NBC, Smears, Arianna, and TV Ethics
by Matt Stoller, Fri Jan 27, 2006 at 05:49:06 AM EST
Arianna Huffington is getting slimed by the NBC PR department for her blogging on Tim Russert. The gist of her blogging is this. Aside from Russert's stonewalling on Plamegate, he routinely accepts massive speaking fees, which is an obvious conflict of interest. But that's old hat. What really got under Russert's skin is that Arianna found out that James Carville and Tim Russert's son are going to host a sports talk show together, and that Russert promoted the show on Meet the Press without disclosing his son's involvement.
Tim responded by lying about her, claiming she hired a private investigator to investigate a journalist. Or rather, it's the NBC PR department which is doing the sliming, I suppose at Tim Russert's behest, and sending stuff to gossip columnists.
But my point here isn't about this tiff. It's about the culture of modern journalism. Among journalists, there's a deep sense of pride in the craft of journalism - I just attended a luncheon yesterday with some old practitioners, and they are proud of the work they do. And honestly, much of it is excellent excellent work. And they are keen to talk ethics, and blogging, and print journalism. But whenever I bring up TV, and especially cable TV, immediately reporters throw up their hands and avoid responsibility. They say things like "Chris Matthews is an asshole" or "Don't engage him" or "Fox News isn't what I do", as if the American public's responsibility to police the craft of journalism that they take so much pride in policing.
That same standard is NEVER applied to bloggers - are they journalists, are they reporters, are they mean people on the internet - there's endless handwringing about that question, and a deep sense that this-is-a-very-important issue-that-we-must-all-talk-and-fret-abo ut. Well, that's fine, except that if you believe you belong to a craft, and there is a self-policing mechanism, you have to actually self-police.
That means asking the same questions of Chris Matthews and Tim Russert as you ask of bloggers and journalists. I don't see that happening. And since television is an immensely powerful medium that dominates our discourse, I find it fairly irresponsible that there is such a lack of discouse.