Thursday, February 7, 2019

Centripetal journalism

With all due respect to Jay Rosen, Margaret Sullivan is the best journalism critic working today.

One of the supposed golden rules of journalism goes like this: “If everybody’s mad at your coverage, you must be doing a good job.”

That’s ridiculous, of course, though it seems comforting. If everybody’s mad, it may just mean you’re getting everything wrong.

But it’s the kind of muddled thinking that feels right to media people who practice what I’ll call the middle-lane approach to journalism — the smarmy centrism that often benefits nobody, but promises that you won’t offend anyone.

Who is the media’s middle-lane approach actually good for?

Not the public, certainly, since readers and viewers would benefit from strong viewpoints across the full spectrum of political thought, not just minor variations of the same old stuff.

But it is great for politicians and pundits who bill themselves as centrists.

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz won big when he got a super-cushy red carpet for his possible 2020 presidential run as a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” candidate who thinks his centrism can knit up the nation’s torn fabric. He got this despite his lack of political experience.

The Schultz rollout started Sunday evening on perhaps TV’s most prestigious platform — the “60 Minutes” interview — and picked up speed from there. There were naysayers, of course, but the up-by-his-bootstraps billionaire couldn’t complain about the exposure; he became a household name in two days flat.

Former Ohio governor John Kasich, a moderate Republican, benefited this week, too, when he joined CNN as a “senior political commentator.” The cable network’s announcement called the appointment “notable” because he is one of the most prominent critics of President Trump within the Republican Party. The idea that cable news is lacking commentary from anti-Trump Republicans is notable only in its lack of self-awareness.

And there’s more: Jeff Flake, the ineffectual — but square-jawed — former Republican senator, who was the occasional darling of the Trump resistance, benefited when he signed on with CBS as a contributor this week.


But this is rare. Mostly, we have the irresistible pull to the center: centripetal journalism.

It’s safe. It will never cause a consumer boycott. It feels fair without really being fair.

And it’s boringly predictable.

No comments:

Post a Comment