Connecting the Dots: What any Good Journalist Should Do
by Nathan Empsall, Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 01:01:03 PM EDT
Last night, I finally got around to listening to the podcast of Bill Moyers' December interview with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Now I know that, given his primary season criticisms of the Clinton campaign, Olbermann is no longer seen by everyone here as some sort of knight in shining armor. To those people I would say, I understand your anger; I feel it every time a reporter repeats the lie that Joe Biden is a plagiarist or Howard Dean a polarizing madman. However, now that the primary season is over, we should once again be thankful that SOMEONE with a cable platform is calling out Bush for his attacks on the Constitution and his incompetence.
In that spirit, I want to share two Olbermann quotes from the interview that help crystallize just what a good journalist should do, and why today's media is not representative of good journalism. This first quote is in reply to a question from Moyers about what political journalism and sports broadcasting (Olbermann's prior life) have in common. Olbermann replied that both require skepticism and an appreciation for history.
In sports reporting, it is almost assumed that you need to have some predicative ability and you have to be able to discern patterns, and also discern when somebody's telling you, "No, our shortstop's great!" and he really isn't, and what the difference between those two things are. When the results don't match up to the hyperbole, you need to be able to see that, and you need to be able to say it in some sort of informed way. When you cover a sport like baseball or football or whatever, you're here for this part of the story. You've joined it 75 years in progress or 100 years in progress. It should be the same way when you're covering the news, particularly in politics, and yet as we've seen, people in the political world now don't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was.
This second quote came a few minutes later, and speaks to the importance of linking old news with new developments - what Olbermann calls "discerning patterns."
Part of the news is not just saying, well, this happened in the last 24 hours, but here's something that happened six weeks and there's been a development in it, you're just not reading about it, you're not hearing about it, because there's so much else to worry about it. The list, though, of things we could attach the word "-gate" to in the Bush administration is now 50 items long.
After listening to that interview, I sat down to write a list of all the Bush scandals I could think of. Olbermann was wrong - there are MORE than 50 items. I need to take some time to put the list in some sort of a coherent order, but will post it tomorrow for an open thread of add-ons.
What Olbermann calls "discerning patterns," my former journalism professor and freelance reporter Alexis Jetter calls "connecting the dots." Both are correct: the MSM's fear of repeating "old news" must die. We can't see the truth if we don't connect the past with the present, whether that past be two weeks old or forty years. Reporting the Dick Cheney censored CDC testimony to Congress means nothing if the media doesn't remind viewers that this censorship follows on the heels of similar attacks on the EPA and NASA. Connecting the dots is what Walter Cronkite did when he explained the Watergate scandal to the American people, and it's what Olbermann tries to do with his show's segment, "Bushed! Countdown's list of the top three Bush scandals you may have forgotten about because of all of the new Bush scandals." Here then is the most recent "Bushed" from July 11, guest hosted by Rachel Maddow.