Jeff Sharlet has a long response to my unsolicited slap at him–a friendly, thoughtful response, which deserves the same. Here’s the money quote:
Those are my sour grapes, yes, but they grow along a fence dividing two very broad camps of journalists: bomb throwers and hall monitors. Both camps contain all kinds of good and bad, but it’s the second, the hall monitors, who drove the Wright story and who are now busy burying the evidence. They do so without an untoward thought in their happy heads; indeed, they believe, deeply, that the press is a great, self-correcting organism, always, if slowly, moving toward truth.
Jeff is squarely in the bomb thrower camp. For my part, I think there’s a place for both types–and the place is truth-telling. I don’t think that journalism always self-corrects, though I think that over time many media narratives improve greatly on the first-day stories. But as someone who has worked both the journalistic and the academic sides of the street, I have a pretty high regard for the difficulty of getting the story right, on either side. And religion is particularly not easy to get right. To take a tiny example, it’s a commonplace of media criticism that reporters don’t make the proper distinction between evangelicals and fundamentalists. But I can’t tell you the number of different versions I’ve heard of that distinction from long-time academic students of both, not to mention the religious insiders themselves.
Elsewhere in the post, Jeff takes me to task for suggesting that “we” (what do you mean we, kemo sabe?) are all in this media thing together. I have to say that, as a participant-observer in daily journalism for 10 years I was always struck with how responsive we were to popular prejudices and attitudes. So that’s my prejudice–that the media and the vox pop share far more attitudes and postures than they don’t. Should professional journalists do a better job? Of course. Do they deserve to be smacked when they get it wrong? Absolutely. But, to come down to specifics, the media reacted to Wright the way the public reacted to Wright. And in the midst of a hot political campaign, it’s just very difficult to create a nuanced, contextualized, differentiated picture and to suggest that the real story lies somewhere else. But that’s not because of ignorant hall monitoring, in my view. It’s because the Grand Guignol of ideologues and yakkers and bloggers and the MSM and ordinary YouTubers that constitute what is now an electronic public square had their carnival, in which Wright himself donned cap and bells for a time.
One final thing. It could be argued that Jeff’s saying, “don’t look at that sideshow, look HERE, at the man behind the curtain,” he’s not throwing a bomb, but trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to monitor the hall, to get the kids to behave and attend to their lessons. That’s fine. It’s just that it’s hard to police a riot.