« Long holding homeowners, not flippers, reassure would-be homebuyers | Main | Sonyma will help if income under $146,420, home less than $637,640. »

He said, she said reporting due to 'Regression to a phony mean'

This is a post about a single line in a recent article in the New York Times: Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.... Reporter David Barstow spent five months--five months!--reporting and researching the Tea Party phenomenon.
Based not on a subjective assessment of the Tea Party's viability or his opinion of its desirability but only on facts he knows about the state of politics and government since Obama's election, is there any substantial likelihood of a tyranny replacing the American republic in the near future?

I think it's obvious....that the answers are "no." For if the answers were "yes" it would have been a huge story! No fair description of the current situation, nothing in what the Washington bureau and investigative staff of the New York Times has picked up from its reporting, would support a characterization like "impending tyranny."

In a word, the Times editors and Barstow know this narrative is nuts, but something stops them from saying so-- despite the fact that they must have spent over $100,000 on this one story. And whatever that thing is, it's not the reluctance to voice an opinion in the news columns, but a reluctance to report a fact in the news columns, the fact that the "narrative of impending tyranny" is ungrounded in any observable reality, even though the sense of grievance within the Tea Party movement is truly felt and politically consequential.

My claim: We have come upon something interfering with political journalism's "sense of reality" as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved. That's what created the pattern I've called "regression to a phony mean." That's what motivated the rise of he said, she said reporting.

-- Jay Rosen

See also

He Said, She Said: False Balance

Journalism is a Religion (2004):
1.) J-School as School of Theology
2.) The Journalist's Creed
3.) The Orthodoxy of No Orthodoxy
4.) Practicing Journalism But Not Understanding It
5.) The First Amendment as Press Religion
6.) The God Term of Journalism is the Public
7.) A Breakaway Church in the Press
8.) Interview at the Axis of Evil


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)