The Audience Wants Justification, Not Explanation For Media Behavior

Some folks have flagged this bit of dialogue with a Washington Post reporter:

Boston: Ben, not to be a conspiracist, but how come “Birthers” and “Vince Foster” conspiracists get play on the real media while “9/11 Truthers” had to settle for posting a billion comments after articles on everything from politics to sports to dog grooming?

Ben Pershing: Perhaps because there is an actual videotape of the planes hitting the World Trade Center that billions of people around the world have seen, while there is no videotape of Obama being born in Hawaii or Vince Foster committing suicide.

Also, for what this is worth, there is no bill in Congress declaring 9/11 to have been a giant conspiracy. But there is a bill in the House calling for presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship. And there was a congressional investigation of Foster’s death.

Every time I read an exchange like this, I feel like the parties are speaking past each other. The question-asker is basically observing that there’s a double-standard in which nutty conspiracy theories that are backed by the conservative movement get media play that is denied to other nutty conspiracy theories. The reporter then pushes back by explaining the reason that the press is treating the situations differently. But what the audience wants isn’t an explanation but a justification of the media’s conduct. Typically, though, press figures when faced with a specific complaint will wave the complaint off by noting that the output in question was generated according to the prevailing conventions. The question, however, is whether the conventions are producing decent results.


I frequently here journalists complain that Media Matters or Glenn Greenwald “doesn’t understand how the press works.” Which is probably true. But the point is not to understand the details of how it works but to ask whether or not it’s working well.