Sunday, March 30, 2014

This Week in Carolyn Ryan Journalism Realness

Is Carolyn Ryan engaged in a smear campaign against President Barack Obama, or is she only reporting the truth ? Public Editor's "AnonyWatch Review" weighs in.

Before we delve into the latest chapter of Carolyn Ryan's media bias, let's begin by first examining the obsession with "polish" by readers of mainstream journalism. By polish, we mean the fetish with exacting spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation on big-name news Web sites.

Earlier today on Facebook, a social media network friend of mine shared a status update in which she made the observation that typographical errors in mainstream media Web sites were distracting, and they degraded her perception of the quality of news being published on said Web sites. This led to a back-and-forth discussion of this topic. At the end, I raised some concerns about how an obsession with typos may distract from the fact that very few journalists (either mainstream or alternative bloggers) very rarely tell the whole truth, that the real quality of journalism may transcend typos and should be judged, instead, on the larger quality of reporting the truth. For example, Anemona Hartocollis, the metropolitan healthcare reporter at The New York Times, gets her copy published in a form that is generally free of copy errors, but her journalism is biased as all get out. Ms. Hartocollis's reporting is emblematic of the corporate agenda in mainstream journalism. Whenever Ms. Hartocollis reports about another community hospital closing in New York City, her reporting only represents the corporate speak of profits-and-losses, and she makes no attempt to humanize the healthcare cuts' impact on real people's lives. Because corporate public relations spin is devoid of any moral obligation, Ms. Hartocollis reduces all her healthcare reporting to be about dollars and cents, siding with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's and his budget axman, Stephen Berger's, desire to make scorched earth cuts to healthcare. As far as Ms. Hartocollis's reporting is concerned, she's never attempted to ever report about the human right to healthcare. Just because Ms. Hartocollis's copy is clean of typos, it doesn't mean it's anymore truthful than a Medicaid Redesign Team press release.

Another example I noted in the back-and-forth on Facebook today was that of a blogger, with whom I'm on the outs. She butchers the presentation of information on her blog like nobody's business. Sometimes, her stream of consciousness blog postings contain incomplete sentences, but more often than not she gets it right when it comes to exposing government and real estate corruption. Her reporting delves deeper than the reporting of some reporters published in The New York Times, for example. Another blogger I know makes big-time typos, too, and sometimes his text "disappears" because of slip-shod copying-and-pasting, but from his blog his readers can learn how to see the corrupt political chess pieces move on big social issues. I acknowledge that it is important to present information, especially journalism, in a way that is accessible to readers, but mainstream journalism, even factoring into account all the waves of "corporate layoffs," still have access to resources like copy editors, interns, other editors, and webmasters that can proof writing after it's been submitted. But, as have been noted time and again, mainstream journalism has come to reflect a corporate agenda that distorts the ability of mainstream journalists to report the whole truth.

Over time, astute readers of political reporting learn that to discover the truth, once must read multiple sources of the same story in order to "average," "balance," and/or "correct" the news. If readers were to solely judge writing on cosmetics, that criteria will short change readers on the truth. Obvious mistakes should be corrected, but some bloggers don't even have editors. So, I'll always defend bloggers before mainstream reporters. But even then, I don't look at polish as being the only criteria for realness.

Carolyn Ryan's use of anonymous sources to report about President Obama's political backlash in the final midterm Congressional elections

Two weeks ago, Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan oversaw a report published in The New York Times about Democrats's fears about "their midterm election fortunes amid President Obama’s sinking approval ratings." The article contained a passage with a shady anonymous attribution :

“One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming ‘poisonous’ to the party’s candidates. At the same time, Democrats are pressing senior aides to Mr. Obama for help from the political network.”

Public editor Margaret Sullivan chastised Ms. Ryan for the use of an anonymous quote, an issue of recent concern to the public editor and the readers of The New York Times. In her defense, Ms. Ryan pieced together a weak defense in which she denied engaging in an hominem attack on the president. It's difficult to believe that Ms. Ryan, as editor, or Jonathan Martin and Ashley Parker, as the reporters of the subject article, would go out of their way to wrongly roll up responsibility for the flagging fortunes of the national Democratic Party on the president. But the larger political reality that Ms. Ryan and Ms. Sullivan ignored is how the Obama administration silences dissent through political machinations, maneuvering that every high-level elected official uses to control his or her own political narrative. Ms. Ryan was famous for espousing the political narrative propagated by former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn when Ms. Ryan used to serve as the metropolitan editor for the newspaper. But now, Ms. Ryan has perhaps learned to challenge power holders, and, by relying on the sentiments of an anonymous source, Ms. Ryan may actually be expanding the political reporting in The New York Times rather than just repeating the official party line of the politicians she's tasked to cover.

No doubt that Ms. Ryan's anonymous sources for the subject article really exist, because many Democrats are plainly fed up by President Obama's corruption scandals involving the National Security Administration, the Monsanto Protection Act, and other political controversies. The public editor was critical of Ms. Ryan's use of an anonymous source, but if Ms. Sullivan would like to further examine why Democrats are afraid to speak out against President Obama, perhaps the editors of The New York Times should examine President Obama's political persecution of liberal advocates and institutions he locks up in the veal pen ? In her further defense, after Ms. Ryan endured so much criticism about her biased reporting that benefitted Ms. Quinn, Ms. Ryan may finally be learning the truth about how journalism really works when one is fully reporting uncomfortable truths about the corrupt political machinations of an elected official. Some sources may not want to go on the record for fear of political retribution. Like a typo hear or their, sometimes journalism realness doesn't always come neatly packaged and wrapped. After President Obama's veal pen gets examined, maybe editors can turn their attention to Ms. Hartocollis's media bias ?

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