Kilborn, went from hot ESPN anchor, to The Daily Show, to the Late, Late Show on CBS. Since being replaced by Craig Ferguson, Mr. Kilborn has hardly been seen.

    Meanwhile, real journalism is not without its own problems. Newspapers and magazines are lacking in experienced editors. More information spills forth from the minds of reporters without supervision or question. If you want a pretty good first hand account about the current state of Big J journalism read Peter Osborne’s account on the fall of London’s Daily Telegraph, the UK’s best read conservative newspaper.

    • #8
  9. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    At the risk of infuriating a whole lotta Ricochet VIPs who happen to work in the industry, I don’t consider Journalism to be all that sacred a profession in the first place. As a  pillar of western civilization, modern journalism only reared its head about a century ago. We muddled through without it for centuries. (How they managed without crossword puzzles and sports pages I’ll never know.) Before that, it was little more than the public relations / oppo research of political and economic interests.

    The idea that journalists hold some special claim to the truth, or even objective voices on public events, is a myth that they’ve honored as much in the breach as in the observance.

    There have always been clever and engaging writers who could speak the truth; but I question the urge to wrangle all such clever writers into the modern corral of journalism.

    • #9
  10. MikeHs Inactive
    MikeHs
    @MikeHs

    Oh, well, I have exceeded my allowed free visits to Weekly Standard content.  I love Andrew Ferguson’s work.  Well, I’ll just have to wait or subscribe. Thanks for calling attention to this, Peter.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    KC – I don’t particularly care when modern journalism reared its head. That’s about as relevant as comparing a modern physician to an Army doctor during the Civil War. Everything changes in standards, practices and knowledge.

    That it is and should be held to a standard is what’s important. How it’s practiced should be important. It has too much sway over our civic life to dismiss.

    • #11
  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    MikeHs:Oh, well, I have exceeded my allowed free visits to Weekly Standard content. I love Andrew Ferguson’s work. Well, I’ll just have to wait or subscribe. Thanks for calling attention to this, Peter.

    FYI: You can usually get around that restriction by visiting the site in a private/incognito window. They usually track how many times you’ve visited via a cookie, and if you access the site via a private window it won’t allow any cookies to be saved.

    • #12
  13. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    EJHill:KC – I don’t particularly care when modern journalism reared its head. That’s about as relevant as comparing a modern physician to an Army doctor during the Civil War. Everything changes in standards, practices and knowledge.

    That it is and should be held to a standard is what’s important. How it’s practiced should be important. It has too much sway over our civic life to dismiss.

    No, the point is that civilization doesn’t depend on it – and in fact, it didn’t, up until relatively recently.

    Maybe it’s time to reconsider the fact that it does hold too much sway over our civic life. The dominance of the media and journalism over our civic life is something we ought to question — indeed, it’s something we ought to vigorously oppose.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    KC – You and I have very few disagreements but here we at a bifurcation. A free and independent press is essential, as is the idea that access can not be denied the halls of government to members of that press. Technology allows us to question and force the media to adhere to their stated standards and that is all for the good.

    Here I will stand with Mr. Jefferson.

    • #14
  15. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Aaron Miller:Nothing screams “professional snobbery” quite so loudly as refusal to acknowledge the worst members of one’s industry as true, however flawed, practitioners.Good journalists should be willing to admit the existence, and even the promotion, of bad journalists. Neither quality nor ethics are omnipotent aspects of journalism.

    Brian Williams directed a major news agency with the attention of millions.It’s okay to call him a journalist, Peter. He was that and a liar, both.

    Scientists share this conceit, as if only careful and ethical research can be scientific.

    Sooner or later, Aaron, I suppose it simply had to happen that you and I would disagree.  Brian Williams, directing a major news agency?  I’m uncertain I’d be willing to grant that NBC News still represents a genuine news agency–not by the standards of the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg News or the Financial Times or The Economist it doesn’t.  But the idea that Brian Williams actually directed it, in the way the managing editor of a newspaper directs his reporters?  As far as I can tell, that’s simply nonsense.  The man was simply a news reader.

    • #15
  16. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Peter – To your ascertation that Williams was “simply a news reader,” transport yourself back in time before Mr. Williams shot himself in the foot. Two months ago if NBC News President Deborah Turness and Mr. Williams had a disagreement over the direction of the telecast or the news division in general, who do you think the brass at NBCUniversal would have sided with? The lady from ITV or the guy pulling in $10M to be the face of the broadcast with 280 weeks leading the ratings?

    Rule #1 in broadcast management: Keep the high priced talent happy. If Lester Holt keeps the ratings whose power at NBC increases? Holt or Turness?

    • #16
  17. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    EJHill:KC – You and I have very few disagreements but here we at a bifurcation. A free and independent press is essential, as is the idea that access can not be denied the halls of government to members of that press. Technology allows us to question and force the media to adhere to their stated standards and that is all for the good.

    Here I will stand with Mr. Jefferson.

    Good Lord, how boring it would be if we agreed on everything!

    I see a huge chasm between the notion of [freedom of the press] and [modern journalism]. The freedom of the press is about how government should relate to citizens expressing and publishing material. The fact that government is forbidden from preventing the free expression of citizens is not the same thing as having self-appointed, for-profit organizations who claim to have the authority (indeed, the credentials) to select what topics the public needs to know, and to frame those topics under the guise of “objectivity.” (Especially when the practice of that objectivity is frequently a fraud, and the “objectivity” charade is what shields partisan hackery from the backlash it deserves.)

    Most of us would be horrified at the threat that government would have the gall to select, edit, monitor, and referee the beliefs of ordinary citizens … and yet the news media claim that exact authority. They claim the right to set the national conversation. It wasn’t long ago that liberals demanded that major news organizations refuse to publish climate change skepticism, and similar proposals.

    Free speech is one thing. Modern journalism is another.

    • #17
  18. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    KC – It’s not “self appointment,” it’s the market working. Owning a camera and a broadcast license does not give NBC or any other organization power. It’s the fact that they have market share.

    It’s an evolutionary thing. The New York World was once a powerful paper. It doesn’t exist today.

    • #18
  19. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Well, whatever it is, Peter, millions of news consumers still watch and heed it as news. I even know conservatives who watch it.

    Just like I know conservatives who read The New York Times. Sometimes it prints truth. But when? What is informative and what is manipulative?

    • #19
  20. BD Member
    BD
    @

    Williams and Stewart were simply spokespersons for the Manhattan Left.  When Williams was exposed, liberals (including Stewart) reacted by saying “George Bush was liar too!”  They saw it as a defeat for the left, not for objective journalism.

    • #20
  21. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    For journalism as we would like it to be, a la Jefferson’s program, see Sharyl Attkisson.
    For production-heavy, content-light blabber, see the blow-dried millionaire liars.

    • #21
  22. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    EJHill:KC – It’s not “self appointment,” it’s the market working. Owning a camera and a broadcast license does not give NBC or any other organization power. It’s the fact that they have market share.

    It’s an evolutionary thing. The New York World was once a powerful paper. It doesn’t exist today.

    But what about cases like Vox, who claim the right to “explain” events and trends. They launched their journalism before they had any market share. They went into that website and got their items onto other media outlets – and it had nothing to do with their market share. They appointed themselves to have that credibility.

    • #22
  23. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    EJHill:Peter – To your ascertation that Williams was “simply a news reader,” transport yourself back in time before Mr. Williams shot himself in the foot. Two months ago if NBC News President Deborah Turness and Mr. Williams had a disagreement over the direction of the telecast or the news division in general, who do you think the brass at NBCUniversal would have sided with? The lady from ITV or the guy pulling in $10M to be the face of the broadcast with 280 weeks leading the ratings?

    Rule #1 in broadcast management: Keep the high priced talent happy. If Lester Holt keeps the ratings whose power at NBC increases? Holt or Turness?

    Yes, EJ, but they’d have sided with Williams simply because he was more high-priced–and more expensive to replace.  That didn’t make him anything other than…a news reader.  A good one.  An expensive one.  But a news reader.

    • #23
  24. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Vox’s influence, such as it is, stems not from its mere existence but because it’s founder already had established his bonafides within certain circles. That happens.

    It even happens here.

    The trick is not getting a foothold, one has to maintain and expand it. So far Vox isn’t doing that. They’ve screwed up too many times.

    • #24
  25. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    Aaron Miller:Well, whatever it is, Peter, millions of news consumers still watch and heed it as news. I even know conservatives who watch it.

    Just like I know conservatives who read The New York Times. Sometimes it prints truth. But when? What is informative and what is manipulative?

    My question for NBC:  How much of the news that its anchors and producers present does the network itself truly report?  How much genuinely original news does it produce?

    • #25
  26. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    KC Mulville:

     

    But what about cases like Vox, who claim the right to “explain” events and trends. They launched their journalism before they had any market share. They went into that website and got their items onto other media outlets – and it had nothing to do with their market share. They appointed themselves to have that credibility.

    The “journalists” of Vox don’t need to claim the right to explain. That unalienable right was given to them by their Creator (and I’m not referring to Ezra Klein). The beauty of journalism in a free press regime is that they don’t need a license. They don’t need to be competent. These days, they don’t even need to buy ink by the barrel.

    And we don’t have to believe them. They only have as much credibility as they can demonstrate they deserve. So far, that isn’t much. And if you believe what they have to say, I have a bridge from Gaza to the West Bank I’d like to sell you.

    • #26
  27. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Peter Robinson:

    Aaron Miller:Well, whatever it is, Peter, millions of news consumers still watch and heed it as news. I even know conservatives who watch it.

    Just like I know conservatives who read The New York Times. Sometimes it prints truth. But when? What is informative and what is manipulative?

    My question for NBC: How much of the news that its anchors and producers present does the network itself truly report? How much genuinely original news does it produce?

    It’s possible that there are reporters on NBC that produce news. I have no doubt that the reporters on Fox’s Special Report with Bret Baier produce original news every night. Katherine Herridge, James Rosen, Ed Henry, and the rest are out there interviewing and calling and finding out the who, what, etc. just as the print journalists do.  Though I don’t watch the NBC reporters, I’m guessing they do the same.

    But Brian Williams? Not so much. This isn’t to say that he couldn’t do it. It’s simply not the bulk of his responsibility. In fact, his role in getting the news to the audience, though the most public and the most remunerative, is the least important to the news function, although it might be the most important to the network’s profit function.

    • #27
  28. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    How much news does NBC produce? More than you think.

    Besides Nightly News the News Division produces Today, Meet the Press, Dateline, and in 2004 they resurrected the radio network to provide 24-hour coverage. They also contribute heavily to CNBC and MSNBC.

    They also have a division in Charlotte, NC called NBC News Service that caters to affiliates, providing access to national reporters, complete packages and footage for local newscasts.

    NBC also runs Peacock Productions, a documentary division that produces programming for other cable networks, primarily those of the A&E group. Under GE, NBC once co-owned A&E with Hearst and ABC. (They are now 50/50 Hearst and Disney.)

    • #28
  29. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Americans won’t vote for a guy who plays air guitar?

    Says who?

    Sure as hell not a deal breaker for me.

    • #29
  30. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    I love Andrew Ferguson’s work. I also like the way Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes. In The Week, did anyone read: Gay marriage, racism, and what everyone misses about the inevitability of social change ? It’s sharp, informative and heartening, I think. What did anyone else here think of it ?

    • #30
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