There’s also an obvious motive for keeping quiet when a thorny conflict looms. After all, the press’s commercial success is predicated on the idea that we’re credible purveyors of information. Acknowledge too many potential conflicts of interest, mention them too frequently, or explore them too deeply, and we risk undermining that basic premise.
Problem is, the current approach is even worse. When potential conflicts aren’t disclosed voluntarily — or when they’re justified with reasoning that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman journalism class — the public gets a double message: we (the media) aren’t as hard on ourselves as we are on everybody else; and we don’t trust you (the public) to draw responsible conclusions about subjectivity and objectivity.
At a time when trust in journalism is at an all-time low, neither is a particularly winning strategy. And as both L’Affaire Ifill and CJR’s reporting on Mitchell suggest, if the mainstream media doesn’t grapple with its own conflicts, plenty of other parties are willing to do it for them. In other words, when it comes to media reaction to real or perceived conflicts of interest in the press, Schieffer in ’04 is the past, and Ifill in ’08 is the future. Heading into the Hempstead debate, that’s a point Schieffer himself might want to ponder.
To read the “Don’t Quote Me” blog, go to thePhoenix.com/medialog. Adam Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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