The Media Police

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

If you want to know what's wrong with the media, you don't have far to look. There are critics everywhere, from seasoned experts to crazy ideologues, and they're multiplying like flies.

To be a critic in the old days, you had to have a list of intellectual credentials as long as your arm and be employed by a newspaper or a magazine. Now, the burgeoning world of the Internet is filled with people (some qualified, many not) whose targets are the traditional media they'd like to replace. The critiques come from sites that monitor "liberal media bias" or "conservative misinformation;" from bloggers who focus on the alleged offenses of Fox News Channel and others whose obsession is the "treasonous" New York Times.

A site that lambastes both the media and politicians is called Crooks and Liars, and a blog named Russert Watch looks exclusively at the work of the host of NBC's Meet the Press.

Some media criticism sites are widely respected within the profession.

There's Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a progressive media-watch group; the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank; CJRDaily, a round-up of criticism from the Columbia Journalism Review; and "Press Box," media columnist Jack Shafer's slot on

Then there's News Trust, a new online journalism project that rates news stories according to established standards of quality. News Trust plans to offer media outlets its rating service, which would enable readers and viewers to rate stories based on criteria such as fairness, objectivity, factual evidence, clarity and relative importance.

"There's a lot of great journalism out there; we just want to make it come to the forefront," News Trust's founder, Fabrice Florin, said by phone from his office in Northern California.

But much of the media criticism on the Internet is "chaotic and sporadic," said John Hartman, who teaches journalism at Central Michigan University. And the fact that much of it is politically motivated detracts from what should be its central message, which is to correct the facts, said Jameson Foser, managing director of Media Matters for America. His organization was founded three years ago with the aim of monitoring "conservative misinformation" but, in reality, it goes after any media error it finds, no matter what its ideological stripe.

"Good media criticism focuses on the content of news reports rather than trying to ascertain the intent behind them," he said. "We're not particularly concerned about who said it or why we think they may have gotten it wrong, but what they got wrong. So we'll criticize The New York Times as much as we'll criticize Fox News."

But people "see political bias everywhere," said Rich Noyes, research director at the right-leaning Media Research Center.

"Conservatives see liberal bias, liberals see conservative bias, and moderates don't trust anybody."

His site, for instance, is replete with headlines like, "Ten Years of Matt Lauer's Liberal Bias" and "The Times Corrects Its Phony Abortion Story." Noyes said his organization recently conducted a study of Iraq coverage by the cable news networks and found that Fox News Channel "spent more time on things that were being achieved," like the killing of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, while CNN "put more airtime on allegations of wrongdoing" by U.S. troops, such as the killings of civilians.

John Amato, a 48-year-old sax and flute player, founded the Crooks and Liars site in 2003 from his home in Los Angeles after becoming increasingly angry at what he said were the lies of the Bush administration and the virtually unwavering support it received from outlets such as Fox News.

"But everyone is sort of guilty," Amato said. "The right wants to invalidate the media; I want it to be truthful. I can live with everybody as long as they're honest."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan