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5.2.08

Expect rocky start between Jindal Administration, media

“Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel” is an aphorism attributed to someone who actually did buy his ink by the barrel, Benjamin Franklin – and one that perhaps Gov. Bobby Jindal will test, but with good reason.

Jeremy Alford – who’s an independent journalist who therefore has to contract out his stories without a set paycheck to rely upon – put into print frustration that other journalists no doubt have felt concerning Jindal and his administration’s tight control of information it will release about the inner workings of his governing. No doubt exacerbating Alford’s distress is by not being on some corporate payroll, he has less of a margin for error in what he can deliver and thereby becomes more dependent on getting information for stories. Without it, it’s harder for him to do the job the way he thinks it should be done.

Whether Jindal’s infant administration will end up being more closed-lipped about stuff than any others – we all too quickly have forgotten how reluctant the Kathleen Blanco Administration was to release documents about her handling of the hurricane disasters (never completely, and with, from her political perspective, good reason not to) – chances are even if it isn’t you will hear more grumbling out of the media about Jindal’s than those of past governors. But the reasons why really rest with the media itself.


Like it or not, and regardless whether the media will admit them, there are certain realities about reporters in general that are going to cause reactions similar to Alford’s. To all my friends in the media, do note that I write here in general terms, for not all reporters carry these attitudes. But if they are honest with themselves, they will recognize the veracity of these observations concerning many in their profession – particularly in those who regularly cover politics:

First, the only profession whose members are more cynical about politicians than political scientists is journalism. Because journalists have seen so many up-close-and-personal examples of self-interest getting in the way of policy, the natural (and lazy) reaction is from any political action to wring out the possibility that self-interest is not the primary motivator for the politicians in question. Indeed, many evolve to the point where they think the system cannot keep such people out of office, so they think practically anybody who wins elections, if given a chance, always will sell out the public good for the private, which then complements and magnifies a second attitude.

That is an inflated sense of place they give themselves as journalists. Seeing politics as so corrupt and venial, they become convinced that journalists are literally the figurative finger in the dike that prevents water from washing away democracy through their provision of information, holding the politicians’ veniality at bay. Some feel if it weren’t for them, constantly pressuring politicians from trying to hide things and exposing dirty laundry when necessary, the country would be up a creek without them as the paddle.

Unfortunately, it elevates their sense of self-worth to haughty levels. Some feel that’s it’s not merely unfortunate when an official or media secretary gives terse information or no comment at all about a request, but that it’s an affront to them and the public they have appointed themselves to serve as the agents thereof. And this exaggerated sensitivity only feeds the feeling that politicians can’t be trusted, but also it certainly doesn’t help that they think they are being prevented from doing their jobs (even as more neutral observers to the adversarial relationship witnessed between journalists and politicians think the former have an unrealistic feeling of entitlement on this account).

And for some politicians they are particularly unwilling to cut slack on these issues, given a simple reason: despite pious protestations of neutrality, the media play favorites but those pals seldom include conservative Republican politicians. To be blunt and specific in this case, few of the reporters covering politics in Louisiana voted for Jindal in either of his gubernatorial tries. For many, the only thing they like about his stated policies is his views on this issue of “transparency” (congruent with the above reasons) and so they become really annoyed when they think he’s straying from that which then creates a justification to them that he is as unredeemable as others – but even worse because he already is “wrong” on political ideology. And while the media will never admit it, this ideological difference does affect their coverage (as the editorial page of the Baton Rouge Advocate has not been shy to hint in regards to Jindal).

What makes these dynamics more fascinating early on in the Jindal Administration is that it seems to understand this environment. One got the sense from the beginning of his campaign that Jindal knew not only that the media were not going to be his friends, but also that they never would be his friends and probably be implacable enemies short of him renouncing conservatism. Thus he designed a campaign maximally to go around the media that, if he pulled off a big win (defined as there not being a general election runoff), the momentum would fuel his initial year in office.

Well, he got his big win and a mandate without depending upon the media as an intermediary. The larger question now is whether he can govern effectively in this mode. While much has changed concerning the dissemination of information in politics, increasing the capacity for politicians to communicate directly with people without the need for the media as an intermediary (or in the establishment of alternative sources of news and opinion typically shunned by the traditional media such as this space), the fact is those that buy ink by the barrel still are going to have disproportionate influence over information dissemination.

The situation leads to a quandary on both ends. The Jindal Administration knows the big media are going to be the media and they’re going to be hostile to Jindal, probably more hostile than during any other honest gubernatorial regime in the state’s modern history. However, it will stoke media hostility even more when it refuses to release information that potentially, even likely, will be used by the media to pursue their agenda of thwarting Jindal’s conservative agenda outside of reform. So Jindal must pick his poison regarding media coverage: be criticized for your policies contrary to the media’s or be criticized for not being “transparent” enough for the media’s likings.

At the same time, the media are going to be the media. They see the Jindal Administration’s lack of “cooperation” as disrespectful to them and the public they presume to serve, and they are going to dislike much of his agenda, giving the Jindal Administration every incentive to adopt the strategy it seems to have implemented – tolerate and use the media when possible but don’t do them any favors because that is an invitation to get burned.

Frankly, I don’t see much of a way to resolve this conflict in the near future, short of one side undergoing an unexpected and unlikely ideological conversion to bring it into congruence with the other. Neither trusts each other, and so media relations during the Jindal Administration may feature rough riding. Long noted by political scientists, the general adversarial relationship between politicians and the media specifically in the case of Jindal and the Louisiana old, especially print, media looks as if their interactions are going to provide an example of this concept on steroids.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

It kind of sounds like you're blaming Alford for that story. What does his being a "free lance" journalist have to do with anything?

Jindal RAN on transparency in government. I, for one, supported him in large measure -- because of it.

And now, his people don't want to answer questions about OBVIOUS conflicts?

Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous...already on the defensive ready to protect your saviour to the bitter end. You wanted transparency, so did we, now all of a sudden it feels like it was just campaign rhetoric.

How long are you going to defend the obvious by taking pot shots at your fellow journalists? You arent exactly writing for the AP you know. My next question is, do you have what it takes to post this comment?

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight, a tenured professor who gets paid with taxpayer dollars to flak for the Governor is somehow superior to a freelance journalist who actually goes out and works for his pay check? I don't think so.

Give it up Prof. You're only making it worse. No one should have to accept the premise that Jindal somehow deserves to be held to a lessor standard than the one he has set for everyone else. And your lame, half baked argument that the media is to blame is well, lame.

You do not know who reporters voted for or supported so your assumptions mean nothing. Many reporters came out of 2003 with a high level of respect for Jindal because he would engage the issues and answer questions. That he has since gone into hiding and cannot handle even the most basic of news stories is no one's fault but his.

And btw, your habit of attacking people like Mr. Alford personally is decidedly unprofessorial and cheap.

Jeff Sadow said...

Let me guess, at least one journalist in here ... and if so, methinks you doth protest too much.

You can shoot the mesenger all you like, it doesn't change the situation. All of you also need to actually read the column closely and pay attention to it, rather than reading what you think and would like it to say, for whatever reason, into it.

Note for me please where I insult Jeremy in any way (he's interviewed me before and I respect his abilities quite a bit, especially because he works without a net). I just point out his perceptions as he related in his piece, general perceptions journalists bring to their job in reporting about politicians, and the perception I've gotten from the Jindal Administration about their view of the media. Reread my conclusion that doesn't put blame on anybody, but does explain why the situation exists. Then analyze the argument as it is rather than react to it emotionally, and write back if you like on that basis.

baton rouge du nord said...

Come now, professor, the news media have always thought their job to be holding the powerful to account. Jindal is now powerful, so he needs to put on his big boy pants and actually deal with the media. The best way to get whacked by the media is to hide from them.

Don't you remember how awful the media made Blanco look after Katrina? At first, she got no quarter. I think they let up on her after a bit because she was no fun to pick on. She was pathetic.

The media's bias is against the powerful. You will see attacks on democrats if you open the other eye.

By the way, I'm not the only one that sees hagiography.

Jeff Sadow said...

I tried, but perhaps did not make explicit enough, to convey that the media are going to be critical of all politicians. It's just that Democrats will always get better treatment because the media can tell themselves that even if this person is not performing up to their expectations, they will think at least he is on "our side" and "trying" because of the ideological congruence.

Let's review "hagiography" -- idealizing or idolizing biography. Do a search on my posts and see the several instances I criticize Jindal on his issue preferences. If they are too few for your liking, it's only because he has been right on the issues so often. That does not constitute "hagiography" because I objectively evaluate him. As with the above commenters, you have missed the point of the post: I'm not assigning blame either to the Jindal Administration or the media, just describing why they are coming to such loggerheads.

Anonymous said...

Professor,

The 1st Law of Holes is that when one finds oneself in a hole, one should stop digging. Please stop attempting to defend the indefensible by suggesting that one has more integrity if one is on some media's payroll as an employee. That is not only a ridiculous presumption, but demeaning to all of the self-employed.

We know you want to support Jindal. Please don't sacrifice your own integrity to do so.

Jeff Sadow said...

Good grief, just how many readers did perform so poorly in reading comprehension in school?

Please point out to me, since I never wrote anything of the sort, where I suggested "that one has more integrity if one is on some media's payroll as an employee."

Anonymous said...

I posted the original comment.
And frankly, I don't appreciate your statement that, because I'm calling you on a fairly obvious bias in your article -- I performed poorly in reading comprehension in school. That's definitely one of the things that has NEVER been said about me.

I supported Jindal. I supported candidates who supported Jindal.

Mr. Alford's article rightly placed the onus on the Jindal administration to live up to its self-proclaimed high standard of transparency.

For you to try to make it anything other than that -- frankly, sucks.

How's that for poor reading comprehension?

By the way -- you might want to try a tactic other than insulting your readers, professor.

Anonymous said...

Professor,

If your readers have such a low reading comprehension, perhaps you should take that into account when you write to us. Good communications requires a knowledge of one's audience.

Also, there is a possibility that you are not as great a communicator as you think. None of us is perfect and all can learn and do a better job.

Jeff Sadow said...

>because I'm calling you on a fairly obvious bias in your article

Point it out. Where did I state an opinion one way or the other about the rectitiude of the Jindal Administration's media strategy? Interesting how several commenters yelp that since I don't automatically take their view, i.e. condemnation of Jindal, that that equates with "defense" or "bias" or whatever. And then when I challenge them to point out where it is, I'm met with defeaning silence.

>I don't appreciate your statement that ... performed poorly in reading comprehension in school.

If the shoe fits ...

>If your readers have such a low reading comprehension, perhaps you should take that into account when you write to us.

Just a few readers ... my stats indicate it has been viewed about 500 times and just a very few let what they wanted to read into it get in the way of understanding what it actually said.

The most effective way is to teach up, not down. That is, you teach at a level that spurs people to put more effort into learning because that is the way you grow intellectually. It also means they may well suffer -- bad grades, acerbic comments, etc. -- when they fail to perform at the high level I demand.

To me, it's doesn't appear difficult at all to read a column dispassionately and certainly it's incumbent on the writer to make himself clear. In this case, I think it was pretty obvious. The real problem, as I mentioned above, is that a few readers demanded that if I was to write about anything having to do with this issue that it condemn Jindal. In their unsophisticated analysis of the piece, as soon as it was evident that wasn't there, they suspended their critical facilities and created straw man responses. If my replies sound harsh, it's because of my disappointment that they made such simple, fundamental errors of analysis that negate any potential contribution to debate that they could make.

Ultimately, and in everything I write, I am an educator. You make like or despise what I write but in the end my goal is to help make you a more informed and better critical thinker, whether you enjoy the process. That's why I write these. And, do note, just because I write them doesn't mean you have to read them.

Anonymous said...

Attention bloggers! Give it up. This is a back and forth that you cannot ever win.

The professor is paid by us taxpayers to pontificate to our children.

College professors are never wrong. They teach the kids whatever they want. If the kids don't regurgitate what they are told on their exams, they flunk.

The professor treats all those who dare to disagree with him or who fail to understand the nuances of his writings the same as he does his students.

It is most arrogant to presume that of the 500 readers all were able to understand except for a handful. A more open-minded person might recognize that the remainder simply didn't have a clue what he was saying.

Who wouldn't become arrogant if they had a job where nobody was allowed to disagree with them and if they did they are punished.

Anonymous said...

"Who wouldn't become arrogant if they had a job where nobody was allowed to disagree with them and if they did they are punished."

Priceless. You respond with invective to his (explicitly admitted) generalizations about reporters with your own (never owned) generalizations about professors. I've taken several of the prof's courses, and it burns me up that in your ignorance (and rudeness) you'd blast him for taking sides. I took the prof's class on political parties and interests groups and didn't hear how one party had the fix in; I heard how the two party system had the fix in, and how in playing the two sides against each other they keep it fixed. Identify much?

Your fear of the professors speaks to your insecurity, your anxiety that someone just might come along and tell you the way it is isn't your way, that you couldn't handle that. Suck it up. Because the only reason you see it that way is you're stuck in your own fear about whether your own rigid beliefs are true, otherwise it wouldn't come as such a stick in the eye when someone disagrees with you.

You don't have to live the rest of your life afraid of being humiliated. If you're honest with yourself, you know you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who feels like the big idiot in the room; but if you hang around enough smart people, it won't happen so much, because you'll learn. On the other hand, if you avoid and cast out disagreement by resorting to dismissive personal attacks, you'll get slow because you'll stop learning. And then you'll feel, rightly, insecurity, instead of the certainty of hope that what you know just might save you.

Jeff Sadow said...

>you can't swing a dead cat without hitting

Use of that phrase, gentle readers, proves this poster did in fact take one of my classes, no doubt about it ...