Politics & Media
Feb 17, 2009, 10:00AM

The New Republic Pleads for Media Objectivity

A recent column from the reliably liberal New Republic fails to implicate itself in the current old media crisis.

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Never underestimate the ability of rotating New Republic editors to mount the highest of high horses and make grandiose proclamations about issues of the day. That the magazine, cut down to biweekly publication in 2007, is on the periphery of, as the saying goes, “the national conversation,” instead of being in the thick of it as when editors Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan and the late Michael Kelly were in charge, is of small consequence to the current TNR fellows with upturned noses.

A particularly dated—and given TNR’s copyright on earnestness, one assumes it’s not a parody—editorial from the March 4 edition that’s available online tackles the impending demise of “many venerable newspapers and magazines in the coming weeks and months.” Whether or not TNR is on this list, the writer doesn’t say. The plea, after fretting over the media’s unpopularity with the public, reads:

Obama can help set a tone for liberals, convincing them to ratchet down their hostility to newspapers and begin crusading on behalf of those imperiled organizations. The media deserves liberal critics, who hold it accountable. But it also deserves liberal defenders because a press working toward the ideal of objectivity is often the only means of blunting government or business run amok.

Excuse me? Has the notion of objectivity in the media, which I thought was finally debunked at least a decade ago, now risen from the morgue and is a final, and futile, directive for the companies that control the nation’s most influential newspapers? (I’d include magazines, too, but aside from The New Yorker, there’s not a single title on the market today that whets a reader’s imagination.) And while TNR’s antipathy toward FOX News is understandable and indeed a requirement, I’ve yet to see evidence that liberals are lining up to pillory the likes of Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, Thomas Frank, Hendrik Hertzberg or Bob Herbert.

Finally, no matter how you feel about media “objectivity,” the disappearance of dailies throughout the country, or sermons from TNR’s papier-mache Mount Olympus, one passage does call into question the very accountability, or at least memory, of the magazine’s editors:

We all know the long list of scandals that has bloodied the profession—from Jayson Blair to Judith Miller to Dan Rather. But to focus only on these wrecks both misses the point and blames the victim.

I do appreciate the dig at Rather, but as almost everyone in the business who possesses an attention span larger than that of a mouse recalls, it was TNR’s own Stephen Glass in the late 90s who was so notorious a fraudulent journalist that a movie, Shattered Glass, was made about the pitiful young man. Earlier in the decade TNR’s Ruth Shalit was exposed as a plagiarist. And two years ago, the magazine’s “Baghdad Diarist,” Scott Thomas Beauchamp, was also called out for his fabrications. Why the omission of these crises of confidence that engulfed The New Republic? That the author of this editorial is keeping his own counsel on the subject is quite strange, but then again, if you do have a spare moment or two and read The New Republic, perhaps I’m wrong about its minuscule number of column inches given over to humor. It could be that the powers-that-be there are goofing around with the remaining readers and attempting to resurrect a version of the early 1970s National Lampoon.


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