Contextual Content

Huffington breaks down the media

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MATTHEW PALEVSKY, PRESENTER: I’m sitting with Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post and recent author of Right Is Wrong: How the lunatic fringe hijacked America, shredded the Constitution, and made us all less safe (and what you need to know to end the madness.) So one of the things you talk about here is that Right Is Wrong isn’t just "right is wrong" as in the neoconservatives are wrong, but also the dichotomy that we always use in the media, this right-left is wrong. You know, it’s outdated, and we need a new way of talking about stories.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, what I’m saying is that when we look at everything in politics through that prism of right versus left, we really fall into the trap of assuming that the truth, the correct thing to do is by splitting the difference. And that is a major problem, because as I say in the book again and again, the truth is very often on one side or the other. You know, the Earth is not flat. Global warming is real. Iraq is an unqualified catastrophe. And yet the coverage is very often presented in terms of, well, the right says that, the left says that, and it’s up to you, the public, to make up your mind, as though the media have no responsibility in actually ferreting out the truth, which I think is the highest mission of journalists.

PALEVSKY: It also means the left is wrong in a way, right and left are wrong, by putting it in that form.

HUFFINGTON: Well, in this case what I’m saying is that first of all we should stop using that shorthand of right versus left, especially since on the major issues of our time, positions that used to be considered left-wing, like bringing the troops home from Iraq, some form of universal health care, and doing something about global warming, all those things are now solidly mainstream. You know, we have 60, 70 percent of Americans who believe in those positions. It’s not that the left has suddenly expanded itself; it’s that the center has shifted. But the American media haven’t really noticed it.

PALEVSKY: And what has been the fault of the US media? I mean, we saw it clearly after 9/11 in the media and the run-up to the war. And, you know, The New York Times and many of the big media outlets have come out and said, "We didn’t fully do our job." But now they seem to be trying to make up for it. What is it now? What is the media missing when you watch the news?

HUFFINGTON: Well, we really have the same problem. We have the meme that the surge is working. It’s still being mindlessly repeated by the media. And even as violence was escalating, we would have the media keep the same meme, the surge is working, even though it wasn’t even just about violence. Remember, the surge supposedly was there to give the Iraqis a breathing space to reach some kind of political reconciliation. That has been completely forgotten as a benchmark. So the media are following the conventional wisdom. This is probably the worst thing you can say about the media. And that’s why I have special sections on Dean Russert, whom I call the conventional wisdom zombie, and Bob Woodward, who’s an icon of American journalism, who has had unparalleled access to the White House, but [in] his first two books during the Bush administration years completely missed the story of how we’re misled to war.

PALEVSKY: What do you think about the notion that the corporate ownership of a lot of these outlets have made it impossible for them to really dig into certain stories, and this thing we have in DC within the beltway, where if you criticize the wrong person, you can’t get into the right rooms? How does the media get around that? And is creating kind of a media structure that’s more separate from government necessary?

HUFFINGTON: Yes. I think they’re really two separate issues. The ownership, the conglomeration of media, that’s what I call the hardware, and the character of journalists, is the software. And I think they’re both important. In the book I focus more on the software, I focus on the way, again and again, we’ve been selling our independent journalistic credentials for access and what a trap that has become. And at the same time, that’s something, which bloggers have to also watch out for. I mean, human nature is human nature. So as bloggers are given more and more access, we are also equally susceptible to the same temptations. So access is one of the software traps. And the other one is one thing to kind of go along, to go along with the conventional wisdom. You know, after 9/11 it was patriotic to want to go to Iraq. This was supposed to be the right thing for grownups to do. And if you’re against it, you’re marginalized. And journalists don’t like being marginalized. So that’s another problem.

PALEVSKY: Are we at the place—and you talk about blogs—are we at the place here where blogs can change the means we use in media? Or is that a ways off?

HUFFINGTON: Yes. No, I think we are at that place. I think that blogs like The Huffington Post, like Talking Points Memo, like Daily Kos, like Crooks and Liars, like Firedoglake, you know, a lot of them are bookmarked by the mainstream media, so they can help set the agenda.


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