Strong opinions, weakly held

The journalist’s dilemma

Finance blogger Steve Waldman explains what it’s like to meet Treasury Department officials who he normally criticizes:

Abstractly, I think some of them should be replaced and perhaps disgraced. But having chatted so cordially, I’m far less likely to take up pitchforks against them. Drawn to the Secretary’s conference room by curiosity, vanity, ambition, and conceit, I’ve been neutered a bit. There’s some irony to that, because some of the people I met with may have been neutered, in precisely the same way and to disastrous effect, by their own meetings and mentorings with the Robert Rubins and Jamie Dimons of the world.

I think this passage explains in large part why big name journalists are generally so horrible at their jobs.


  1. Horrible compared to what? Sure, amateur journalists and bloggers can say what they want without fear of retribution from their sources, and they don’t have to worry about the effect their professional relationship will have on their work.

    But the flip side is that they have no sources of their own. For information, they have to rely on news stories written by professional journalists. There’s no one an amateur can call for clarification on a point. They have to rely, C-Span excepted, on information that is filtered through other people.

    I share your frustation with the “news” – when I happen upon CNN in any form, I’m always astounded at what a bunch of drivel makes up the bulk of their “coverage”.

    But I have a lot of respect for news reporters. Between their necessarily complex relationships with sources, direction from their editors, and pressure from their business organizations, reporters have immensely difficult jobs. Never mind just trying to find things out in the first place.

  2. You raise a fair point. Certainly “horrible at their jobs” is a bad description. I think it would be much fairer to say, “horrible at providing me with the information I desire,” which is not really their job. The real point I was trying to get at is that the more highly placed a reporter’s sources, the less likely it is that their reporting will be informative and useful. The classic example is the run up to the Iraq war — journalists at “lesser” publications with fewer highly placed sources generally did a much, much better job of accurately covering what was going on than the more famous journalists, who parroted the official line almost to a person.

    I was also trying to make my point with a note of sympathy, although it didn’t really come across. Calling someone a liar that you talk to all the time and would perhaps even consider a friend, and who you’re going to have to work with in the future, is not an easy thing for anyone to do. I guess that’s why most journalists just choose to publish the lies and then leave it to the bloggers to call them out for the lying.

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