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Thursday, January 06, 2005
The Readers Are Idiots

That appears to be the conclusion of this, the other Columbia Journalism Review article to receive some attention in the blogs this year.

The embedded readers, who came across as an unusually thoughtful, engaged group, evidenced this tendency [to not want to read depressing news] themselves. At one session the APME attendees and those of the affiliated meeting of the Associated Press Photo Managers were asked to say whether they would have published certain grisly photographs on page one — a shot of Nicole Brown Simpson’s corpse, the burned bodies of American civilian contractors hanging from a bridge in Falluja, and so forth. Electronic voting allowed members of the audience to identify themselves by job (as editors or photo editors), and the embedded readers were also asked to vote. One of the photos rated was the iconic Abu Ghraib photo of a prisoner standing on a box, hooded, with wires attached to each hand. Of those who identified themselves as photo editors, 96 percent said that they either ran or would have run the photo on page one. But 71 percent of the embedded readers said it should not have been run on page one. Asked about the propriety of running photos of terrorists holding hostages, 60 percent of the photo editors were in favor of printing the pictures, but 78 percent of the readers were opposed.

Why don’t readers want to see these things? Why are so many people avoiding the hard task of keeping themselves informed about what is going on in their government and society? Why is ignorance so widespread at a time when higher education is more widely pursued than ever before?

Hmmmm. Well for one thing, the readers did not say they didn't want to see these things. They said they shouldn't be on page one. Now the logical thing to do would be to ask the readers why they felt that way. There could be any number of reasons why the readers didn't want them on page one which have nothing to do with avoiding becoming informed. They could feel that the photos were too disturbing for the front page where they are more likely to be seen by young children. They could feel that running them on the front page was encouraging America's enemies. They could just have felt that the pictures themselves were too offensive to be seen. But Evan Cornog, the writer, doesn't bother himself with any of those possibilities; it's that they're a bunch of ignorant savages who have to be educated by the media so they can know what to think.

Cornog doesn't come right out and declare his political persuasion, but it is not hard to guess.

While each kind of action might be covered in the pages of a local newspaper, clearly it is the world of the justice-oriented citizen that intersects most clearly with the world of journalism, since “root causes” of problems are what journalists seek to identify, and uncovering injustices is one of the raisons d’être of reporters.

He also devotes a paragraph to defending Jimmy Carter's disastrous "malaise speech" (during which IIRC, Carter never used the word malaise) as prescient.


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