Most people don’t think about media criticism that often. They might gripe about the left-leaning tendancies of a particular columnist or paper; they might grouse about what they see as blatant lies spewed forth by talk radio hosts; they might occasional catch wind of journalistic scandal, when a Pulitzer winner returns her prize for falsifying a story or a columnist admits to plagiarism. There are occasional flareups of interest, like those generated by Salon columnist David Horowitz’s attempt to show that right-wing speech in campus newspapers was being stifled. (Horowitz shopped a vaguely inflammatory ad denouncing slavery reparations around to numerous college papers. He got his wish when thuggish students at several campuses stole newspapers that ran the ad, but when Princeton’s newspaper called his bluff and ran both the ad and an accompanying editorial denouncing both the ad and Horowitz, Horowitz decided that the way to encourage free and open depate was to stiff the Princetonian on the thousand dollars he owed them for running the ad.) Since the attacks on New York and Arlington, media criticism has been perhaps more visible than usual, as various people who have the time to worry about such things have been beating each other up in the press about defining legitimate responses to the attacks and the usual debate about the proper relationship between the American press and military breaks out once again. And now there’s another possible flareup of attention: the news is in (via MetaFilter) that the editor of Smartertimes.com will be involved with a new New York paper, the New York Sun. I’m a big fan of media criticism, and I wish that I liked Smartertimes more. Although I’m generally inclined to lean to the left in my criticisms, I’m certainly happy to read well-thought out dissection of liberal spin in the Times; the Times‘ coverage of racial-charged issues, for instance, tends to bog down in the platitudinous rather than serve up anything particularly controversial one way or the other, and the Times deserves extra scrutiny due to its nature as the paper of record. (Well-written criticism can also make me challenge my own assumptions, which one hopes is at least partially the goal of any media critic.)
Egregiously bad reporting, like that of John Stossel (in my friend Bob’s words, "every media critic’s barrelled fish"), is always worth pointing out, as are the steadily dwindling distinctions between editorial and sales devisions. There are always entertainingly bizarre instances of obvious bias in news outlets. Doing a line-by-line close reading in order to find errors of fact or vague insinuations is worthwhile, and I commend the Smartertimes folks for doing it (even if I generally disagree with their politics), but it doesn’t make for fabulous reading. There’s a line between incisive probing media assumptions that may reflect an unstated, underlying, and unquestioned ideology and questions that seem like fruitless nitpicking. Smartertimes crosses that line too often for my tastes.
One of the owners of the new Sun will be Lord Conrad Black, a right-wing tabloid publisher — sort of a poor man’s Rupert Murdoch — and others may be associated with The New Republic. I can’t say whether Black’s Sun is any good at all, and I find TNR scattershot, so I’ll remain neutral on whether the writing will be any good. I’ve been absolutely thrilled to discover Spinsanity.com, though; it restricts itself to dissecting op-eds, doesn’t restrict itself to a strict party line (although it’s largely liberal, see their dissections of Gore Vidal and Ted Rall), and their list of media idiots seems closely related to mine. I’m afraid that there’s enough work that I like better than Smartertimes — Dean Baker’s excellent and informative Economic Reporting Review, Spinsanity, those Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting articles that don’t come off as partisan hackery — that I won’t be waiting for the Sun.