Accuracy in Media

There is a serious and seemingly intractable disconnect between grassroots America and the nation’s newsrooms right now.

We saw it writ large earlier this year in the approach to covering “tea parties” across the country. Big Media’s first response was to pull down its collective green eyeshade and ignore the tens of thousands of average Joes and Janes who rallied against government spending and taxes.

When that didn’t work, journalists took cues from liberal bloggers and started smearing and mocking a large and diverse swath of the population. Ultimately, journalists like Susan Roesgen of CNN sank to a level of unprofessional behavior that even their colleagues wouldn’t defend.

This week, the media-vs.-the-masses divide has been obvious on a smaller scale in California, and once again, the wedge is the government’s penchant for taxes and spending.

On Tuesday, a small but very vocal minority of Golden State voters rejected five ballot propositions aimed at addressing the state’s fiscal crisis by extending tax increases, among other things. Voters approved only one proposition, and it is in keeping with the current anti-government mood — it will deny raises to politicians and other state officials during deficit years.

Most California media outlets, on the other hand, supported the propositions. Matt Welch of Reason’s Hit & Run blog aptly called the string of newspaper endorsements for them a “festival of Yes Indeedies” and a “convincing demonstration of editorial board impotence.

But such criticisms have not deterred the deep thinkers on the professional media circuit. Journalists both in California and beyond have reacted to Tuesday’s vote in one of two ways:

1. Chastising voters for taking a stand against more taxes and spending (hat tip to Instapundit).

2. Or writing sob stories designed to make voters feel guilty about demanding responsible budgeting from their governments. (Expect more like these in the weeks ahead.)

The most egregious display of post-election journalistic arrogance occurred on the Web site of the Sacramento Bee. This morning, the newspaper’s editorial board published a childishly scathing attack on voters for daring to exercise their democratic rights at the ballot. Here’s a sample:

Good morning, California voters. Do you feel better, now that you’ve gotten that out of your system?

You wanted to show the state’s politicians just how mad you are at them. And you did. Boy, did you ever. …

[Y]ou’re sick and tired of all this political mumbo-jumbo. So you showed those politicians who’s in charge. You. You’re now officially in charge of a state that will be something like $25 billion in the hole for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

So, now that you’ve put those irksome politicians in their place, maybe it’s time to think about this: Since you’re in charge, exactly what do you intend to do about that pesky $25 billion hole in the budget?

The Bee eventually yanked the editorial offline and republished the piece that appeared in the print edition, which put the blame where it belongs — on the governor and state Legislature. A note at the bottom said the first version was “posted in error” and was just “a draft prepared for internal discussion.”

Fine. Those kinds of errors do happen. But it was a most revealing error.

It offered a glimpse into a mindset that is evident in newsrooms across America — that government can solve everything and that “the people” are stupid sheep who need to be led. “We the people”? What a bunch of revolutionary nonsense! “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”? That’s so 1860s. Abraham Lincoln is dead; get over him.

These days, the “press” that our forefathers so wisely and prominently saw fit in the Constitution to protect from the government has decided that its role is to defend the government from the unruly, clueless mobs who give them power.

How did the media become so disconnected from the masses? The same way politicians do when they spend too much time in capital cities — they forget their roots.

Today’s journalists have far more in common with the people they cover, including salaries they did not expect when they got into the news business, than with their news audiences. They spend more time hobnobbing with bigwigs on the party circuit or gazing at each other’s navels than trying to understand why taxes and spending have become such a burden on so many people.

That’s why so many editors, reporters and anchors were willing to first dismiss and later deride the tea parties. They clearly don’t share the perspective of the average taxpayer. But worse, they aren’t even curious enough to explore it honestly and fairly.

Until the journalistic elites adjust both their attitude and their behavior, the chasm that separates the people and the press will remain — and the “professional” media will continue the downward spiral that has them dreaming of a government bailout.


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