Friday, February 24, 2017

Wretched Access

I. F. Stone not deciding what to wear to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, via
Just a note on the CPAC massacre of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Guardian, Politico, CNN, and whoever else was barred from Sean Spicer's press gaggle, presumably because they are the outlets developing the most damaging stories on the new administration, to punish them, and outside the issue of whether this development represents the coming of fascism, not to say that it doesn't—

—to say that what this is a blow to in particular is access journalism, the (obviously false) idea that you can get the information your readers need by huddling in a room with all your competitors hearing what the press secretary wants you to hear.

Showing up for the gaggle, being in the reception line for the soup Sean Spicer is dishing out, because it you might get your question noticed is playing their game. I can't understand complaining, as people like David Sanger always did, that Obama was closed to the press because he didn't like to do gaggles and because he preferred his own photographer to 300 photographers watching him play with the dog, when in fact Obama was available to give really detailed interviews on policy, even to relatively stupid people like Chuck Todd and enemies like Jeffrey Goldberg, which provided a far more precise and elaborated view of his views than any herd conference could possibly have obtained.

The most pernicious habit in Washington political journalism is the addiction to access, which leads the papers to pull punches on stories for fear they might not get invited to the next party. This is not how effective journalism is done. As everybody knows, No More Mister Nice Blog's titulary grandfather deity, and literal grandfather to one of the blog's most beloved participants, I.F. Stone, hardly ever met any powerful people but mostly sat in his office reading and making the occasional phone call, and his work was more important than that of a thousand Chris Cillizzas and Mike Allens.

I'd like to express the hope that today's disinvitation signals some kind of moment in which access journalism begins to decline, and serious journalism of the kind that got the Timeses and Guardian into trouble begins to come back into its own. That's good trouble. If you know you're not getting invited to the next party, why not let it all hang out and tell us what you know, not from spokesman cocktail parties but from traditional legwork and the Google?

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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