Clarion-Ledger Navel-Gazes Own Coverage, Sort Of | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Clarion-Ledger Navel-Gazes Own Coverage, Sort Of

All the recent criticism of The Clarion-Ledger and other media's abysmal coverage of the city elections—which has only been covered by the Jackson Free Press to date—must be ringing true over at the daily newspaper offices. Today, they have a very odd, and defensive, puff story about the local media coverage of the race written by feature writer Gary Pettus and on the cover of the Southern Style section.

In it, they quote current city officials complaining about their coverage, but no real significant criticism from outside the city administration, thus using this "objective" feature story to frame any criticism of their coverage as "sour grapes." They interview C-L executive editor Ronnie Agnew and TV station managers proclaiming that they covered the elections well and fairly, while doing no real analysis of their own coverage or quoting it, not going into their created Perception-Gate sensationalized narrative, using no real specific examples of what people would possibly be complaining about, not mentioning the "horse race" vs. "civic" journalism debate that is ALL over the journalism industry. Trust us, they've heard of it.

Clearly, the criticism is getting under their skin, but this is a downright pitiful way to respond to it, and it is very transparent. This story shows real contempt for the reader's ability and need to question the media.

The Clarion-Ledger reached a new low in "journalism" today with this story.

Previous Comments

ID
87263
Comment

This story certainly gives us an opportunity to open up this discussion even moreóand especially talk about the important points left out of this piece. For a wider perspective on this, and the likely source of this Clarion-Ledger defense diatribe of the corporate media, be sure to read our recent pieces criticizing media coverage of the city elections, and some of our editorials about past "horse race" coverage that means that the voters do not get the information they need: [Publisher's Note] The 'Perception' of The Ledger [Editorial] The Mayor's Race That Wasn't [Editor's Note] Fear is a Four-Letter Word [Talk] Johnson Camp Dissects Loss [Editor's Note] The Sound and Fury of Perception [Blog Thread] Is The Clarion-Ledger the Worst Daily in the U.S.? [Blog Thread] Gannett Asks: Is Crime Coverage Out of Balance? [Editorial] On Civil Elections and Civic Journalism [Editorial] Oops, They Did It Again: Perception-Gate at The Clarion-Ledger

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T10:56:29-06:00
ID
87264
Comment

The weirdest thing about this piece is that it is so transparently a way to line up quotes to defend the corporate media's coverage in this election. They could have a done a real analysis of the coverage if they were willing to, starting with their "perception-gate" hysteria. Note that the whole "perception of crime" (vs. fear) issue isn't even addressed in this piece although that is a crux of this issue. Their editorials, after all, would repeat the word "perception" over and over again (out of context) as a way to bash the mayor and the chief. But it doesn't even come up here. Once. Or take the Bluntson reference in the above story: Bo Brown, who lost his Ward 4 City Council seat to Frank Bluntson, lamented on TV news that he didn't think the media delved into his challenger's background OK, this is a teachable moment. A whole section of this story should have been about "the Bluntson question" (which is closely related to "the Melton question"). Why did the local media steadfastly refuse to talk about Mr. Bluntson's pastónot speculation or reporting rumors as fact, but tell their readers what The Clarion-Ledger itself reported years ago about Bluntson's role at and in leaving the Juvenile Detention Center? The deal he made with D.A. Peters to not be prosecuted if he quit, and then went to work for the D.A.? These are facts that were reported then by the media, including The Clarion-Ledger (with many of the same reporters and editors on the masthead then as now); why are they not relevent now when Mr. Bluntson is running for City Council?!? It doesn't mean that he couldn't have refuted them now, or other people defend him. There are plenty of people still around who were involved with that scandal then. Where is the reporting? Why are they working so hard not to report controversial parts of city candidates' past? Is this bias, or is this incompetence? Or both? Is it competence leading to bias and endorsements based on incomplete information? Have the corporate media heads, quoted in this piece, gotten together and decided it's not important and will tick off the wrong people so none of them will report it? Therefore, it's gone down the memory hole. It's just not clear, but it is a VITAL question that Jacksonians need to demand answers to. It is simply irresponsible of us as media consumers to let them get away with this ridiculous soft-peddling of their own abysmal media coverage of these elections. And why, one could ask, is THIS apologist piece of poo coming out the Sunday before the election instead of comprehensive coverage of the candidates such as we've been talking about? The. Ledge. Needs. An. Ombudsman. Now.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T11:16:23-06:00
ID
87265
Comment

I should add, though, that this piece thrills me no end. It means that the criticism of the corporate "lamestream" media is getting to them. If they were truly confident that they were doing good journalism, we wouldn't be seeing this puffery the Sunday before the election. It's a terrible attempt to take the heat off their own bad coverage, which I suspect is only going to heat up the discussion. Cheers to that. I'm glad they're blinking in the hot spotlight. It's about damn time they are forced to start answering for this bad coverage. First the Northside Sun's meltdown, and now this thing. This all bodes well for "media literacy" in Jackson. Keep it up, JFP bloggers. Don't think y'all aren't playing a big role here. If it weren't for the JFP and this blog, who would be reporting on the abysmal media coverage by the lamestreams? Think about it. Lift your mimosa to a major victory at brunch today.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T11:18:41-06:00
ID
87266
Comment

I could spend the day analyzing this piece but don't have the time, but let me start with this one. Let's take the opening salvo about the city blaming the media and logic-check it; note the bolds I add: It's the media's fault: Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and his police chief, Robert Moore, will be out of a job thanks in part to the way the mainstream press reported on the issues, especially crime. That sentiment seems to be the charge, stated or implied, following the May 3 primary, when Jackson's two-term mayoral incumbent lost the balloting to his Democratic challenger, Frank Melton, by a margin of almost 2 to 1. Is it true? Did the media fail to do its job on the part of the candidates? "On May 17th, I held a news conference and in direct response to a question regarding whether I blamed the media, I specifically said then that I did not blame the media for the loss, but that I did feel that some of the positive work of my administration was overlooked," Johnson says in a statement to The Clarion-Ledger. OK, note what Pettus is doingóhe's using bad Straw Man logic (among other fallacies). His very first sentence declared that, presumably, the current administration is blaming the media, without qualification, for losing. If true, that would, indeed, be an overstatement and easily knocked down. Ah, but then, we learn that it only "in part" because of poor media coverage. Ah. Then he speculates about what critics are sayingó"seem to be," and then informs us that, whether "stated or implied," people are blaming the media for Johnson's loss. "Is it true"? What in hell is "it," Mr. Pettus? You're already all over the place; who could know what that pronoun stands for by this point? As Clinton might say, it depends on the meaning of what "it" is, I guess. But keep reading. Oh, it is asking if "the media" "fail"-ed. I see. Then, he quotes the mayor emphasizing that he didn't say pretty much the words that Mr. Pettus just put in his mouth/brain. It's safe to say that Mr. Pettus gets an "F" for the opening to this piece. This story is an editorial at best and a very poor attempt at an alternative-style analysis piece at worstóone that would never make it into a paper with high standards due to the poor logic, not to mention other issues that we'll get to later.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T11:34:12-06:00
ID
87267
Comment

Oh, and I bolded the declaratory statement of "margin of almost 2 to 1" to point out just how easy it is for a reporter to hide behind the myth of objectivity (which any honest journalist knows is impossible). I was just reading a story in another city's daily that pointed out in a story about a race that the winner won big, but with a very low turnoutówhich is a significant fact. When a newspaper chooses to frame a low turnout victory as a "landslide" or as the Ledger has done (or only for candidates that they endorsed), it quickly becomes easy to see how subjective they are being and not on the editorial pages. Ah, how easy it is to be selective with information and, thus, subjective throughout your news coverage. And how quickly they try to deny this basic truth. During this campaign, not only the editorial board, but the news staff has used certain memes through the news coverage that easily could have been put there to benefit one candidate over another. And, in the past two weeks alone, The Clarion-Ledger has had to run two corrections about substantive erors their reporter covering Johnson made about him. That doesn't mean the reporter made the errors, remember; there are editors who delete and insert stuff. But it is truly ridiculous for Agnew to try to state, without hesitation, that their coverage has been "objective." That is downright laughable. Lest we forget how easy it is for the Ledge to be selectively "objective," remember this little sleight of polls recentlyóthat a poll declaring Melton the leader was perfectly fine to do a news report about, but one by the same company showing Haley Barbour with low approval ratings didn't pass muster. Whatever. We should start a special blog page called "Stupid Ledge Tricks." I'm really not sure who they think they're fooling, though.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T13:29:28-06:00
ID
87268
Comment

Donna, I agree with you on the whole. However, I think you may be giving Gary too hard of a time. Granted, he did start of his article with "It's the media's fault." But he also qualified that prognosis with the description "stated or IMPLIED."(emphasis added) You did note that he said that, although I couldn't decipher if you gave him credit for saying it - seemed like you treated his article as if he hadn't included the word "implied," which is key in this article. True, he did quote Johnson as explicitly saying something that didn't confirm his opening statment. That's where I think the word "imply" is doing a lot of work, but perhaps I'm way off the mark. Anyway, all of the above that I wrote is probably neither here nor there. But I too found the article interesting.

Author
MAllen
Date
2005-06-05T20:16:57-06:00
ID
87269
Comment

M, I'm not trying to pick on Gary per se. In fact, he's written probably the best article The Clarion-Ledger has done involving the JFP (about our Fahrenheit petition drive). It was fair, and it didn't try to downplay our role. Since then, they apparently have a policy not to mention us in articles about events that we conceive, plan and host. Don't ask me. The point being, though, that I've been impressed with him in the past (even if he did interview me in e-mail, which I'm surprised the Ledger allows. We don't). However, his name is on this piece and, thus, it is his to be responsible for. I pointed out already how many ways his first few grafs contradict each other and fall apart logically, and I haven't combed in deeper, yet, here, which I plan to do. Personally, I suspect he, as a lighthearted writer there, was told to do this type of piece, which is outside his purview if it is to be done well (not an insult on him). He was probably told to do it because the high-up editors are pissed at all the heat they're taking (from us and readers) and their terrible coverage of the city elections, and they want to make themselves look better. Of course, they don't in this piece, and it's pitifully surface and not self-analytical at all (which ostensibly is the point of the piece). Don't pretend to navel-gaze if you're going to ignore your own fuzz. So I suspect Gary had an impossible task, and it is someone else's fault for asking him to try to write the cover piece for their bad coverage when he didn't do the bad coverage in the first place. However, his name it on it. This type of analysis should be done on the front page of their Perspective section (or page 2 of it, as the New York Times does with their ombudsman pieces) and be done by someone who is willing to actually examine their coverage (like an ombudsman, or a guest writer from another Gannett publication or something). As it is, it just reads like a puffy and long editorial to explain away their bad coverage of the city campaign, which is exactly what it is, no matter who assigned, wrote or edited it. This is truly, truly a new journalistic low for that paper, and a sign of desperation to publish such a thing. I'd feel sorry for them had they not created this situation for themselves.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T20:43:56-06:00
ID
87270
Comment

Again, though, I will reiterate: They know they screwed up, or they wouldn't run this sort of piece to draw attention to it. I smell trouble at The Ledge.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-05T20:45:54-06:00
ID
87271
Comment

""Lest we forget how easy it is for the Ledge to be selectively "objective," remember this little sleight of polls recentlyóthat a poll declaring Melton the leader was perfectly fine to do a news report about, but one by the same company showing Haley Barbour with low approval ratings didn't pass muster. """ Lest we forget that an opinion poll a week before a major election is more newsworthy than an approval rating two years before a major election. I'd have run the story about Barbour's approval ratings, but I certainly wouldn't place it on the same level as the Johnson/Melton opinion poll.

Author
sny guy
Date
2005-06-05T21:31:39-06:00
ID
87272
Comment

sny, of course you're correct--but my understanding is that the excuse they used for not citing the Barbour stats was that they hadn't evaluated SurveyUSA, which they had just used to show a Melton lead. Apparently, the standard of evidence is much easier to meet if the information supports a conservative candidate. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-06-05T23:03:08-06:00
ID
87273
Comment

One thing that consistently strikes me about the Clarion-Ledger is Ronnie Agnew's tone. The C-L has, on several occasions, called Mayor Johnson "thin-skinned", but as a reader of the paper I almost always see Agnew that way. His columns are most often full of haughty remarks, especially in regard to Johnson and the city. Does he have some personal problem with Johnson? It seems to me he does and has since heís been at the paper. I would imagine it could be a little demoralizing as a reader and a citizen of Jackson to consistently be exposed to Agnewís brand of ìcriticismî as it relates to the city. Iíd like to know how he is involved in the community, outside of the paper, or if he is at all, since he lives in a suburb of Jackson.

Author
thabian
Date
2005-06-06T09:07:36-06:00
ID
87274
Comment

Sny: Lest we forget that an opinion poll a week before a major election is more newsworthy than an approval rating two years before a major election. I'd have run the story about Barbour's approval ratings, but I certainly wouldn't place it on the same level as the Johnson/Melton opinion poll. I disagree with you strongly here. This approval rating (which isn't polling voters, by the way) came just in time for an expensive and controversial special session called by the governor. This is VERY important news, just as Bush's poor approval ratings during his campaign to privatize Social Security is. It's a way to gauge (to some extent) how well his policies-in-progress are going over with the people. To me, that seems MORE important than a poll just before the election that can sway voters one way or the other. That said, I never said it should have gotten equal play in The Clarion-Ledger. However, any play would have been nice. And the lack of it indicates some mighty interesting bias. As for Agnew's toneóyes, thabian, he seems very thin-skinned. And I don't ever sense from his writing that he truly cares about the city of Jackson as much as so many people who blog here, for instance, do. My guess is that he ordered this feature story to be doneóalthough that is merely a guess, and I have no way of knowing for sure. Of course, the irony is that this story disproves his own comments contained within about "objectivity" outside the editorial pages. There is nothing objective, fair or balanced about this story. It's one big excuse for bad coverage of the campaign by the lamestreams.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-06-06T11:50:13-06:00

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