Sunday, July 02, 2006

Newsworthy: A Definition?

Recently, the Bush Administration has been attacking The New York Times for a story revealing a method of tracking terrorists involving the monitoring of American bank transactions. For more about this, visit the following link.

I bring up the subject, not as a criticism of the Bush administration, but to discuss the role of media in America.

Let me preface with this thought: the war on terror is a new kind of war. While elements of it can be seen in past conflicts, protecting America from a seemingly invisible enemy is untrodden terroritory. While I am no proponent of President Bush, I do sympathize with the difficulty of governing a post 9/11 America.

However, I am surprised at the reaction and attitude many have about media news outlets. While the treatment of this new type of war is new territory for government, it is the people's right to know what government is doing. The press help to do this.

In a sentence, I'm surprised that many accuse media of being "liberal" while heralding Fox News as being "fair and balanced."

While The Progressive is an extremely left-wing machine, there is an article there that helps to articulate a portion of my point: that media helps us to keep government in check.

There has been more coverage about whether The New York Times was wrong to print the story than there has been about the process of making the decision. Why is this? Because a story of the process is not "newsworthy".

Few readers know what "newsworthy" means, and unfortunately, many more think they know what "newsworthy" is. For a brief definitions visit this link.

I am proud American media is professional enough to apply the same standards they use for government on themselves.

While it is certainly true that not all media are professional, it is completely wrong to accuse all media of being liberal. In fact, I think it's wrong to even say that media is mostly liberal. If media uses the definition for newsworthy that I listed above, than media cannot be liberal or conservative.

The reporting of NSA wiretapping was accused of being liberally biased. The reporting of the NSA phone database was accused of being liberally biased. Now, the reporting of the government monitoring bank transfers is being called by some, liberal undermining.

This is not a discussion on whether the recent controversial report by the NYT was good or not. It is the defense of an institution that helps us watch government. While there certainly needs to be a balance, if I had the ugly choice of a press that was censored by government or a free press, I would choose the latter.


JamesP said...

it is the people's right to know what government is doing

I got to this point in your editorial and saw no point in moving on. I think this blanket statement goes a long way in attacking your credibility.

If you care to clarify your hyperbole, perhaps we can move on and talk about the issue at hand.

Heck, I'm all for FOI, but do you really think that EVERYTHING the government does should be in-bounds for the Times and the Post to just openly write about?

Peter Nguyen said...


First, read the rest of my post. Reading a sentence of my post and then making a blanket judgement about it without reading the entirety goes a long way in attacking YOUR credibility.

Also, for the future, please expect more to see more blanket statements. This is a blog, not a book, many recognize the importance of reading between the lines.

Second, as you continue to read, you'll see that this post is less about what is "ok" for press to write about as it is about the political ideology of media.

Third, to answer your question, let me answer it with a question, "What shouldn't press be able to write about and then who will be their censor?"

Once we decide that media can't report on everything, who will decide what they can write about? The government? I personally don't trust government enough to do that.

Perhaps this is what you mean, perhaps you're saying that press needs to take a review of ethics. Visit the website for The Society of Professional Journalists. Read their code of ethics:

In fact, I'll just post it here:

Also, the link below are the current broad restrictions on freedom of speech:

I think the press should continue to stay a self-governing body, but perhaps they need a refresher course in ethics.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Peter. It is the right of the people to know what the government is doing. I think we should know about every covert CIA operation that is conducted. Heck, the government might as well disclose every location of every CIA agent.
I think the government should publish a quarterly report for the public consisting of transcripts of every conversation President Bush has with his advisors and staff (we need to what they talk about behind closed doors! It's our right! I mean, they are our elected officials and so we need to know EVERYTHING that they do!)
I also agree that the media needs to watch the government, because the media is highly reputable and never makes any mistakes. They are perfect. George W. Bush. Texas Air National Guard. Dan Rather.... oops, what did you say?
USA Today has backed off the lies they told about the major telephone companies handing over customer information to the government.
We found WMDs in Iraq... sure they might be older weapons, but it does prove that Saddam didn't dispose of all the weapons he had AND that the UN weapons inspectors are as crappy and worthless as every right-thinking American thought they were.

I'm getting off track.

"I am a member of the BYU Idaho College Democrats. We don't have a leg to stand on, so we stand on Peter Nguyen."

Peter Nguyen said...


I feel like I've read your stuff before, maybe on facebook? Welcome to our blog.

Your comment emphasized my post well.


JamesP said...

Under your sage advice I decided to go ahead and give you the benefit of the doubt, "read between the lines," and see what you had to say.

I'm disappointed that I did.

First of all, your article is centered around the assumption that "many accuse media of being "liberal" while heralding Fox News as being "fair and balanced."

Ummm, this is a debate that has gone on for years and years, Mr. Nguyen. I'm not sure your point in hashing it out here, but I'm even less clear of your point in citing it in context of the NYTimes banking story. People think the NYTimes banking story proves there's a liberal bias. And??

I don't think that anyone in their right mind questions the fact that one of the media's main roles is to serve as a watchdog of sorts to the government. I guess what I'm saying is that I couldn't really understand what your point is from your blog post. A lot of people think the media is liberally biased. You think Fox News is conservatively biased.

Welcome to 2006.

I also find it quite predictable for a college journalism student to be standing on the high horse of telling the public that they "think" they know what "newsworthy" means. I'm hoping you might elaborate upon that. I think the general public has a fairly good sense of what newsworthy is. It's not quite as esoteric as you make it out to be.

Peter Nguyen said...


I hate to have to admit it, but I think you're right, my point isn't very clear.

I brought up the point of the NYT story because I had a conversation recently with some close friends about it. They didn't like the story and they felt the Time had overstepped their bounds. But, instead of blaming it on the times, they tranferred it to: the liberal media.

And if you think the general public knows what newsworthy is than let me be more specific.

The extreme right-wing conservative in Idaho does not know what newsworthy is. Which, in Idaho, is the general public.

You're completely right though, the post was not written very well. Let me see if I can't create some bullet points:

- I'm concerned that the attack on the NYT by President Bush might cause extreme conservatives to hate the press even more.
- I don't think the media is liberal and I want to discuss it.
- The Press can be a great tool in checking government.

JamesP said...

Ok, good start. Let me ask you a few more questions, though, since you brought up the NYT article.

- Do you think the NYT over-stepped its bounds by publishing the classified information?

- If so, what kind of message does that set to the journalism world, seeing that NYT is one of, if not the, premier publication?

- Is there a difference between liberal bias and a publication that just so happens to print a 80/20 ratio of unfavorable-to-favorable stories/editorials/columns about an administration?

I think many people (including myself, and you, I presume) are at a serious disadvantage of not having paid attention and scrutinized the media during the meat of the Clinton years. In other words, we don't have much to compare the current press to. It's hard, unless you want to sift through rolls and rolls of microfiche or internet archives, to put your finger on the pulse of the media during a different administration. This is compounded by the fact that the media is a wholly different beast than it was even six years ago. The news cycle is different, the channels is different, the coverage is different.

I think it is very easy to see the media whatever way you want to see it. Just the other week I read op-ed after op-ed in the Post attacking the repeal of the estate tax. Not one editorial or column in favor of it. What conclusion would you draw from that. A Democrat would likely see the Post as being well-informed and knowledgable about the subject. You can guess what a Republican would think.

You're concerned about the effect that the NYTimes article will have on the public's perception of the press. Apparently the NYTimes is not concerned at all, or else they wouldn't have run the story. In the end, the NYT and all media publications come down to one simple thing, as much as journalists don't want to admit it: the bottom line. The NYT knows its audience, and it serves its audience very very well.

As far as Idaho goes, I'm not sure what the point is in lambasting the "extreme XX-wing in XXX." They have no credibility anyway. I mean, you realize that the "extreme right-wing" in Idaho would probably technically consist of the neo-Nazis and the skinheads, right?

Perhaps you meant just the "right wing conservatives in Idaho," which would just mean most people in Idaho.

In any case, I would still enjoy some elaboration there.

Blake Roberts said...

Whether or not a media orginization is liberal or conservative isn't really the issue. It is virtually impossible for a news group to represent all sides of every issue fairly. Newspapers in particular have been pushing one view or another since thier creation (even in the revolutionary war, where the american news papers were considered "liberal" since they went agaisnt he established system). CNN is liberal, Fox is conservative, big deal.

The real issue lies in the ethics involved. While it is great to have the Society of Professional Journalists code, with cable news in a constant battle for ratings, and newspapers dwindling with the rise of internet news, the rush to get the scoop is a big temptation. In our society of instant access and quick sound bites, "old" news is like old fish.

Of course some things should be kept secret. In world war 2, the government didn't tellt he world when and where d-day was going to happen. By the same token, if the news had found out, they should use proper judgment in knowing that lives are at stake, and they should sit on it. But, Peter makes a valid point, if we are going to say that this or that can't be said, then who is the judge?

Perhaps there should be somethings that are restricted from being published, but who decides? If the government is allowed to say what can and can't be said about it's activites, then what is safe? Who decides what is neutral? I find this to be the conservative stance on the issue, where government is kept as small and unabtusive as possible. Unfortunitly, there are too many neo-cons around who have forgotten that true Republican principles are a small government, low taxes AND spending, and free speech.

If a news group is right or left it is thier privilage to be so. What we need is a more repsponsible public becuase we are the ones who decide what we watch and what we accept. Our values are directly relfected by the news media. Fifty years ago it was trust, contemplation, and depth. Now it is cynicism, and rapid fire talking points.

JamesP said...

Added on top of everything is the fact that even when "classified" information is leaked, the papers (specifically USA Today, to cite a recent example) can't even get their facts straight.

How does the media expect to engender trust with that kind of monkey business going on?

Jessica said...

The media is only as conservative as the corporations who own them.

And we really saw how "liberal" it was in the lead up to the Iraq War.

As far as the NY Times, check out this article:

Terrorist funds-tracking no secret, some say

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between giving facts about the government and compromising the safety of the American people. Point is that there is a reason that some things are not public. What the public knows, the enemy knows. Statements like, “The people should know EVERYTHING the government is doing” is ignorant. I will agree that is true for social issues and matters of that nature. However military information needs to be secret, along with law enforcement (CIA/FBI/State PD ect..>)

If information released by the government results in the deaths of hundreds, or even one soldier, was it worth it? I know that what the NYTs released would not directly cause deaths, but terrorism is funded with money, if money runs out it is harder to fight. Basically the NYT just helped the Terrorist's fight. The NYTs just killed American soldiers, or course Liberals don't like to think about it that way. They are just "giving the facts to the people"

Do you think that World War II would have been won if the government released all it's projects and plans during the war?

I know this will convince none of you, but that is because emotions and broad “feel good” statements, not logic, control liberals.

Jessica said...

Anonymous: Why don't you come out of the closet and reveal yourself, so we can put a face to your illogical comments?

The White House has revealed more information than the NY Times did. If you had read the article I linked to, you would know that.

Were you this mad when Plame's identity was leaked?

JamesP said...

It's disappointing to me that, of all places, BYU-Idaho has gotten sucked in to the partisan atmosphere of liberal vs. conservative and Democrat vs. Republican that the rest of the country has.

Do any of you realize that it's all the same thing, just with different talking points? Wake up, people.

Both parties are fighting for seats in Congress this fall for one reason only: power. That's it. The Republicans want to retain their power, and Democrats want to take it back. And for what? So they can stall, contort the truth and sell out the American people for two more years in preperation for the next election.

This political sniping is exactly what they want you to be doing. Choose a side and, no matter what the facts, defend your side to the death. It's quite evident from the posts and comments that you are all playing very well into their hands.

Chaucer Arafat said...

jamesp--did you once feel that BYU-Idaho was immune to dichotomous thinking? If so, then THAT is the only disappointment at play. I agree with you that the bickering and the generalization are lamentable, but until we all find that "golden mean" in this two-party system, we'll just both have to deal with it. By tarring the studentbody of BYUI like that, you just set up another pair of binaries: people who are politically informed enough to not bicker VS. those who blindly bicker to the death. I just did it too. Sorry.

All I can really say, in sum, (and it doesn't necessarily address the original issue raised by Peter) is that an individual's source for "newsworthiness" will be dictated by prior political leanings. It is self-fullfilling prophecy. We drink from the fountains that taste best to us. I have been overly skeptical of most sources of news, and have adopted a dialectic approach to my news-watchiness: A little CNN, a little MSNBC, a little Fox, a little Guardian UK, some BBC and CBC--combining antithesis and atinthesis to get a synthesis of news. For me, it seems the only way to get away from the "man bites dog," "missing white woman," trivia that is the general fodder of any singular news org.

JamesP said...

If you only knew me...I probably went overboard in my day criticizing BYU-Idaho.

Ditto on the self-fulfilling prophecy comment. Well put.

Chaucer Arafat said...

jamesp--perhaps i did (do) know you.

as for criticizing byu-idaho (my alma mater), i have to plead guilty as well. its like tossing a dart at a blue whale--just too easy, and fun (not that I take pleasure in injuring whales).