Posted on | December 13, 2012 | 12 Comments
Jennifer Rubin, who used to be “just a blogger” with PJMedia, is now a journalist with the Washington Post, and interviews her former boss, Roger Simon, about the new play he and his wife wrote about infamous New York Times reporter Walter Duranty:
Big business is always portrayed as evil in Hollywood, but mainstream journalism (which is run by big companies) gets glowing portrayals. Why?
That cuts to the very heart of the question of bias. We start with an assumption that the goal of “big business” is to make money. And from that in a kind of shorthand, we draw all sorts of negative connotations. The stated goal of journalism is to tell “the truth.” That also leads us to make a series of positive assumptions. There remains a widespread, though diminishing, belief that journalism can be objective, when, by its very nature, it requires a selection of which facts to report and what level of importance to give to these facts.
You can and should read the whole thing. The idea that “big business” is inherently evil because its goal is to make money overlooks the obvious fact that the goal of small business — and of just about everybody, really — is also to make money. “Big business” is just more successful at it.
Wal-Mart was not a demonized villain when Sam Walton was running a single five-and-dime store in Arkansas, nor when Walton’s company grew into a relatively minor chain of discount stores, mostly located in small Southern and Midwestern towns. There were larger and better-known discount chains in the 1970s and ’80s, when most of the Left’s anti-commercial rage was still focused on shopping malls.
It wasn’t until Wal-Mart’s innovative methods and super-low prices made them the nation’s largest retail firm that the Left decided to forget about shopping malls and make Sam Walton’s erstwhile five-and-dime operation the hated symbol of Corporate Greed it is today.
Have you ever heard any left-winger railing against, say, Dollar General? No, you haven’t, even though Dollar General runs a nationwide chain of more than 10,000 discount stores with annual revenue of nearly $15 billion. For some reason, Wal-Mart is demonized and Dollar General is ignored, which tells you something about the irrationality of the Left’s selective outrage, as does the lack of leftist outrage against Big Media.
NBC/Universal, CBS/Viacom, ABC/Disney, CNN/Time-Warner — the highly profitable conglomerates that run Big Media are seldom called out by the lefties that rant deliriously against “Wall Street.” And whatever the idealism of their employees, there is something quaintly naive in the notion that the goal of Viacom is to tell the truth.
No, the goal of Viacom is to make profits for their stockholders, and they do so handsomely, turning more than $2 billion in profit last year on revenues of about $15 billion. If the executives at Viacom ever lose sight of that goal — if they start piling up losses and bleeding capital — then the high-minded idealists in the newsroom of CBS are liable to find themselves out of a job.
Most journalists never think of their jobs in terms of profitability. They don’t think of what they do in terms of “value-added” or consider how easily they could be replaced, if their productivity and efficiency don’t meet the cost/benefit standards of their profit-oriented employers.
When Walter Duranty was filing his dishonest dispatches about Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union, the profitability of the New York Times was a factor he could afford to take for granted.
No more — earlier this month, the Times announced its fourth round of staff cutbacks in five years, and times are tough all over in the news business. Newsweek is also reportedly preparing to lay off staff, and employees of the Washington Times are reportedly braced for another round of layoffs. (When I quit the Washington Times nearly five years ago in January 2008, some of my co-workers thought I was crazy; most of them have since been laid off, and several have subsequently told me I was smart to get out while the getting was good. It’s looking like a very gloomy Christmas at 3600 New York Avenue this year.)
The anti-“Big Business” attitudes of some journalists are directly related to their inability to think of their jobs in terms of practical economics, because so many of them are insulated from the realities of competition. That insulation has been fraying — New Media erodes the profit margins and increases the scramble for the big scoop — but most people inside the Old Media tent still don’t have any real appreciation of the emerging entrepreneurial model of journalism.
Profit? Isn’t that a bad thing?
Screw ’em. They’ll learn, sooner or later.