Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Low Countries at their lowest: Dutch Lethal Own-goal Journalism

I only now have become aware (thanks to Twitter) of Hans Moll‘s book (2011) on Holland’s most presitigious paper (only in Dutch alas) and Bruce Bawer’s review of it for Frontpage in English. Here I reproduce Bawer’s with comments.

The Low Countries at their lowest

A Dutch journalist exposes the systematic left-wing slant of his country’s most respected newspaper

Bruce Bawer, Frontpage, December 1, 2011

NRC Handelsblad is arguably the most respected newspaper in the Netherlands. Hans Moll was for many an editor there. He is not an editor there any more. In his new book, Verzwijgen als of het gedrunkt staat, of Hoe de nuance verdween: NRC Handelsblad over Israël, de Islam en het integratiedebat (How the Nuance Vanished: NRC Handelsblad on Israel, Islam, and the Integration Debate), Moll provides a very valuable document of our time: an insider look at the kind of day-to-day reportorial and editorial decision-making, in matters big and small, that leads a newspaper to convey a less than objective view of the world.

Not just “less than objective” – PoMo-PoCo’s insist that’s that’s not possible anyway – but a self-defeating view of the world, utterly disorienting for those who are the target of Jihadi Caliphaters. The important point here is the link between the way the media portray “reality” – or, in their terms, bear witness to their time – in the conflict between Israel and her neighbors, and the way the portray Islam, both in the Middle East and at home. a

In other words, disoriented about Israel’s conflict has a direct link to disorientated about Muslim (im)migrants in the democracies these journalist allegedly inform. Mistaking the players in one place, means mistaking them at home, where one can less afford being wrong about an enemy. For an excellent discussion of how the Netherlands went from a paragon of democracy to a besieged nation in the course of the aughts (’00s) read Abigail Esman Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (2010). Bruce Bawer has at least two books dealing with this issue: While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (2006) and Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (2009).

Moll’s accounts of his professional experiences do not necessarily apply only to his own former employer. Like many other “newspapers of record” across Europe and in the U.S., NRC Handelsblad leans to the left, and the stories Moll tells about his newspaper provide insight into the mentality of journalists and editors at elite dailies ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian to Le Monde.

In the wake of the media debacle of the 2016 elections, one former NYT editor, Michael Cieply, offered some thoughts on how “narrative driven” much of their coverage (not published by the NYT). In a sense the media has long been a vehicle for redemptive action, and in its role as critic, it plays a crucial role in making democracy work. But now, we have journalists as a pack, seized with a consensus that held: a) Israelis do terrible things which we cover in intense detail; and b) Muslims rarely do terrible things, which we dramatically undercover.

Bibliography of Articles on the MSNM’s Trumpfail

The unanticipated victory of Trump has left the MSNM in something of a quandary. Their scarcely concealed advocacy for Clinton, and contempt for Trump, for his supporters, even for pundits expressed the heretical speculation that he “might” win, have combined to produce the  spectacular shift from 85% odds in favor of Clinton (NYT) to 95% in favor of Trump in little more than 2 hours, once real returns started coming in Tuesday night.

In addition to the immense consternation Trump’s victory has caused, it has also produced some interesting introspection and self-criticism on the part of at least some journalists. Below is a preliminary collection of the articles that engage in this auto-critique. I welcome other suggestions, and annotations/comments on the articles themselves. Eventually, I’d like to compare the media failure with reporting the US Elections to their failure with reporting the Middle East conflict: the same “liberal” advocacy, narrative-driven reporting that ignored realities on the ground.

Brian Beutly, “Shame on Us, the American Press,” The New Republic, November 8, 2016.

Michael Cieply, “Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching,” Deadline Hollywood, November 10, 2016. Cieply worked for the NYT and has interesting things about the culture at the Times:

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”

Will Rahn, “Commentary: The unbearable smugness of the press,” CBS News, November 10, 2016.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

Tiffany Gabbay, “A Rebuke to the Media From Joe Scarborough,” Truth Revolt, November 11, 2016

When Mark Halperin suggested that there was a pathway for Donald Trump as president of the United States, I won’t name names because so many of them are my friends and there’s no need to name names now because the time for recrimination is over. But reporters at some of the best newspapers in the world, anchors at some of the best networks in the world, mocked and ridiculed — Mark Halperin, I want you to think about this. They mocked and ridiculed him not for saying that Donald Trump is going to be elected president of the United States. They mocked and ridiculed him for saying there was a slight chance that Donald Trump could be elected president of the United States.

Michael Goodman, “New York Times: We Blew it on Trump,”  NY Daily News, November 11, 2016

Had the paper actually been fair to both candidates, it wouldn’t need to rededicate itself to honest reporting. And it wouldn’t have been totally blindsided by Trump’s victory.

Instead, because it demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president…

As media columnist Jim Rutenberg put it in August, most Times reporters saw Trump “as an abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate” and thus couldn’t be even-handed.

That wasn’t one reporter talking — it was policy. The standards, developed over decades to force reporters and editors to be fair and to build public trust, were effectively eliminated as too restrictive for the Trump phenomenon.

The man responsible for that rash decision, top editor Dean Baquet, later said the Rutenberg piece “nailed” his thinking, and went on to insist that Trump “challenged our language” and that, “He will have changed journalism.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Dean Baquet, “To Our Readers, From the Publisher and Executive Editor,” NYT, November 13, 2016

Jim Rutenberg, “News Outlets Wonder Where the Predictions Went Wrong,” November 13, 2016

How the Mainstream Media Missed Trump’s Momentum, PBS, November 13, 2016

Some earlier reflections when Trump won the nomination:

Nate Cohen, “What I got wrong about Donald Trump,” New York Times, May 4, 2016

Sean Trende, “The Value of Data Journalism,” May 12, 2016

Nate Silver, “How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump,” Fivethirtyeight, May 18, 2016.