John Leo

Most people realize that the news media do not just report. They frame and package the news. Stories reflect the mind-set and values of the newsroom. This packaged world is now under heavy assault, partly because different packaging is available (Fox News, talk radio), partly because a strong unpackaging industry has arisen (bloggers, bolder anti-Establishment voices in academia and traditional media).

 For instance, last year the very smart political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio completely unwrapped the orthodox newsroom view of religion and politics. They described the basic media view this way: ?The Christian right, having infiltrated the Republican Party, is importing its divisive religious ideas into our public life, whereas the Democratic Party is the neutral camp of tolerant and pluralistic Americans.? Writing in First Things magazine, the authors conclude that secularists and religious people have been struggling against each other for many years, but in the newsroom accounts, one struggler (secularism) essentially disappears, leaving the religious side as oddly divisive people who want to take over the culture and ?impose? (vote) their values. The authors believe newsrooms have been partisan in the debate for many years, partly because so many reporters are Democrats who do not go to church and do not fully understand that secularism is basically an aggressive quasi religion now central to the core constituency of the Democratic Party. Some Democrats (i.e., Hillary Rodham Clinton) are beginning to understand this. When she said recently that believers have the right to live out their faith in the public square, she was taking dead aim at the secularist goal of banishing religion from public life.

 In the Eason Jordan story, we have something new: retroframing, or the sad attempt to reimpose a discredited frame. Jordan, CNN?s chief news executive, said something on a panel (we still don?t know exactly what), the gist of which was that U.S. soldiers had deliberately shot at journalists in Iraq. This was a serious charge, particularly coming from one of CNN?s high priests, but the major media essentially looked the other way for many days, thus signaling that nothing important had happened. But bloggers descended quickly, demanding to see the unreleased videotape of the panel and asking about Jordan?s evidence. Jordan ?walked [the story] back,? as one commentator said, meaning that he softened what he apparently had said. But he resigned, essentially because of the case made by the bloggers.

John Leo

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

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