Lou Dobbs' CNN departure brings media bias argument to the forefront
Then you know how I felt on Sunday morning, trying to get in-between Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawick and CNN staffer-turned-conservative talk radio guy Chris Plante on Howard Kurtz media show for CNN, Reliable Sources.
The subject at hand: The reasons behind and meaning of "advocacy journalist" Lou Dobbs' resignation from CNN last Wednesday. Plante brought the conservative media party line -- that Dobbs was undone by a liberal media and liberal activists who couldn't abide his conservative stands on illegal immigration.
(If the New York Post is right, and Dobbs got $8-million from his $12-million deal to walk away, I wish the liberal media would conspire against me like that. No wonder he says the split was "amicable.")
Zurawick brought the appropriate response -- are you crazy? -- and proceeded to pronounce Dobbs a "disaster" for CNN's long-established brand as a hard news haven.
I was stuck in the middle, trying to have a reasoned discussion between two guys yelling at each other and interrupting everyone (I'm a huge fan and friend of David Z., by the way, but when he goes on cable TV, this mild-mannered journalist turns into a tiger).
I was struck by a bunch of things during this bit of TV theater:
-- It's always odd to discuss media stories involving CNN on a CNN media show. I kept wondering why Kurtz didn't have CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein or some other CNN executive on to tell us directly what was going on with Dobbs. And how weird was it to ask me about Dobbs successor, John King, who just happened to be anchoring the show which surrounded Reliable Sources, State of the Union?
-- Plante conveniently overlooked the most important issue at hand; Dobbs consistently aired false or misleading information to buttress his point of view, which just happened to be that hordes of illegal immigrants from Mexico are bringing untold ills to America. Such work is shoddy journalism at best and racist at worst; if you're going to call yourself an advocacy journalist, you've got live up to both sides of the term.
-- In a media world where consumers have more choice than ever, cable channels' move toward creating "news" channels which bend and manufacture facts to echo their viewers' worldview only makes sense, at least economically. But that is directly contrary to the role of journalists, whose job often requires digging up stories which challenge conventional wisdom and the assumptions of the audience. Journalists are also required to follow the facts wherever they lead, even if the resulting story doesn't fit a preconceived mold.
-- Conservatives have essentially challenged many of the notions journalists use to define news, insisting that they betray a liberal bias. But replacing those criteria with ideas that bend toward conservatives' biases -- America is always a great nation, government is usually bad, etc. -- doesn't produce better journalism. It just produces reports which affirm what the audience wants to believe. And we have seen in our economic meltdown and how federal disaster response fell apart after Katrina, how objective facts have a way of obliterating how we'd like to see life.
-- In a telling interview replayed on NPR's On The Media, Dobbs justified his approach by essentially saying he was experienced and accomplished enough that he deserved to have a level of autonomy on CNN that no other anchor had. But even the best writers need editors, and any justification which says 'I'm great, so by definition anything I do is great,' is mostly a recipe for problems.
I wrote a story for Sunday's newspaper on the implications of Dobbs' departure, particularly how it reflects on the growing confluence between politics and media.
Dobbs will appear on Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly's top-rated show The O'Reilly Factor tonight; it will be interesting to see what these two, very smart guys, who have built empires on pandering to ideologues, have to say to each other.
Check the video of my Sunday appearance below: