Monday, November 2, 2009

CJR ON SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

From the September/October issues of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a piece by Brent Cunningham called "Take a Stand" on how the press can regain its relevance. Cunningham notes that CNN/U.S. president Jonathan Klein defended his network's coverage of Hurricane Katrina by saying, "We go in looking for stories, not issues which need to be raised." That, for Cunningham, is at the crux of the issue: too often the press just conveys stories and perspectives given to them by powerful interests -- an important function, to let the public know what's going on. But so long as the "fourth estate" of the press forgoes its other vital roles as "investigator, explainer, and, I would add, arbiter of our national conversation," it then "mostly amplifies the agendas of others--the prominent and the powerful." 

Most recently, the press did a lot of hand-wringing the Bush Administration's prosecution of the Iraq War, over its own failure to separate truth from lies. (Frank Rich's book "The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina" has a superb chapter on the failures of the press. Here's the New York Times review of the book, which further examines this issue.) Which is to say, the issues in Cunningham's piece are by no means new. But "Take a Stand" is a sharp piece, and an indicator of the ongoing and wrenching conversation in the press as to when and how to hold power to account, and just what that means. Some provocative comments were posted in response. 

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