Saturday, May 28, 2005
What Makes Them Tick
The Post's Dana Milbank, in an interview with me yesterday, provided the key to understanding the officials Beltway reporters like and those they don't. Milbank had just revealed to me that he voted for Chuck Hagel for president, and the exchange followed:
"HH: Who'd you vote for?
DM: I voted for Chuck Hagel.
HH: For president?
DM: I did. I wrote him in.
DM: I did.
DM: Well, I, you know, my executive editor, Len Downey, has this policy of not voting at all, you know, so he doesn't have to form that judgment in his own head. I don't go that far. I, you know, as I say, we...we should be capable of making judgments, so I...what I do is I write in a candidate that I think, regardless of who's actually in the race, who I'd think would make a terrific president.
HH: Why do you think Chuck Hagel would make a terrific president?
DM: Well, for one, you know, a strong military background. So I guess we can add that up against what my colleague Terry had to say. And then, you know, sort of an ability to work across the aisle. And also, he's just very candid and refreshing in the way McCain was, who I've also voted for in previous elections.
HH: Now, that ability to work across the aisle...a specific please. I followed Senator Hagel's career pretty closely, and it's not immediately occurring to me.
DM: Well, you know, actually, this past week, we have an instance where he talked a very good game on the judges, and then ultimately turned against...
HH: But there must be something there where he worked across the aisle that sticks in your...
DM: Oh, sure. I mean we've seen it on, you know, on the tax issue. We've seen him standing up on a variety of health care issues, and the other half of what I'm talking about is sort of the candor factor in which he's said, look. You know, we made mistakes in Iraq, we didn't go in with enough troops, being willing to step away from the party line.
HH: Now, is it possible that as a journalist, you prefer elected officials who embrace those qualities that make your life easiest, and give you leads, and have candor, and you know...
DM: Oh, no question about it.
HH: And so, McCain, Hagel, and anyone who'll let you guys on the bus, are going to get a boost from you people.
DM: Oh, yea. No, No. In fact, that was a major theme of Smashmouth.
HH: I remember that now.
DM: We're just suckers for somebody who'll be nice to us."
This isn't complicated stuff. Dionne, Milbank, a thousand other big names and worker bees in MSM like the people who build them up, and dislike the people who treat them like they treat every other citizen. What it would take a tractor to pull out of Milbank is the admission that his love for Hagel or McCain colors his reporting of them or his reporting of Bush. The fact --the fact-- is that the vast majority of the public believes that the media's bias affects its collective reporting because they understand that their own likes and dislikes affect their own perceptions. Common human experience tells us that the idea of an iron-willed objectivity on the part of MSM is just a story they tell themselves at seminars. Insisting on their objectivity is every day a new reason to doubt it. The antidote to media hostility --the real and deep sort, not the sort alleged by Dionne to have been invented by "conservative activists" (who I guess made Mary Mapes do it and Dan Rather read it)-- is transparency of belief, not the cagey denial of belief's importance.
Victor Davis Hanson begins his column today at NRO with a reference to Pepsico President Indira Nooyi's "middle finger" speech, which had to be explained to the reader because the vast majority of them will not have heard about the speech via any MSM outlet. Not the MSM is biased in its story selection.
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