Features

Desperately seeking Pulitzers

"Desperately seeking Pulitzers" Continued...

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

The interns and I saw AP reporters exuberantly praising the politically and environmentally correct: For example, a plan to install solar panels on the White House meant "returning the power of the sun to the pinnacle of prominence." AP's adjectives indicated its position on abortion: A June 26 story complained about South Dakota's "new restrictive state law" on abortion that imposed "stringent counseling requirements." (A different perspective could have noted "a new protective state law" requiring "thorough" or "comprehensive" counseling requirements.)

AP's stories leading up to the temporary resolution of the federal debt limit debate were of the sky-is-falling genre. A July 15 story began, "Horror stories are flying about the damage that might be wreaked should Congress and President Barack Obama fail to cut a deal by the Aug. 2 deadline to increase America's borrowing limit. Nearly every American is in harm's way, either directly or indirectly." A July 17 story led with more drumbeating: "Time is running out for Washington to raise the country's borrowing limit and avoid a default. Wall Street isn't panicking yet. But if the unthinkable happens, a default could strike financial markets like an earthquake."

AP's basic assumptions were readily evident: The federal government should be involved in every problem that arises. For example, AP reporters did not question the assumption that Washington should be deciding the sugar content of cereal and saying, in essence, "Silly rabbit, Trix aren't for kids." AP could have asked whether a Congress debating trillion-dollar deficits and authorizing funds for three wars should be debating whether 8 or 10 grams of sugar per serving makes a cereal grrrreat.

In February 2011, I interviewed Tom Kent, AP's deputy managing editor and standards editor, and asked him about studies showing that conservatives are rare in major mainstream news organizations and conservative Christians nowhere in sight. Kent responded, "I don't see this as an issue because we don't focus on it. There are people whom I've worked with for 20, 30 years, and I don't know how they vote. That would not be useful information for me to know."

Kent is an honorable man, but it seems to me that the lack of discussion indicates this should be an issue: When an organization includes a diversity of views, people know it.

'It's not journalism, it's theater'

By Marvin Olasky

Daisey (AP/Photo by Stan Barouh, The Public Theater)

A report that will not win a Pulitzer Prize is the one about iPhone production in China that NPR aired in January on its show, This American Life. Last month the program painfully announced that it is retracting Mike Daisey's juicy tale of armed guards at a plant with child labor, workers having a secret union meeting at Starbucks, and so on.

An NPR correspondent who lives in Shanghai, Rob Schmitz, had blown the whistle on the fiction after hearing details that contradicted his extensive experience. He then found Daisey's translator, learned that the most striking encounters never took place, confronted Daisey, and heard him admit regarding his work, "It's not journalism, it's theater."

Daisey has been telling his tale in "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," an acclaimed one-man theatrical show. Schmitz said Daisey's false report "resonated with people because it was a simple message. ...  iPhones are made by children, Apple bad. ... Sign a petition, and now you're good." The reality, he added, is more complicated: Grueling work, but a step upward for the workers, who have options because many Chinese factory towns have a labor shortage.

That's the way it often is on questions involving "social justice." Conservatives sometimes mock the impulse, but it's the application that needs to be critiqued. In the age of social media, signing an online petition or consuming a particular product are cheap secular grace.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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