Full blooded, check it and see

The other day we talked about the New York Times public editor's discussion of the factually challenged work of Edward Luttwak.  Courtesy of Eric Alterman's column on Media Matters, we were alerted to the Chicago Tribune public editor's response to the Kathleen Parker column of a couple of weeks ago (which we discussed here).  In brief, the column argued that Obama was not a "full-blooded American."  Many, according to McNulty, wondered why such a column could be published in a major newspaper–rather than say, the Klanly Times.  This is McNulty's response:

Responding first to Nielsen, I wrote that as ridiculous and repugnant as that full-blooded sentiment is to many, if not most, Americans, I would rather see it on the op-ed page so that people can hold it to the light and repudiate the notion rather than deal with it as a whispering campaign.

Remember McCain was the target of whispering in his 2000 primary race against George W. Bush in South Carolina. While McCain traveled with the daughter he and his wife had adopted from Bangladesh, an anonymous telephone smear campaign asked voters whether they would vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child.

Anyone who believes that the race issue will be dormant in the general election—presuming that Obama is the Democratic candidate—is hiding from reality. It remains a divisive issue and, as Parker noted, some fear that "their heritage is being swept under the carpet while multiculturalism becomes the new national narrative."

I think it is the news media's responsibility to highlight not just the political stratagems but the attitudes that help create them.

The aim of the Tribune's Commentary page is to display a wide range of subjective opinions, even those some may consider offensive. Printing a column is not the same as sanctioning it.

The same need to speak plainly but objectively is true in the news pages. An article Tuesday by Tribune reporter Rex W. Huppke examined how residents in the rural Kentucky town of Munfordville felt about Obama versus Clinton.

"They won't vote for a black man," Huppke quoted one white Obama supporter talking about his neighbors, "That's all there is to it. They just can't bring themselves to do it."

Another resident explained bluntly why he wouldn't support Obama: "It's his color."

Those statements reflect racist views, but does that mean the news media shouldn't report them?

McNulty draws an analogy between the "news" part of the paper and the "opinion" part–that somehow they have the same goal of "reporting."  He also makes the accompanying claim that the opinions are "subjective" and may be "offensive."  Fair enough.  But the analogy, I think, does not hold. 

The reporting part of the newspaper ought to inform readers of claims of fact–verifiable, one would hope, by the newspaper's fact checkers.  There will of course be editorial decisions to be made–which news stories to report?  What questions will our reporters ask of politicians?  Do we run the R. Kelly story on the front page every day for the next several months?  And so forth. 

There are editorial considerations to be made on the op-ed page as well.  Which opinions form part of the "wide range" of public opinion?  Shall bin Laden be allowed to write a "his turn" column about the Great Satan?  Shall we allow obvious factual distortions and groundless hyperbole just because it falls into a "wide range" of public "opinion"?  Which opinions in the wide spectrum deserve a column of their own?  Many don't.  The editorial judgment, one would presume, determines which opinions fall within the spectrum of reasonable civil discourse.  

Besides, it's obvious that some opinions are better informed than others.   Some opinions are more well grounded in fact and in reason than others.  Parker's was one of those that wasn't.  And it's up to the Tribune editors to know the difference.

One final point.  The alternative to publishing Parker's column is not "a whispering campaign" somehow abetted by the media's silence.  The alternative rather is that Parker's argument is not claimed to represent part of range of reasonable civil discourse.

7 thoughts on “Full blooded, check it and see”

  1. This is such a cheap cop-out, albeit one we hear constantly these days. “Publishing it does not mean endorsing it” is patently false, since they’re not exactly operating an open forum. Column-inches are a finite resource and they make practical and value-based judgments when choosing what gets printed and what ends up in the trash.  Second, he seems to be implying that the paper and its editors can’t be held accountable for the editorial page since it’s all (in his mind) inherently subjective. After reading this, I’m unclear as to why they have not published my column about how the sun revolves around the Earth because Nancy Pelosi kills babies. He has a duty to allow my subjective, entirely-valid viewpoint to be shared.

  2. Hmm… Foreigner references. I thought titles involving puns–in dead languages–were the mark of clarity.

    My Latin’s really improved since becoming a daily reader.

  3. Okay, so the NYT can dance around the issue, but what I wanna know is what they do after the show.

    Do they do more than dance? I mean, they got to know who they readers feel about this. They don’t have to read our minds, to know what we have in mind. I wich they’d just come out and admit that coporate interest dominate their industry and they print what they’re told, content be damned. But, I guess before they do, they’ll have to get way from you-know-who.

  4. I wonder if we our government is not turning into Punditocracy (as a form of a government rather than just “a group of political commentators”). Look at the punditocracies’ (little ‘p’) role in selling the invasion of Iraq to the populous (re: Bill Moyers’ “Buying the War”) — the Whitehouse would leak to the pundits, the pundits write Op-Ed/columns based on the leaks, and Whitehouse spokespeople (and the V.P.) would get on TV and cite those pundits to support their policies and war agenda.

    And not only that…

    There are very few writers presented to the American people in the Op-Ed pages. Say, what, two dozen? And it is these people who drive the rest of the public discourse on TV and radio. Only the same faces (and voices) are everywhere (“onlywhere” I call it).

    These few and extremely limited views drive the majority of news media. And if the Media truly was so “Liberal,” why is it that people like Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers, Cornel West, Ward Churchill, etc., not visible in the Media Pundit TV and radio shows, or have regular columns in the opinion pages of the major newspapers and magazines?

    And why I point that out is that our punditocracies seem to feed off of themselves as much as they feed their readers and just as much as they feed our politicians.

    Our punditocracies supply the education of our politicans, their readers and themselves. I cannot think of a worse situation.

  5. Here is another example of what I mean about the pundits influencing government.

    Power of the Punditacracy
    by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post

    “Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham and their conservative colleagues didn’t sink the Harriet Miers nomination on their own. But in the blink of a news cycle, they turned against their president, framed the debate and provided the passion that undermined her case.”


  6. Dear GA,

    I think I agree with you on the power of the punditocracy to create and sustain media narratives.  There are others of course, but they’re certainly an important one.  The conservative punditocracy is, by an large, fairly well organized for such narrative construction.  I think at least.

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