August 09, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your News Media

via Jim Romenesko's Media News, two pieces of journalistic criticism:

Clay Risen says that the L.A. Times should have killed Claire Hoffman's much-blogged piece on 'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis. Risen says that Hoffman couldn't be objective, or shouldn't have assumed the mantle of objectivity, after Francis physically attacked her. Another reporter should have been assigned "to present Hoffman’s story as well as Francis’s." Note that a police officer, Ementi Coary, backs up Hoffman's version of events.

Charles Kaiser, in the New York Observer, notes that Donald Rumsfeld told a blatant lie about his past statements in Iraq, and no major news outlets reported the facts that contradicted him. Rumsfeld said that he had "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq. Three major news outlets simply reported Rumsfeld's statement, even though Hillary Clinton had inserted thirteen overoptimistic Rumsfeld quotes into the Congressional Record.

Do these stories make you think that something is wrong with journalism's conventions of objectivity?

Posted by Matt Weiner at August 9, 2006 03:26 PM

Risen's logic is illogical. If the LA Times had done as he suggests, killing the piece and having a second reporter write about Francis's assault on the first reporter, it dilutes much of the power of the piece, as he suggests. Thus, if you're a subject of a profile and you're worried it's going to do a job on you, just attack the reporter, so they can't write about you anymore!

What's odd about Risen's point is that Hoffman's piece is a magazine profile, not an A-section news article. Writers frequently wind up in-the-story in this type of profile - not to this degree, but the conventions of objectivity are different. When the writer gets involved in the story, she has, not to be objective, but to let the reader know her position. It's quite possible that Hoffman's editors know this. In fact, while Hoffman's leading with Francis's attack on her obviously makes good copy, it also states her possible bias right up front.

Risen maybe ought to go back and read some of the original New Journalism articles. It's not just Hunter S. Thompson getting high, but Tom Wolfe hanging out with Hell's Angels and finding it a little too close for comfort, Gay Talese's pieces about Gay Talese writing profiles, lots of writers chased and clubbed by cops in Chicago '68, and Michael Herr getting in way too deep in Vietnam.

Posted by: Ben at August 11, 2006 03:31 PM