Civil Liberties

So What Is Journalism For? Nat Hentoff, for One, Says it's About Defending Against Obama's Assault on the Constitution

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For the record, my handwriting doesn't look anything like that. |||

The latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review rounds up 38 journalism-people to answer the question "What is journalism for?" (Actually, it was "What is journalism for," and also "Can anyone be a journalist?" and "What do they need to do to be considered a journalist?", though the final feature left out the latter two questions.)

My contribution was aimed at the can-anyone-be-a-journalist part, and here's how it begins:

Want to circumvent, at long bloody last, the tedious, multidecade debate over who is and isn't a journalist? Repeat after me: Journalism is an activity, not a profession. It may be a calling for many of us, but that doesn't mean it isn't a legitimate side-hobby for many millions more, including (shudder) those who don't share our basic set of sourcing traditions or political assumptions.

Other respondents include Arianna Huffington, Chris Hayes, Peggy Noonan, Craig Newmark, Ira Glass, Marc Ambinder, Errol Morris, Ben Smith, Sebastian Junger, Michael Oreskes, Chris Hughes, John R. Macarthur, and civil libertarian hero Nat Hentoff. I will note that the assignment was to answer "preferably in 100 words or less," so you can judge for yourself who knows how to stick to a word count.

Hentoff, who rarely misses an opportunity to go ballistic about civil liberties, did not disappoint. Excerpt:

Hentoff, you've done it again! |||

[N]ever before in our history than right now have the media been more needed to keep demonstrating to Americans how close we are to losing our most fundamental individual liberties to the Obama administration, which ceaselessly ignores the quintessential separation of powers. In the July 12 New York Times, Randy Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, underscored Obama's abuse of "the fundamental constitutional principle that the sovereign people must be the ultimate external judge of their servants' conduct in office?.?.?.

"Congress and the courts must put a stop to?.?.?.?these surveillance programs [and] danger?.?.?.?to the rights retained by the people."

But how can this happen unless journalists persistently stay on this story and reveal the mounting un-American facts that demand that We the People seize accountability and restore the Constitution?

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Repeat after me: Journalism is an activity, not a profession.

    Yes, yes, and the press in freedom of the press is the printing device not the profession. Do you have any idea how you water down your prestige when your club is no longer exclusive?

    Journalists work in print, radio and television. They can also blog as long as their main work is in one of the three other media. If anyone can be a gatekeeper then effectively there is no gate.

    1. of course, it’s a profession. Unfortunately, its biggest problem is those in it who mistakenly believe their job is more than being the public’s watchdog and chronicling events to keep citizens informed.

      A former colleague described it as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted, but the real idea is to be a safeguard against govt malfeasance and to dispense important and interesting information to the public. Cheerleading for either Team is not mentioned.

  2. Nat Hentoff may say that Journalism is about defending against Obama’s assault on the Constitution but sadly most of his peers operate as if Journalism is about defending against assaults on Obama (as they perceive them)…

    “But how can this happen unless journalists persistently stay on this story and reveal the mounting un-American facts that demand that We the People seize accountability and restore the Constitution?”

    Well everyone can rest assured that once a democrat is no longer in the White House, journalists will rediscover their commitment to “the truth” and an unshakeable focus on investigative reporting.

    Just imagine the media reaction and story rundowns were the following things to have happened during Bush’s tenure and not Obama’s:

    NSA
    IRS Scandal
    Syria

    The howls of indignation would be deafing; much like how the silence now is…

    Glenn Reynolds is right; if you want a watchdog press you have to elect Republicans…

  3. If anyone can be a gatekeeper then effectively there is no gate.

    Are you the Key Master?

  4. Journalism is about stalking and photographing starlets at the beach – not that I’m complaining.

    1. But it would be great if someone at the CJR took the stick out of his arse and said he prefers to cover Kim Kardashian’s new baby and the new royal prince, plus the love lives of reality-show stars. “I mean, we know the powers that be won’t let us have any say in public affairs, so why bother covering those depressing matters? And I’d rather look at Jennifer Aniston than at Dick Durbin.”

  5. Most media types nowadays do not qualify as ‘journalists’, they are paid whores of the political class.

  6. Blah, blah, blah. Any real news that happens to get reported is buried somewhere on page 7.

    1. Only if they can’t sell the space to an advertiser.

  7. How about journalism be about reporting the truth to the best of your ability and constantly being skeptical of government and political actors?

    The problem with journalists now is that they are as a class in love with power. They are the worst jock strap sniffers to those in power. Look at how they treat George W. Bush now that he is no longer President. The same guy they spent 8 years trying to destroy by any means necessary and engaging in every sort of personal attack against, they now kiss his ass and write puff pieces at every opportunity. The reason is that as partisan as many of them are, they love power more. They can’t really hold a grudge against Bush because now that he is out of power it serves no partisan purpose and all that is left is this once very powerful man. And they love power. They love being around even a former President. It just makes them happy. And thus they swoon over Bush even though they profess to hate him. The love of power overcomes the hate.

    1. Journalists call it “access”. They claim they have to be nice to people in power because if they were not nice they wouldn’t have “access” anymore. But when they say “access” they don’t mean access to information. They mean access to power. If they were honest and went after people in power, they wouldn’t get to sniff that power. They wouldn’t get to be around powerful people and feel liked and part of the club. And that is what they want more than anything. Think about the White House Press corps. They all kill themselves to get the job. And it is really nothing but being a court stenographer. You would never get to do any investigation or write any actual news there. You just stand around on the lawn and repeat whatever talking points the West Wing feeds you. But they all love it, because they love being that close to that much power. It is just disgusting.

      1. Political reporters treat their beat like ESPN treats sports. No one wants to ask Tebow how the hell you spend years around a criminal like Aaron Hernandez and say nothing, especially after he’s been arrested. No one wants to ask Kevin Sumlin at what point do stick Johnny Manziel against the wall and explain that his buffoonery affects 80 other guys. And no one wants to ask Obama how he expects anyone to have any credibility when he says something one day and denies having said it the next.

        1. Fucking cultists.

          One of the best scenes in Moneyball was that reporter giving the A’s players all sorts of shit with her questions. The scene was set up to make the reporter into a cunt and the team into underdogs but I saw it as a reporter doing a fine job.

    2. At least most sports reporters – the original ‘jock sniffers’ – have played the game.

      They are also more likely to slam the home team for poor play.

      1. really? The most obnoxious commentary comes from the guys who were equipment managers, the ones who went from sniffing the high school QBs jock to someone higher on the food chain. At least the former players have a frame of reference.

        1. My point is less about the origin of the reporters than it is about the fact that sports reporters are unlikely to report an ‘own goal’ as ‘brilliant strategy.’

          This cannot be said of political reporters.

  8. Journalism is an activity, not a profession.

    Matt Welch, journalist, editor, all round great guy and serpent in the Garden of Eden.

  9. Possibly my favorite:

    Sebastian Junger

    A journalist is someone who is willing to disappoint himself with the truth.

    So far my least favorite:

    Chris Hughes

    When done right, journalism deepens our understanding of the world and educates us as people and citizens. It tells stories of the epic and the everyday in a way that cultivates empathy and galvanizes us to action.

    1. Next-to-least favorite:

      John R. Macarthur

      …Unpaid blogging has taken a lot of the fun out of our trade, so I will add the caveat that journalism should also be remunerative.

      1. I enjoyed Chavez, the freshman journalism student. She did a good job arguing against her own point in a short amount of space.

        1. I had a hard time following that one. Mobile devices allow anyone to send news to journalists who filter it for accuracy but news outlets can’t be trusted because of deadlines? A bit unfocused for a 100-word assignment.

      2. Haha, I knew I recognized that name and sentiment. The Harper’s guy. But DEY TOOK OUR JERBS is OK we he does it, right?

    2. Chris Hughes

      He might want to take that stick out of his ass before he sits down to write. What a stuffed shirt.

      What he wrote describes Walter Duranty to a T.

  10. When did the idea arise that journalists are supposed to “make a difference” or “change the world” and shit like that? I think a good journalist can make a difference, but if you make that your mission, I think you are unlikely to be a good journalist. I want journalists to be jaded, cynical motherfuckers who try to describe the world as it is, not to propagandize for what they think it should be.

    1. Thanks goes out to Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein for that nonsense…Redford’s “All the President’s Men” exacerbated the problem…

      What I would love to see any of these people answer is why Americans have to look to London for better political coverage than what we get from the NYT and WashPost?

    2. When did the idea arise that journalists are supposed to “make a difference” or “change the world” and shit like that? I think a good journalist can make a difference, but if you make that your mission, I think you are unlikely to be a good journalist. I want journalists to be jaded, cynical motherfuckers who try to describe the world as it is, not to propagandize for what they think it should be.

      And that usually means agitating for the Right Left TOP MEN to be given more power. With that attitude it’s no wonder they aren’t skeptical about the government.

  11. She had such a nice turn of phrase about it, I really wish they’d asked Jennifer.

  12. “Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.” ? Hunter S. Thompson

  13. Wow. Ummm…okay.

    I’m likely to catch a lot of heat over this, but I really feel it needs to be said. Torpedoes be damned.

    Ira Glass is a fucking idiot.

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