John Leo

Another Internet commentator, Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue, says Bush's low opinion of Clymer is understandable, since Clymer "has written nonstop about what he sees as Bush's failings as governor of Texas." That's a fair comment, too. One of Clymer's Page One reports began: "Texas has had one of the nation's worst public health records for decades. More than a quarter of its residents have no health insurance. Its Mexican border is a hotbed of contagion." Another Clymer report began: "For all its focus on a nicer, blander image, there is one thing the Bush campaign wants to be negative about -- negative campaigning from the other side."

This kind of writing makes a lot of reporters uncomfortable, to say the least. To me it doesn't sound like straightforward reporting. It sounds like loud, table-pounding argument in some saloon. Kaus writes of Clymer: "He seems so convinced that all civilized men would agree with him that he doesn't really bother to hide his viewpoint, which may be why his language is jarringly self-confident and strident."

There's another obvious reason why so many reporters don't bother to hide their viewpoints and political leanings. The gap between editorials and allegedly objective reporting is no longer very large. Many people in the journalism business now think objectivity is an illusion. They think everything is subjective, so instead of papering over or suppressing their opinions, reporters should just come right out and infuse their reporting with what they think is true.

I don't think Adam Clymer wakes up each morning thinking up new ways to do the Republicans in. But I think he believes that Republican ticket is a disaster and he isn't shy about letting us know. His political opinions can easily be figured out from his reporting (and from his fawning biography of Ted Kennedy).

The sad truth is that analytical reporting is fusing with ordinary opinion-mongering. Much of what appears on Page One now seems like editorializing lightly disguised as reporting. Crusty old-timers (including myself and some of the editors and reporters I worked with when I was on the Times) do not much like this trend. We think that if readers can easily deduce a reporter's political or cultural prejudices by reading five or six of his or her articles, an alarm bell should go off in the heads of editors. Then the reporter probably should be gently shipped over to the editorial page or urged to take up some less demanding kind of work. But newsroom trends currently are heading in the opposite direction, so don't expect this soon.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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