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The media itself IS Real News

The media needs to cover itself

I told you earlier today that CNN's Jessica Yellin -- formerly of MSNBC and ABC News -- was going to blog something herself about her explosive comments on slanted pro-war pre-war coverage of Iraq. Here's the highlight:

First, this involved my time on MSNBC where I worked during
Also, let me say: No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country.
— the lead up to war. I worked as a segment producer, overnight anchor, field reporter, and briefly covered the White House, the Pentagon, and general Washington stories.

Pretty much what I expected; I never assumed that GE's Jeffrey Immelt (head of the corporate parent of MSNBC, and in an amazing coincidence a major defense contractor) was on the phone to Yellin editing her pieces. But her immediate bosses, the senior producers, have bosses who have bosses who have bosses, and it does ultimately lead back to the boardroom.

What I find interesting is the common theme among journalists: That "I never want to be part of the story." She writes at the outset that the media hubbub over her comments are "not the most comfortable position for a reporter" and she concludes with a variation of the classic theme that she wants to leave this distraction and get back to Real Journalism:

And now I'm going back to work covering the Puerto Rico primary from San Juan.

The thing is -- and no offense to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- but what said Yellin said on CNN last night about her bosses, journalism, free speech and a war that has claimed thousands of lives is about 20X more newsworthy than the Puerto Rico primary. And I want to make clear that I greatly admire Yellin for "coming out" the way that she did; that took a great deal of courage. But this idea that journalists are never part of the story is a bunch of baloney.

Often journalists are a huge part of the story, not just in Washington but in any town in America. In most places, the local newspaper and other media are institutions just as powerful as the local zoning board or transit agency or largest employer, the kind of institutions that we aggressively cover, or used to before all the buyouts and layoffs. Inside the Beltway, that is magnified. If the Iraq War had been a botched bank robbery, the Bush administration would have been the triggerman, but the media drove the getaway car. And when the charges come down, those two are equally culpable in the eyes of the law.

This crazy notion that journalists are non-persons not to be covered extends well beyond presidential politics. Last season, the Phillies were off to a dismal 3-10 start when manager Charlie Manuel got into a shouting match with one of the best-known journalists in the city, radio and TV's Howard Eskin. It was a big deal -- coincidentally or not, the team turned its season around after the incident. Incredibly, both Philadelphia newspapers, in writing about what happened, didn't name Eskin as the journalist involved -- because journalists aren't supposed to be part of the story, even when they are. Now, if you get sent to the mall to do a man-on-the-street article about holiday shopping, you're supposed to get not only the names of the people you talk to, but their age and hometown and probably their occupation. But a well-known journalist (and unpopular, possibly a factor) is kept out of the paper? Anyone else think that's weird?

The only time my bosses ever -- in a very minor way -- tsk-tsked a post I wrote on Attytood was right after Brian Tierney & Co. bought the Daily News and Inquirer and I suggested that he hire ombudsmen to cover the two papers, both because people were worried about the potential conflicts of local owners and because it just seemed like covering such a powerful institution in Philly was a good idea. Why would I even suggest taking resources away, it was asked, from Real Journalism.

But writing about what the media does IS real journalism.

In the case of Iraq, just ask some of the family members of these folks.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen has a great post on the Scotty McClellan revelations that started it all.