T Nation

The American News Media


Question: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina has the American News Media grown it's "balls" back?

Here is an article by the BBC which asks this same question:

As President Bush scurries back to the Gulf Coast, it is clear that this is the greatest challenge to politics-as-usual in America since the fall of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Then as now, good reporting lies at the heart of what is changing.

But unlike Watergate, "Katrinagate" was public service journalism ruthlessly exposing the truth on a live and continuous basis.

Instead of secretive "Deep Throat" meetings in car-parks, cameras captured the immediate reality of what was happening at the New Orleans Convention Center, making a mockery of the stalling and excuses being put forward by those in power.

Amidst the horror, American broadcast journalism just might have grown its spine back, thanks to Katrina.

National politics reporters and anchors here come largely from the same race and class as the people they are supposed to be holding to account.

They live in the same suburbs, go to the same parties, and they are in debt to the same huge business interests.

Giant corporations own the networks, and Washington politicians rely on them and their executives to fund their re-election campaigns across the 50 states.

It is a perfect recipe for a timid and self-censoring journalistic culture that is no match for the masterfully aggressive spin-surgeons of the Bush administration.

'Lies or ignorance'

But last week the complacency stopped, and the moral indignation against inadequate government began to flow, from slick anchors who spend most of their time glued to desks in New York and Washington.

A Chinook helicopter hovers near the Louisiana Superdome
Images of the military in a US city have shocked many Americans
The most spectacular example came last Friday night on Fox News, the cable network that has become the darling of the Republican heartland.

This highly successful Murdoch-owned station sets itself up in opposition to the "mainstream liberal media elite".

But with the sick and the dying forced to sit in their own excrement behind him in New Orleans, its early-evening anchor Shepard Smith declared civil war against the studio-driven notion that the biggest problem was still stopping the looters.

On other networks like NBC, CNN and ABC it was the authority figures, who are so used to an easy ride at press conferences, that felt the full force of reporters finally determined to ditch the deference.

As the heads of the Homeland Security department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) appeared for network interviews, their defensive remarks about where aid was arriving to, and when, were exposed immediately as either downright lies or breath-taking ignorance.

And you did not need a degree in journalism to know it either. Just watching TV for the previous few hours would have sufficed.

Iraq concern

When the back-slapping president told the Fema boss on Friday morning that he was doing "a heck of a job" and spent most of his first live news conference in the stricken area praising all the politicians and chiefs who had failed so clearly, it beggared belief.

The president looked affronted when a reporter covering his Mississippi walkabout had the temerity to suggest that having a third of the National Guard from the affected states on duty in Iraq might be a factor.

It is something I suspect he is going to have to get used to from now on: the list of follow-up questions is too long to ignore or bury.

And it is not only on TV and radio where the gloves have come off.

The most artful supporter of the administration on the staff of the New York Times, columnist David Brooks, has also had enough.

He and others are calling the debacle the "anti 9-11": "The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled," he wrote on Sunday.

"Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield."

Media emboldened

It is way too early to tell whether this really will become "Katrinagate" for President Bush, but how he and his huge retinue of politically-appointed bureaucrats react in the weeks ahead will be decisive.

Government has been thrown into disrepute, and many Americans have realised, for the first time, that the collapsed, rotten flood defences of New Orleans are a symbol of failed infrastructure across the nation.

Blaming the state and city officials, as the president is already trying to do over Katrina, will not wash.

Beyond the immediate challenge of re-housing the evacuees and getting 200,000-plus children into new schools, there will have to be a Katrina Commission, that a newly-emboldened media will scrutinise obsessively.

The dithering and incompetence that will be exposed will not spare the commander-in-chief, or the sunny, faith-based propaganda that he was still spouting as he left New Orleans airport last Friday, saying it was all going to turn out fine.

People were still trapped, hungry and dying on his watch, less than a mile away.

Black America will not forget the government failures, nor will the Gulf Coast region.

Tens of thousands of voters whose lives have been so devastated will cast their mid-term ballots in Texas next year - the president's adopted home state.

The final word belongs to the historic newspaper at the centre of the hurricane - The New Orleans Times-Picayune. At the weekend, this now-homeless institution published an open letter: "We're angry, Mr President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry.

"Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been, were not. That's to the government's shame."


Bump--any takers?


Bout' time. Here is my favorite sarcastic take on the so called liberal media we've always heard so much about.

Another liberal column. Right?
George McClure
Fort Collins

The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals.

I was informed of this fact by Rush Limbaugh. And Thomas Sowell. And Ann Coulter. And Rich Lowry. And Bill O'Reilly. And William Safire. And Robert Novak. And William F. Buckley, Jr. And George Will.

And John Gibson. And Michelle Malkin. And David Brooks. And Tony Snow. And Tony Blankely. And Fred Barnes. And Britt Hume. And Larry Kudlow. And Sean Hannity. And David Horowitz. And William Kristol. And Hugh Hewitt.

And Oliver North. And Joe Scarborough. And Pat Buchanan. And John McLaughlin. And Cal Thomas. And Joe Klein. And James Kilpatrick. And Tucker Carlson. And Deroy Murdock. And Michael Savage. And Charles Krauthammer. And Stephen Moore. And Alan Keyes.

And Gary Bauer. And Mort Kondracke. And Andrew Sullivan. And Nicholas von Hoffman. And Neil Cavuto. And Matt Drudge. And Mike Rosen. And Dave Kopel. And John Caldara.

The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals. For instance, did you know there is an ultra-leftist professor at the University of Colorado named Ward Churchill who wrote an essay three years ago in which he called victims of Sept. 11 "little Eichmanns"? Bet you never heard of him, as the liberal media elite likes to put the kibosh on embarrassing stories like this.

The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals. Look at how they all gave Bill Clinton a pass on the whole Monica Lewsinsky affair. Remember? It was never in the news. We never heard any of the salacious details. The work of his presidency never came to a virtual halt while he defended himself.

The mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals. They have so poisoned the electorate that no Republicans can get elected. Republicans don't control the presidency. Republicans don't control both houses of Congress. Republicans don't control 28 of 50 governorships.

Last year, a lot was made of a report released by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The report found that 34 percent of national journalists identified themselves as liberal, 54 percent identified themselves as moderate and 7 percent identified themselves as conservative. Twenty-three percent of local journalists identified themselves as liberal, 61 percent identified themselves as moderate and 12 percent identified themselves as conservative.

These figures can be interpreted in a number of ways. First of all, if you actually read the whole report, you'd come across commentary that specifically warned against drawing any easy, across-the-board conclusions: "We would be reluctant to infer too much here. The survey includes just four questions probing journalists' political attitudes, yet the answers to these questions suggest journalists have in mind something other than a classic big government liberalism and something more along the lines of libertarianism."

But pretend you're doing a story on the Pew report, and the nuanced comments above are not sufficiently dramatic for your medium. You need to reduce things into some digestible sound bites. If you wanted to sound the alarm bells on the right, you could say that national journalists were nearly five times as likely to identify themselves as liberal than as conservative. This would be literally true but perhaps a little misleading, as the same poll results tell us that 61 percent of national journalists identified themselves as moderate or conservative.

If you're John Gibson of Fox News, you just make up your own statistics and claim that "80-some percent of reporters are self-described liberals." If you're Rush Limbaugh, you offer up the same lie a day later and specifically cite the poll that proves you wrong: "most of them (journalists) are liberals. Eighty percent of them will admit it in the latest press poll ... ."

Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that the media in America really are predominantly recalcitrant leftists. Say you're a conservative media mogul named Rupert and you have the wherewithal to do something about it. Here are three paths you might take:

  1. You could announce your belief that the reporting of news is always subjective and therefore biased, so you are going to start a news network that comes at things from your own perspective in order to balance out what you perceive to be the bias of the left.

  2. You could set up your own news network that actually is fair and balanced.

  3. You could set up your own news network that's consistently and demonstrably partisan, but call yourself fair and balanced.

Guess which one he chose.

This just in at Fox News ... the mainstream media in this country are dominated by liberals.



It is too soon to say. While certainly not on the level of Soviet Russia, the government does exhibit control over our media. If the media refuses to play ball all the time then officials? just stop giving interviews and giving out stories. Remember, the media is a business so just like any other business as soon as their reports start hurting what is going into their pocket they will go back to their ?neutered? ways. Hopefully though I'm wrong


Nope, I agree. Which is why I try only to pay attention to non-corporate news agencies. Or at least ones not owned by huge non-media enterprises (for example NBC who is owned by GE). BBC and PBS are good as far as I'm concerned. I like BBC world for a perspective on what other countries are reporting about us. And I usually listen to NPR Morning Edition streaming feed at work.

As far as printed news sources are concerned I am having a hard time believing anything I read lately.

Any suggestions?


I, for one, distrust the media just as much as I do the government. Both have the same proportion of scoundrels and saints. Both are just as likely to pander to what they think the audience wants to hear (or at least spin it for maximum effect).

I suppose that the country is well served by having these two groups at each others' throats. But to assume that one tells the truth any more than the other is, in my opinion, a mistake.


While I have my own reasons for disliking the mainstream media that aren't based in politics, this author makes a huge mistake.

The personalities he listed are opinion journalists or bloggers, which are just self-made opinion journalists.

Opinion journalists are paid to have an opinion, not to objectively report the news.

The critism of the mainstream media being 'liberal' is not that there isn't enough 'conservative' opinion journalism - it's that objective journalism is all too often not objective at all in its story selection, editorial selection, and analysis.

This author swings and misses - badly.


Alright boys. Maybe if the media grows it nuts back and criticizes the dolt that is in office, this country can stop being the un-american, anti-democracy thing that it has become.


I guess no one here watches CNN.

And did you look at some of those people in the article JustTheFacts listed? James Kilpatrick writes a column on the finer points of grammer and style. Maybe if he had repeated Sean Hannity twice it would've made more sense.


Excellent thread. Great debunking of the 'liberal media bias' myth by JTF.

So the media have grown some balls, huh? But don't you know it's unpatriotic to criticise the president? You are all traitors. You hate America. All those journalists, asking Bush tough questions, they go home at night and burn the American flag! Only blind faith and obedience is patriotic. It's the Republican way.


It seemed like a pretty good list of anally retentive stuffed-shirts to me.


This is exactly correct.

Rush Limbaugh is opinion, not news.

Anyone that reads the NYT will see that they try to distort the news to fit the editorial staffs opinions.

I don't have a major problem with it because I understand the NYT is a left wing rag, much like Rush is a right wing hack.

Some people take the NYT at face value. That is as big a mistake as taking Rush at face value.

I don't trust any of them.


In terms of radio news, BBC world and NPR provide the most thoughtful and least hype driven news I believe. NPR can get quite irritating with some of its "interest" stories, but the real news stories tend to be much more nuanced than typical commercial media, let alone talk radio. They generally make an effort to represent the complexities and difficulties in various approaches rather than trying to boil everything down to black and white. The world is a more complicated place than some would like to admit and a good news report should leave you thinking rather than angry or righteous. If the solutions to problems were as easy as the pundits would have you believe, we long ago would have decided the outcomes and everything would be peachy.

BBC world (radio and online) provides a different and generally-- though not always-- more sober outlook on world news and reports on places that just don't exist so far as the American media is concerned. Their morning news cycle also starts right before I go to bed which is nice sometimes.

In print there really aren't too many options outside WSJ and NYT. I like the WSJ writing style a lot because it is often able to transform otherwise dry topics into stories that are intriguing beyond merely the data represented without-- generally-- going overboard. They also tend to have a sober styling and more comfort with reporting actual data than most of the rest of the MSM. The NYT is useful because there still isn't a serious competitor in international reporting despite the noticeable decline in its own quality and quantity of such since 9/11. I should clarify there and say that the quantity hasn't changed much, rather much more of their international reporting resources are now focused on Iraq and Afghanistan rather than the other 200+ nations of the world despite the fact that not every day in Iraq produces an abundance of newsworthy, er, news. I seem to worry a lot less about the content of the editorial pages than other people I guess because I just look at those as amusements unless they are written by people with actually influence.

I think these more traditional methods of reporting are fine for an overview, but specialty media and primary sources when available are necessary for really getting the gory details. After all, reporters are specialists in telling stories, not technical analysis.


The media blew this story. Thye ignored the efforts put in by both the govt. and volunteers.

They villified the NO police even though they fought gallantly against all odds. Many quit but many more stayed. Why?

The Governor is weak and so is the mayor. The Lt. Gov and the general in charge are kick ass leaders. why ignore then?

They point the camera at that are screaming but ignore those saying thank you to the relief workers. Why? The only time I heard race mentioned was in the media. On the ground it was irrelevant. Why?

Did they sack up? I don't think so. They are quite proud of themselves but the media played it safe and went with the popular opinion.


NPR? You mean you actually listen to National PRAVDA Radio? Good for you...


Well, only between the hollywood reports on FOX and CNN. I think I might die if I can't hear news about my fav actors and the clothes they are wearing this season.




LOL is that a joke or what?

one time I was eating dinner w/ my dad's favorite friends who happen to be jews and we were discussing shows of patriotism to one's country and the jews kept mentioning how American's have better shows of patriotism than other countries, that other countries didnt really get into showing the flag or talking about what would be a good display or whatever. My dad then sad well we aren't as patriotic as Nazi germany i didnt know how to respon d to that but i had a hard time trying not to laugh at the humor. They didnt have any comments to that unfortunately. In the same conversation I thought it was kind of funny for some reason that my dad's friends who again, happy to be jewish, in the same conversation that night while we were drizunk as heck ; tried to persuade me to get into the loan shark business.


I found it quite interesting that after all the negative coverage, the general in charge tried to get the media banned from covering the search for bodies. This sounds an awful lot like damage control and censorship. They don't want those negative images (just like the flag draped caskets coming home from Iraq) being beamed into peoples homes. If you want to control a country, the first thing you do is control the media.

But I also have to agree with Hedo that there has not been as much focus on the efforts of the first responders and the voluteers that are working day and night as there should be. I've been starting to see a few more stories on this in the last few days. It's got to be a grueling task and they all deserve our praise.
However, with that being said, I would really love to see the media keep the pressure on the government. This is a national disgrace and an embarassment and heads should roll.
BTW - here in Cleveland we've been told by FEMA for the last several days that we would be getting several hundred evacuees. So they set up our convention center with cots, built showers, brought in food and clothing. And then we were told they arn't coming. And then we were told they are. And then we were told they are not. And now we just don't know what the fuck is going on. Does anyone at FEMA have a clue?