In the frame

By James Morrow in Sydney

21 October 2009

American journalism is in trouble. Yesterday the New York Times, smarting after a series of scandals, accusations of bias, and bad business decisions, announced that it was cutting another 100 newsroom jobs. Meanwhile the Obama White House has stepped up its Nixonian campaign against its enemies in the press, especially Fox News. The message to other editors is clear: don't criticise us, or you'll find yourself beyond the pale as well.

And amazingly, with a few exceptions - White House Press Corps doyenne Helen Thomas and ABC's Jake Tapper among them - much of the American media has decided to play along. Thus they ignore legitimate news items such as revelations that the White House Communications Director (and wife of Barack Obama's personal attorney) is an admirer of mass-murder Mao Tse-Tung while happily repeating unsubstantiated slurs against the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

No wonder Americans are switching off.

Here at home this abdication of responsibility would be less serious if Australians could rely on local news outlets' own Washington and American correspondents to pick up the slack. While there are some honourable exceptions, too many Australian journalists wind up winning one of the sweetest plums in their profession only to fritter it away by never bothering to so much as pick up a phone.

Take Fairfax's Anne Davies, who once used a single line sourced from an obscure right-wing blog to support the idea that American conservatives, troglodytes that they are, were up in arms over Michelle Obama's veggie patch. Just this week, she offered readers a thumb-sucker on Barack Obama that opened with the question, "Is it possible for a world leader to be too rational, calm and deliberative?", and then went on to answer it with second-hand quotes sourced from CNN, the New York Times, and Saturday Night Live.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing, it sheds a lot of light on the reason why traditional journalism is on the wane in both countries: readers are less inclined to trust journalists who they see as having been co-opted by a political agenda.

And it makes it that much more difficult for Australians to understand what is going on in one of their most critical economic, strategic, and cultural partners.

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6:31 AM on Sat 31 October 2009

Comments re: Davies are so very true. Norington over at The Australian is marginally better.

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