Thursday, September 10, 2009

Attention Deficit Disorder in the NYTimes

I woke up this morning, and to my significant disappointment, found this article at the top of the New York Times: Aim of Obama Health Speech: Reigniting a Presidency. NONONONONONO. Or to use a visual from last night,(Translation: hey, now. Hey there, buddy. That's not good for anyone.)

The article should rightly be titled: "Aim of Obama Health Speech: Health."

My attitude towards a great deal of the media isn't so much that they're skewed liberal or conservative -- different media outlets have different kinds of customers -- but that they're all necessarily in the business of selling papers/ad time/magazine subscriptions, and that each of them fights in their own way between the urge to say a thing that is true and the need to make sales. Glenn Beck wakes up in the morning and thinks, ok. Gotta attract some eyeballs today. The New York Times, same thing -- this is the kind of impetus that ends in a news analysis article (they're not, in their defense, claiming that this is 'news') at the top of the paper the day after an important policy speech, and one that eschews the issue at hand (what kind of health insurance? What kind of bill? When? How much?) for personalities, narratives, and conflict.

My point is that this is essentially a dressed up version of "JENNIFER ANISTON TELLS BRAD: I'M OVER YOU!" or "BRONCOS ROUT CHARGERS" -- the kind of story that they assume we will find inherently compelling. It's got people we know in it, and they're fighting with each other, and we want to know who's winning. Meanwhile, though, these same papers are running articles like "Democrats do poor job of explaining health insurance reform" -- can you see the disconnection? Whether a person is for reform or against it, whether they want a public option or not, the responsibility lies in part with the media to help outline exactly what's in the bills, and what's at stake. Journalists are never going to be entirely objective, but there's a difference between a journalist of any party whose goal is to understand an issue or event and one who just wants to tell a compelling horse-race story. This is the difference between the Olbermann/Limbaugh/Becks of the world and the Cronkite/Woodward/Bernstein/Moyers types.

The proliferation of the former is a problem. While the discussions among voters that I've seen have been largely centered on whether or not we should pass a public option or some other form of health insurance reform, Yahoo and Drudge and the Huffington Post want to talk about Joe Wilson yelling, and the Wall Street Journal has a speech grader. The real exception this morning seems to be the Washington Post: the article's registration-only, but the top headline right now is "Obama Endorses Limited Malpractice Reform." Maybe I should sign up: it feels like it's been forever since I felt the informative and seductive caress of news.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I've been saying for years that we don't have a free press in this country--we have a commercial press.