Peter Peterson (referenced in post below) makes some incisive and welcome observations about the destructive influence that ensues from the weaknesses and failures of "new media."
Pragmatism rules. Mobilizing the base is the top priority. Peterson goes on to cite numbers that show that partisans have become much more polarized, are turning out in greater numbers and in greater unity.
He rightly skewers the "niche-targeting media" who "play to this polarization with nasty talk radio, then 'gotcha' books, and then preaching-to-the-choir cable TV deliberately honing on a segment of enraged partisans."
Whereas "new media" have provided some true victories, some publications began quite a while ago to diminish or all but eliminate their provision of libertarian views, adopting harder stances. As a former insider in "conservative" media, I can attest to appalling practices and stomach-churning hypocrisy one can encounter.
These included editors inserting comments (and paragraphs) the writer completely disagreed with (and vociferously protested against). (Try getting these removed after a story hits the Internet.) In many cases writers are provided no review/sign-off to edits done to pieces, only to be shocked to see the final product that appears under their byline. Other unpleasantries include editors hoovering out all balance in a piece and worst of all -playing backdoor games with donors -donors who also happened to be government officials.
I was shown the door at one organization, ironically, immediately after (surely a coincidence) informing the National Nuclear Security Administration that I was investigating allegations of illegal activities -which according to the source compromised national security. I got a copy of the email from the NNSA official to my editor, which ended with a note about how the official would be at the annual "donor's gala" and was eager to see how I would be dealt with. I was fired the next day. The official also requested changes to an article I had already written, which were obediently carried out by the editor without conferring with me -or the facts. Egads. Can we say "no journalistic standards"?
Before I was shown to the curb, however, I was berated for the factual email I wrote NNSA, (which I still have) which quoted and named the source, and included 3 pages of citations from government documents. My editor described the email as "dripping with arrogance." Since when are facts -or the intention to uncover the facts -synonymous with immorality?
Before hitting the road, I made distinctly clear my utter lack of respect for the appalling lack of journalistic (and moral) integrity displayed by my editor and the organization in this incident.
It was the second time I found out about donors controlling media reporting at that organization. (But since almost all meetings between the editor and upper crust were behind closed doors, away from the reporters, how would one know how often it happened?)
This is the new media revolution? This is what it means to be fierce, balanced, independent? This is the alternative to "media bias"? This is the product of those calling for increased transparency from mainstream media?
Some of these conservative media outfits make millions of dollars and appear to be hopelessly in thrall to party power. They lost their souls a long time ago. No wonder they don't reveal their donor lists to the public. They'd be humiliated for being seen to be what they are underneath the surface: presstitutes who bend over in the media shower to pick up any partisan (and government) buck, while loudly proclaiming their (religious) righteousness, independence and objectivity, and while hiding the source of their funding. They seem to yearn for no more than becoming George Creel propaganda house wannabees, the befitting and telling apex their worship of political power and tradition leads them to. They are capable of pretending to be motivated by the true journalistic sentiment of not being able to countenance manipulation of the people by media, but in their turn, when they have opportunity, they serve up the language of political propaganda and persuasion -packaged as reliable and unbiased news, or they choose to intervene to suppress the truth. The alloyed nature of these ventures disqualifies them from the arena of objective news.
That said, I want to say of course, that not all inhabitants of this new media universe are the same. There are honorable people who truly hold their convictions honestly and write honestly. I've had the pleasure of knowing them and working closely with them. You may not agree with all of their politics, but points of political difference were not cause for firing. These folks don't fire writers for "failing to write to our constituency," as happened to a top conservative reporter (and book author) I know at another outlet. The honorable people are those who are, for example, appalled when they find out about how a top conservative media organization created a false front to bilk money out of donors. (Such things come to light when angry donors talk to other organizations. Most top donors give to more than one organization).
Nine months after my being escorted out the front door, the head of the NNSA was forced to resign. My source, Peter Leitner a senior strategic trade adviser to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, isn't shy about expressing his utter disdain for the conservative organization I worked for, refusing to have any communications whatsoever with them. He was non-plussed by my firing. But it wasn't Leitner's first ugly experience with the organization, the earlier one involving a well-known conservative reporter fired under, let's say, suspicious circumstances. But that's another story! (A fascinating subtext to this story is how foolish people outside such an organization can become damagingly entertwined in and unable to extricate themselves from, a situation like this, all set in motion by a government official.)
One well-known conservative reporter (who has his own amazing accounts of media malpractice -backed up by evidence) described the world of these conservative media figures this way to me: "They'd just as soon slit your throat in the night, as look at you. They are completely without honor."
"It's not hard to figure out who benefits from this extremism: the party leaders themselves," Peterson writes. It's how they "enhance their leadership power, protect incumbents, and assure friendly donors and interest groups of their vested support.""By fostering a mood of emergency, they can shun compromise and punish mavericks, and rest assured that supporters will overlook their unsavory strong-arm tactics and obvious policy contradictions."
There are plenty of more details to tell on this issue, but I'm restricted by a respect for concision and...I'm in the middle of some major projects for the magazine, including the build of our new website. Suffice it to say, I'm delighted to be working at a magazine that values objectivity and intellectual rigor. Not surprisingly, most of our readers are neither Republican nor Democrat.
In the meantime, the MSM (mainstream media) should do us all a favor, take the gloves off and do a thorough investigation of "new media" organizations.
They'll find an embarassment of riches.