The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

On Journalism and Walter Duranty

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.



12 Responses to “On Journalism and Walter Duranty”

  1. AnonymousDrivel
    December 13th, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    “…and times are tough all over in the news business.”

    I don’t think I could have a bigger smile right now. It warms my heart to read that news. Thank you for bringing the sunshine to this day.

  2. CyberRabid
    December 13th, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    Corporations that move jobs overseas in lieu of cheap labor without passing their savings along to American consumers are ‘the enemy.’

    Let’s face the fact that the real reason for America’s economic slowdown in not entitlement spending and is not lack of revenue.These things are merely symptoms of a larger problem~America no longer produces anything that our trade partners want or need. When you have something that somebody else wants,as the merchant you have the privilege of setting the price and in doing so it is that same merchant that determines the value of any given currency.

    We need to rebuild America’s once robust manufacturing sector or all is lost……Time is not on our side.

  3. richard mcenroe
    December 13th, 2012 @ 11:09 am

    The NYT is in trouble, but the corporation that owns it is in good shape because the Federal Government leases most of its fancy new building for bureaucratic outlets. Conflict of interest? Naaaaah….

  4. McGehee
    December 13th, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    Far Leftists do rail against Big Media companies, though — arguing that corporate ownership proves that however leftwardly tilted the reportage, Big Media are by definition actually biased to the right, which “proves” just how far out there to the extreme right people like us are with our allegations of “liberal bias.”

    But then, these are the kind of #Occupants that think the Green Party is centrist and Stalin was just slightly left-of-center.

  5. Da Tech Guy's Blog » Blog Archive The letter "D" & Liberal Belief the Ultimate Indulgence » Da Tech Guy's Blog
    December 13th, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    […] Misses it too: NBC/Universal, CBS/Viacom, ABC/Disney, CNN/Time-Warner — the highly profitable conglomerates […]

  6. K-Bob
    December 13th, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    It’s not that the house is on fire that’s keeping everyone out, it’s that people just don’t take the time to stay inside any more.

  7. K-Bob
    December 13th, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    If these were normal corporations, they’d have gone bust long ago. Somehow they keep getting past the typical requirements to survive a blown balance sheet.

  8. California, Here I Go...
    December 13th, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

    The stated goal of journalism is to tell “the truth.”

    Revolutionary “truth”, that is….

  9. helinna_handbasket
    December 13th, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

    How many readers do you have, John, who don’t comment regularly?

    I’ve been reading you, and the ten or twenty (on a good day) comments for three years. This is my first comment.

    Don’t get all existential about not being Ace, while still sometimes aping his schtick and walking with his devil strut, but mostly aping his schtick.

    You rock, and many of us read you daily, and feel no need to add to what you’ve said, such as with this near-perfect post.

    We all need to do more linking to sites we read — but don’t comment on — at the places we do tend to comment.

  10. helinna_handbasket
    December 13th, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

    Okay, that was my fourth comment ever here.

    If I drank less Miller Union Life? I would probably have remembered that I commented here three times, six to nine months ago.

    But then, those four comments would not have been as good as they were. Good gumshoe reporters? They drank. That’s why they wrote so well. I bet Mychal Massie has a shot or two before one of his Daily Rants.

  11. Bob Belvedere
    December 14th, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    Diversification keeps them alive.

    Example: All the other areas of business Universal is in make the profits that allow the Leftists in charge of it to fund the money-losing venture known as MSNBC.

  12. Bob Belvedere
    December 14th, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    Be fair!

    Truth is fluid. We don’t need no stinkin’ absolutes!