Monday, February 17, 2014

James Moore takes down the TexTrib

"Bush's Brain" author James Moore has been on a tear for the past month, between cracking the skulls of Texas political reporters over the Wendy Davis stories, and then cracking Davis herself over her clumsy relations with same.  He made a clean break with her over open carry, and now he's got the Texas Tribune in his crosshairs in a two four-part piece.  First, he upbraids Trib editor Emily Ramshaw for thanking a candidate on Twitter for an "*unbelievably* generous financial contribution".

Ramshaw may not have known she was talking to a candidate in a district only seven miles from the Tribune’s office, or she simply did not care. Either of those possibilities, however, is not acceptable to anyone who might believe the Tribune can do meaningful reporting on Texas politics and government. One suggests incompetence; the other points toward collusion. The Trib simply cannot be unbiased because it has become a part of the institutions it told the public it intended to scrutinize and hold responsible for good government. Regardless of the organization’s intentions, there is no conclusion to reach other than the Texas Tribune has to be considered corrupted by its sources of funding.

In journalism, appearances are destiny.

The “non-profit” Tribune is the recipient of significant amounts of money from the same corporations and lobbyists that donate to legislators and other office holders to help them in their campaigns, and to influence the outcome of legislation related to those donor’s special interests. In any context, this is a classic conflict of interest, and regardless of how much the Trib’s editors might insist they are able to do their work without being affected by these funds, they have been in operation long enough to see there is no reason to take them seriously as a news organization, and the evidence to reach this conclusion is abundant.

It’s also a kind of rank hypocrisy that is so grandiose as to be entertaining.

With the news over the weekend that Breitbart is to begin posting a Texas version of its very own truthiness for conservatives, this remains a bad time to be a real, actual journalist in the Lone Star.  From the second part of Moore's story...

During the glory days of journalism at the Texas capitol in Austin, newspapers with large bureau staffs covered hearings and debates on legislation, almost every statewide campaign for office, and also held the governor and lawmakers accountable on a daily basis. TV stations from the four major cities maintained full time broadcast bureaus even when the legislature was not in session. We were expected to be on the air every evening with a new and important story. The hourly machinations of state government in the 80s and 90s were scrutinized by many sets of eyes. Big city newspapers circulated in Austin and reporters read and watched the competitions’ stories to learn what had been missed, and so did the lobbyists and legislators.

After 22 years of being a part of that capitol press corps as a TV news correspondent, I joined a startup company that tried to launch a statewide network newscast and website. The Internet was just beginning its maturation process and we were hopeful. My final year in the business, however, ended with me traveling on the George W. Bush presidential campaign for that nascent news operation and, subsequently, I left journalism to begin work in public relations. In retrospect, my timing was excellent. The slow shutdown of every TV news bureau and reduction of newspaper staff sizes indicated editors and budget writers had made a decision about what interested their readers and viewers, and government did not make the cut.

As for the TexTrib, their bias toward their corporate overlords was first revealed by Texas Sharon at EarthWorks, summarized here.  I have also excoriated their terrible polling more than once or twice.

If the TexTrib wants to be a mouthpiece for the corporations, much as what has become of NPR, then so be it.  Let's not kid ourselves about it, however.  And if the looniest of conservatives think the Tribune is "leftist media", you better know that the remaining load is to be dumped on top of your head in short order.

Update: Here are parts three and four from Moore, and Socratic Gadfly's take.  

Update II: And Eye on Williamson cuts to the nut as well.

There is no sustainable business model for doing the kind or journalism and reporting that the public needs in a democracy. Corporations and the wealthy will not buy advertising on media outlets that doggedly expose their malfeasance and corruption. The publicly funded model we once had did a pretty good job of supporting the kind of journalism and reporting we need. But when the same money that’s buying public and non-profit media, is also buying our politicians, it’s unlikely they’d be willing to ramp up funding for funding public media. One that would be independent enough to expose their political corruption.

Finally (which means any more updates on this topic will go into a new post), Moore provides the responses from the TexTrib in "No Country for Old Reporters".

The reaction to the Texas Tribune piece has been mostly condescension from Trib reporters. None of them addressed me directly in their tweets but one of their digirati tweeted a “counter-counter” response, “No country for old men.” I’m sure that is patently true. Best I can tell the only people over 50 at the Tribune are Ross Ramsey, though I think Jay Root is 50 or close, and Evan Smith is 47. Everyone else is quite young, and much more affordable, and easily taught the way things are done. 

But youth doesn’t slow down the Trib. CEO Evan Smith tweeted that they were looking for a reporter to do a deep, investigative dive into the Texas criminal justice system. A complex as hell topic that has befuddled many a grizzled journalistic veteran but the Trib is advertising the slot as “entry level.” Good luck, kid, from an old man who apparently doesn’t belong in that country.


Gadfly said...

That's ethics 101 on Ramshaw. WTF?

And, not just NPR, but PBS. A lot of ppl don't realize that public broadcasting is bottom-up, and so, it was easy for the cons to take over:

Gadfly said...

Oh, and it's actually a four-parter. Maybe he hadn't gotten done yet when you first saw it.

PDiddie said...

When I checked your post, I picked that up and made the update, including those and yours now.

There's not many things that leave me speechless, but for someone of Moore's stature to humiliate the TexTrib with their own conduct like that...