Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ben D.'s Got To Go

Better and more attentive commentators than myself have clearly established by now that Ben Domenech is an idiot, a plagiarist, and a vicious ideologue. It goes without saying that the Post shouldn't have hired him, and I'm at a loss to explain why it ever did—even granting that Dan Froomkin leans left, no intellectually honest observer could compare the two in terms of partisan zeal. I suppose one could make the argument that Domenech's just like any other opinion writer, but here we have a guy who has repeatedly flouted journalistic standards of honesty, cogency, and just plain civil discourse. Besides, the Post already publishes Will and Krauthammer (both of whom are a hell of a lot sharper than Domenech will ever be); how many right-wingers do they need?

The only explanation I can think of is that the Washington Post is trying to appeal not just to conservatives but to red-staters; more specifically, the anti-intellectualist and fundamentalist strains intermixed therein. As a national news organization, the Post has an interest in reaching out to the entire country, including those among us who may hold views unsupported by facts or logic. But if the purpose of journalism is to educate rather than pander, no reputable newspaper should succumb to the temptation to countenance sloppy thinking and partisan demagoguery for a few more page views on its web site. There are certain standards of intellectual rigor to which any op-ed contributor should be held regardless of ideological tilt, and Domenech has a history of ignoring many of the most elementary of these. But even more importantly than that, mainstream newspapers should not be in the business of offering soapboxes to individuals who crudely insult and attack their political adversaries without justifiable cause or evidence.

I'm right there with Voltaire when it comes to defending to the death people's right to say what they want. I think BD is a colossal tool (and I can say that because I'm not on a big media company's payroll), but he does have the right to speak his mind, on his own web site that he props up with his own dollars. However, his voice has no place within any ostensibly objective news organization. If the WaPo truly honors the concept of journalism as a strict, standards-based form of democratic communication that transcends baser politically-flavored prattle, it should drop Domenech now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mr. Domenech Goes To Washington[]

It seems the Washington Post just can't stay out of hot water with liberals. As if the Froomkin and comment-disabling kerfuffles weren't controversial enough, the paper's website yesterday debuted a new conservatively-slanted blog helmed by founder Ben Domenech.'s notoriously tendentious peanut gallery was quick to pass its collective judgement against the paper's decision to offer Domenech an official soapbox (E&P lists a few sample comments here). The E&P article says that the prominent right-winger was hired specifically to counterbalance Froomkin's alleged liberal bias, the existence of which Froomkin's fans strenuously dispute.

Blogland liberals aren't happy either. Let's survey some of the more colorful characterizations floating around out there:

Firedoglake: " the most thick-witted, mouth breathing home schooled freak [the Post] could lay [its collective] hands on"

TPM: "a high octane Republican political activist"

Yourlogohere: "a 24 year old with little journalistic experience who lists among his credientials being the "youngest political appointee of President George W. Bush"

The Poor Man Institute: "professional Republican activist," "home-schooled prodigy"

Pharyngula: "a frothing idiot"

The Sideshow: "a mindless right-wing hack"

I'll be back later with a more substantial smattering of observations on Mr. Domenech's new post.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bigger Playing Field, Narrower Goalposts

Today's NYT spotlights a newly-released study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that finds an unusually narrow conception of "the news" among an ever-expanding league of journalistic and quasi-journalistic outlets. On a single randomly-chosen day (March 11, 2005), the thousands of cable, broadcast, radio, and the Internet channels reviewed were observed to cover pretty much the same two dozen news stories. Unsurprisingly, the cable networks treated the news most superficially, while newspapers generally surpassed other media in both breadth and depth of coverage ("though perhaps in language and sourcing tilted toward elites," the authors hedged). Bloggers continued to buoy news items outside the MSM's purview, but for the most part offered perspective and interpretation in lieu of original reporting—confirming that their relationship is still largely dependent upon the legwork of traditional news organizations.

So much for the democratization of the media, I suppose. The Project's findings line up with the established literature on agenda-setting, which indicates that the largest journalistic enterprises will tend to dictate the terms of public debate regardless of the playing field's size. Adding more voices to an already cacophonous media arena will do little good if those voices are not empowered. It'd be great if the entrenched news players could start pushing for more internal pluralism, integrating more than just the standard "objective" reporting style with which fewer and fewer news consumers seem to be satisfied these days. They're gonna have to figure something out, because ad competition from new-media giants like Google and Craigslist along with the fact that young people by and large simply don't read the paper or watch the news anymore have been squeezing profit margins for years now.