Where does news come from?
Journalists don’t make news, although we’re sometimes accused of doing just that. We simply report it. But how we decide what to report (what’s news) and what to ignore (what isn’t) is important, and difficult to define.
Maybe that’s because what’s news is so subjective: Journalists view news the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart viewed pornography -- we know it when we see it. What one journalist considers news, another may dismiss as meaningless.
That’s what makes much of the recent criticism of President Bush’s taste in news so silly. Last month, Bush told Brit Hume of Fox News that he prefers to get his news from trusted staffers, rather than journalists. Predictably, those who live inside a media cocoon became went into hysteria.
“To President Bush, the news is like a cigarette,” Michael Kinsley wrote in The Washington Post Oct. 17. “When he is on the receiving end, Bush prefers his news heavily filtered.”
Frank Rich of The New York Times piled on Oct. 26: “‘The best way to get the news is from objective sources,’ the president said, laying down his utopian curriculum for Journalism 101.”
And Paul Krugman, as usual, joined the Bush-bashing. “Mr. Bush’s ignorance may reflect his lack of curiosity,” he wrote in the Times on Oct. 28.
Journalists love this story, because it seems to prove one of their favorite storylines: Bush is a dummy. He must be, they assume, since he doesn’t want to read their work in the newspapers or watch it on the evening newscasts to find out what’s really going on in the world.
But that’s not what’s really happening here. If anything, Bush is showing his intelligence by skipping the middleman.
After all, here in Washington, the real answer to the question “where does news come from?” is, more often than not: Leakers.
For example, a story in the Oct. 6 The New York Times quoted “senior administration officials” saying a new Iraq stabilization group would be formed and run by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suspected he knew the source of the leak: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. When asked what the shakeup might mean, Rumsfeld responded, “I think you have to ask Condi that question.”
In another example, an Oct. 24 front-page story in The Washington Post gave a preview of what it called “a blistering report on prewar intelligence on Iraq that is critical of CIA Director George J. Tenet and other intelligence officials.” Who says? “Congressional officials,” including both “Republican and Democratic sources.”