Once again North Carolina is suffering the ill effects of mainstream journalism’s sad decline.
Once the Columbia Journalism Review was the most-respected publication in its field. Perhaps it still is — which would be a pitiful commentary in itself on the profession’s plight.
For evidence of CJR’s decay is on display in “Lessons from North Carolina’s voting wars: Be there. Be passionate. Ask tough questions. And focus on the facts,” a story by Corey Hutchins. It is, unfortunately, full of lessons on how journalism has betrayed its own basic principles.
The contradictions begin with the subhead. “Be there!” it urges – but the story is datelined Charleston, S.C., where Hutchins is a reporter for the Charleston City Paper. Now, South Carolina may seem to be the same as North Carolina to the New York-based editors, but most North Carolinians take a different view.
Also, it used to be that journalism was supposed to be dispassionate, not passionate. Then Hutchins goes on to avoid asking questions, tough or otherwise, of anyone who might disturb his chosen train of thought. And the story has more to do with liberal prejudice, red herrings and biased journalism than it has to do with truth.
The article opens by alluding to the recently passed House Bill 589, VIVA [Voter Information Verification Act]/Election Reform, without providing readers with the name or number of the bill, so that they might study the bill for themselves.
Does he then try to explain the issue, with fair treatment of both sides? No, this is mainstream journalism of 2013. He mostly surveys what other liberal journalists have written – making the liberal narrative the officially sanctioned model of how to portray North Carolina’s new laws.
First, he throws out a few red herrings. Instead of focusing on the laws, Hutchings muddies the issues by going on to elections disputes in Pasquotank and Watauga counties. These are newsworthy issues, but they are separate from HB 589.
And he begins his adoring overview of other like-minded journalists by noting the coverage by Jon Hawley of The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City. Hawley in turn is plainly star struck by the presence of MSNBC uberliberal Rachel Maddow, who went town to Elizabeth City for a show in August. So the CJR article goes, from one pundit or reporter to another, all looking at North Carolina from the liberal point of view. It is a perfect circuit of media self-adoration, admiring how they all are able to smear North Carolina and distort its election laws.
There are only a couple of passing references to defenses of the law, and the article quickly dismisses those accounts. The article is in effect a how-to manual for liberals eager to spread a false picture of what the new law does, and how it happened.
It’s too bad to see that CJR has slipped so badly. But when the profession itself has slipped so much, perhaps that is to be expected.