Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is Journalism Really a Profession?

I have been asking that question for some time now, and I would have to say that the answer is no. First, while there is a specialized body of knowledge supposedly, anyone can become a journalist without going to J school. Secondly, there is no body that selects who is authorized to practice their art, nor to remove those who fail to maintain the standards as set forth by the regulatory body. Finally, there is no expectation that journalists would actually be performing a public good.
I know that there are some who would disagree, saying that the Fourth Estate is valuable to a functioning democracy. And I would agree, but the Fourth Estate apparently has nothing to do with the way journalism is practiced at the moment.
As a quick example, consider what the New York Times had to say about Denny Rehberg as noted by James Taranto's Best of the Web.
The New York Times continues its fraudulent campaign to depict conservatives and Republicans as, in the words of its latest editorial on the subject, purveyors of "Dangerous Threats." The latest purported example:

Representative Denny Rehberg, a Republican and Montana's House member, boasts that he brings Made-in-Montana solutions to Washington. His latest, proposed last week in a speech advocating states' rights to the State Legislature, is to put a judge "on the Endangered Species List."

If you are familiar with the Times's swindle, you will recognize its method of supplying a brief out-of-context quote, and you will suspect that the quote in context is actually far less invidious than the Times's description would lead you to believe. You will be right. The (Butte) Montana Standard has the full text of Rehberg's address. Here is the relevant portion:

Environmental obstructionists found a federal judge in Missoula that was willing to ignore the scientific evidence as well as the expert opinions of on-the-ground wildlife managers here in Montana. And he ruled last August that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species List.

When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species List? I am still working on that! But in the meantime, I have introduced legislation that would permanently end federal jurisdiction over the gray wolf population--and return responsibility to the wildlife managers here in Montana.

The left-wing site seems to be a frequent, though uncredited, source of raw material for Times smears--picked this up and accused Rehberg of making "a thinly-veiled threat" against the (unnamed) judge.

ThinkProgress omitted the last sentence in the passage we've quoted, so that it appeared "I'm working on it!" was his conclusion. In fact, it is clear from the full quote that it was the punch line of a joke that preceded Rehberg's statement that he was proposing legislation to change the statute he thinks the judge interpreted wrongly.

The Times's treatment of the quote is even more misleading than ThinkProgress's: The paper falsely asserts that Rehberg said he wanted to put a particular judge "on the endangered species list," when Rehberg actually referred to "some of these judicial activists"--to a type, a metaphorical species, of judge.

Read the whole thing, and you understand why anyone would question journalism as a "profession" other than the oldest one.

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