J. Bradford DeLong (2008): Trade and Distribution: A Multisector Stolper-Samuelson Finger Exercise

Hoisted/Smackdown: FLASH: Clive Crook and Jack Shafer Upset Because People Informing People Are Claiming to Be Journalists


I was performing one of my standard rants last week at lunch: about how—with very honorable but notably rare exceptions—you should view everything you see on a video screen or read in any medium from somebody paid to be a "journalist" through a hermeneutics of grave suspicion: Assume, unless and until demonstrated otherwise, that they are working for, in this order: (1) their sources, (2) their editors, (3) their advertisers, and (4) for you not at all—they simply are not interested in being a trustworthy information intermediary informing you about the world.

I got some pushback. So it is time to hoist this again from 2005. In one short week, pieces crossed my desk from both Jack Shafer and Clive Crook. Both made it very clear that, in their minds, informing people about the world is positively unprofessional for a journalist (that is the point of Shafer's attack on Klein and Yglesias) or simply not a relevant consideration (that is the point of Crook's relative exaltation of Cramer and dissing of Stewart):

FLASH: Monday Smackdown Clive Crook and Jack Shafer Upset Because People Informing People Are Claiming to Be Journalists: Hoisted from 2015: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2015/02/flash-clive-crook-and-jack-shafer-upset-because-john-stewart-and-ezra-klein-pretty-sure-earth-is-not-flat.html "Two things that crossed my desk last week that offend the shape of reality itself, and really do deserve to be smacked down.

The first was from Jack Shafer:

Jack Shafer: All the President’s Explainers: "What bothers me... Klein and Yglesias... are less interested in interviewing Obama than they are in explaining his policies. Again and again, they serve him softball—no, make that Nerf ball—questions and then insert infographics and footnotes that help advance White House positions.... [It] end[s] up looking and sounding like extended commercials for the Obama-in-2016 campaign. I’ve seen subtler Scientology recruitment films....

If you’re going to be partisan about your journalism, if you’re going to give the president an easy ride, you’ve got to be clean about it! You can’t pretend... that all you’re doing is making the news ‘vegetables’ more palatable by roasting them to ‘perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt.’ Klein and Yglesias are like two Roman curia cardinals who want us to believe their exclusive interview with the pope is on the level.... Are there no upsides to interviews with the president, even toadying or hagiographic ones? I suppose durable White House contacts can be made by landing one, but will these contacts be useful in chasing real news? Not likely...

What Shafer has to say is that:

  1. All interviews of the president are bad.
  2. Klein's and Yglesias's interview is worse than most.
  3. It is worse because they actually explain what the president's policies are, what problems they are in response to, and why the president thinks they will work.
  4. By claiming that the president's policies have some correspondence to reality—are along some dimensions real responses to real problems that have a real chance of making the world a better place—they become partisan advocates.
  5. How dare people say that the president's policies make sense! How unethical! How much like "a Scientology recruitment video"!
  6. Do you see what he did there? Do you see how Shafer thinks that actually trying to inform readers—in this case, about the logic behind policies—is a bad thing to do, and not covering "real news" that journalists ought to cover?

Everyone has a view of the world. If a journalist's view of the world is such that it thinks that one politician's policies are pretty good ones, then naturally explaining what that politician's policies are—conveying what the journalist believes to be information to the readers—will look to Jeff Shafer like "extended commercials"... and the more information is conveyed, the worse it will look to Shafer.

But, says Shafer, this is unethical. No, Shafer: it is only unethical if journalists tune their views of the world and what they report to please politicians, not if they tell what they think is the truth about where policies do and do not match up to reality. Shafer's opinions-of-shape-of-earth-differ view from nowhere is the most tuned-to-politicians world view possible, and thus the least ethical. There is a reason that the Slate he helped build has such a bad reputation.

Following this across my screen immediately was Clive Crook:

Clive Crook: Without 'The Daily Show,' I Have No Reason to Live: "It's good to mock politicians...

...But somewhere along the line 'The Daily Show' cast itself, or allowed itself to be recast... as a competing supplier. Stewart... became another anchorman, smarter and funnier than the rest.... The show began to take itself seriously.... Stewart... attacked Jim Cramer, the hysterical loud-mouth stock-tipper, saying he lacked journalistic integrity. Cramer turns the dull world of investing into entertainment; Stewart turns the dull world of politics into entertainment. You see the difference...

You see what he did there?

Jim Cramer turns the world of investment into entertainment—but if you listen to him, join the day-traders, and invest on what he tells you, you find that you lose all your money fairly quickly.

John Stewart turns the world of politics into entertainment—but if you listen you find that you learn true stuff about the world.

For Clive Crook, the fact that Stewart informs and Cramer misinforms is literally so far from his mind that it is not on his radar screen at all.

So why does Clive Crook literally not care about the fact that John Stewart tries hard to say things that are both funny and accurate, while Jim Cramer, as best as I can judge, takes no effort to mark his beliefs to market but rather aims at keeping his viewers engaged by saying whatever will scare the piss out of them?

No. I do not understand how this reflex "opinions of shape of earth differ" journamalism acquired such a hold on Clive Crook's and Jack Shafer's minds that it is not only all they can think of to do, but all that they think anyone should ever do.

Can anybody help me here?