Hiltzik takes on Patterico

I don't know whether Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik is the paper's designated hitter or just is being allowed to take his Golden State blog wherever he feels it naturally should go, but knowing him I lean to the latter scenario. A few weeks after clashing with partisan radio host-blogger Hugh Hewitt, Hiltzik has posted a long first-of-two-parts response to conservative blogger and Times watcher Patterico's 11,000-word listing of what the right saw as liberal bias in the paper's pages during 2005. Hiltzik's take is that Patterico's work (and others like it) is propoganda whose "main purpose is to hunt down deviations from a political orthodoxy that they themselves define."

Their techniques include a promiscuous use of labels as shorthand slurs ("leftist" and "liberal" being, of course, their most popular denigrations). They no doubt find this technique valuable because once they can hang a label on a newspaper or a journalist, they can dispense with anything so fundamental as discussion or argument. Some also favor imputations of treason or unpatriotism; contentions that the offending reporters and editors are detached in spirit from their readership; and suggestions that what underlies their political deviancy is moral turpitude.

To back up their assertions, they often quote articles selectively, take out of context what they do quote, and ascribe imaginary motivations to reporters and editors, which they then feel free to decry. As any student of history knows, these are tools and techniques that were used to great effect during the Stalinist show trials of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The functionaries who wielded them then had the same goals as the self-anointed press watchdogs on the right do today: To support the regime in power through intimidation and threat and to impose ideological conformity, while avoiding at all costs debate on the merits.

These critics equate a newspaper’s failure to parrot a conservative, Republican, or Bush Administration line with inaccuracy, or cavalierly interpret it as evidence of "bias." Unconcerned with a free press’s duty to challenge official versions of events, they fault newspapers and newsmagazines for failing to fall into lockstep in support of George W. Bush and his policies....

The main drawback of the blogging critics’ ignorance of or uninterest in journalistic tradition and practice is that it unleashes their own prejudices. They’re largely unfamiliar with the requirements imposed on reporters and editors by deadline haste and space constraints. They read an article through the prism of their own political mindset, and if they judge that its effect is to promote a "liberal agenda," they invariably assume that the effect is intentional.

Hiltzik wraps by promising another installment: "Press criticism of this nature passes muster only if you’re preaching to the choir. But then, these critics aren’t really interested in persuading the unpersuaded; they’re interested in reinforcing the prejudices of their followers through a chorus of mendacious commentary and rhetorical cant. They don’t wish to improve the free press, they wish to coerce it into supporting those with political power. Later, we’ll examine how this process works in detail, with Frey’s effort as an instructive text." Hiltzik's old sparring partner Hewitt and Mickey Kaus also come in for criticism. Over at Patterico's blog, he's got 92 comments to his Times post and says that 16,000 visitors clicked on it January 1. Hewitt's praise for the Patterico post (and advice to the Times) is here.

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