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The Popularity of the Press

Yesterday, I considered posting about an American Journalism Review poll that found a startling number of Americans against the First Amendment, particularly freedom of the press. I was going to hold off on writing until I've seen the actual poll because wording is all important in these things. For example, I'm a little skeptical of the statement that "More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of government military policy." Based on the way in which journalists (especially journalist associations) generally act, I wouldn't be surprised if the question was phrased such that a respondent who doesn't think academics should be able to fundraise for Hamas in class and does think the military ought to be able to recruit on campus, for example, would have answered "yes, limit."

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit raises the very-much related issue of public dislike of the press, and his conclusion is almost exactly what I was going to write regarding the poll:

Where the article is dead-on is in recognizing that press freedom is threatened when the public doesn't respect the press. But here's a message to journalists: the public doesn't disrespect you because you're "too tough" and raise troubling questions they don't want to think about. The public disrespects you because you are, far too often, sloppy, superficial, and biased. You want more respect, do something about that.

For example, I discovered the poll through an opinionish column in my local Newport Daily News. Jim Gillis, the author, includes the following sentence: "By the way, those polled aren't too high on religious freedom, either, especially if it involves people practicing a religion other than Christianity."

This sentence derived from the following two points from the AJR report (I know because I personally confirmed with Mr. Gillis that it was his only source):

About half of those surveyed said government should be able to monitor religious groups in the interest of national security, even if that means infringing upon religious freedom.

More than four in 10 said the government should have greater power to monitor the activities of Muslims living in the United States than it does other religious groups.

Somehow, we've gone from potentially no more than an opinion that we should allow scrutiny of American Mosques (where terrorists are known to at least recruit) to a broad statement of Christian bigotry!

Thanks to "campaign finance reform," thinking such as that will be all that's available within 60 days of an election. Maybe people aren't so much wary of the First Amendment as of its one-sided application.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:43 AM EST

1 Comment

Sam Donaldson is one of those who constantly says, they don't like us because we ask "tough questions." He is also a prime example of why it is hard to respect the "asker" of "tough questions". His are seldom ones that people who have researched deeply would ask (and doesn't he have an expensive staff that could do that background even if he can't?); the toughness is often personal and the questions are almost always opinion or poll-oriented. (Americans think. . . ) or, Some think you are doing such and such for political reasons. This was true of questions of Clinton as well as Bush, of Democrats as well as Republicans. Since the questions have so little content, they follow the winds of change and reveal the biases of the journalists more readily. They are not the questions of the intellectually curious (imagine applying that term to Donaldson or Rather or Couric or. . .). But the silliness is at least as offensive as is the bias. (Leaving aside the hypocrisy of the bias.) Major network news thinks in cliches (e.g., Democrats are for the people; Republicans are for business; teachers are for the children; Republicans are against minorities--in their psychobabble world and with their cliches, no wonder Democrats get a better hearing.) Asking hard questions should begin with asking hard questions of oneself - am I fair, do I give enough context, do I need to inform myself better? Is my heart-wrenching example the exception or the norm? Indeed, blogging is more work than vegetating each night before the news, the rival networks that are getting higher market share are not dominated by "easy" questions. And if they want to really learn independence, look at C-Span. If these newspeople really want toughness, let the talking heads talk (like they do on Lehrer and in interviews with Lamb). Adversarial, gotcha' interviews aren't "tough" - having the facts to counter an argument, letting the expert give a context and another expert counter it - that leads to "tough" thinking if by "tough" we want to mean thoughtful, strong, competent, fact-based, history-recognizing questions. But I don't think that is what Sam Donaldson means.

gbm @ 09/07/2002 12:30 PM EST