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Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2003 / 20 Kislev, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Journalism 'watchdog' displays bad reporting


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | You might wonder where all those unfair and unbalanced journalists get their training.

Just take a peek at a magazine few people not already in the business of reporting and distorting the news ever see — American Journalism Review (ajr.org).

AJR, as it's known in the news biz, is, like the better-known Columbia Journalism Review, a self-anointed watchdog/conscience of the news media.

Put out by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, often written by working journalists, it boasts that its "sophisticated, incisive articles analyze developments in print, broadcast and online journalism" and "shed light on challenging ethical issues."

Good thing AJR doesn't pretend to be an advocate for greater ideological diversity in the news media, because its December/January cover story, "News Blackout," is a 14-page example of hilariously biased and bad journalism.

The story alleges that major media corporations failed to adequately cover the FCC's plans to relax ownership rules that would allow media companies to own more newspapers, TV and radio stations even in the same markets.

Without going into great detail, it takes the point of view of leftwing grassroots activists who are fighting FCC deregulation and pushes an anti-business agenda that would fit nicely into Nation magazine:

Big corporations are automatically bad for society. Allowing them to get bigger or to consolidate is automatically worse. Deregulation is automatically bad.

Old FCC regulations, no matter how obsolete or inefficient, are sacred and unchangeable — as if they had been written by Moses, not political appointees who were in the thrall of radio and TV interests.

And, of course, profit-making is bad. So is all change in radio. And allowing a newspaper to own a TV station in the same town or vice-versa couldn't possibly produce an improvement in local journalism.

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Writer Charles Layton works overtime to prove that major media outlets — except for holy PBS and NPR, who, he forgot to mention, might have their own vested interest in preserving the regulatory status quo — conspired to keep the exciting story of the impending FCC rules changes from the public.

Fox News' Neil Cavuto and other journalists defend their coverage, which they say was ample and timely. They just didn't see fairly minor FCC rule changes as the looming 9/11 that Layton, his "progressive" friends, Common Cause and a few conservative groups did.

AJR journalists-in-charge should be ashamed of "News Blackout's" clumsy pro-regulation bias. But they're proud of it.

In his up-front column, Thomas Kunkel, AJR's president and the dean of the journalism college, calls the FCC action — now blocked in both houses of Congress — "a naked power grab on the part of news industries desperate to hang on to monopolies at any cost."

AJR, a magazine concerned about journalism's health and credibility and fixing its faults, sports the infantile politics of an alternative weekly. But apparently, the dean of the j-school that publishes it doesn't even know — or care — how lopsidedly liberal its pages are.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald