Want journalism? Read a newspaper…

Howard Kurtz reports this morning in his Media Notes column about an apparent inequity in hiring former politicos as news anchors and hosts of pundit talk-a-thons. It seems television favors liberals and Democrats for these roles. As Kurtz says:

“By this fall, [George Stephanopoulos] the onetime Democratic operative likely will be in Brinkley’s old chair as solo anchor of the prestigious Sunday program [This Week]. It’s a remarkable career transformation that has some critics questioning whether the major news organizations would ever allow a Republican to make such a leap.”

As I have said of media bias in the Rhetorica Critical Meter, it is easy to make anecdotal cases for bias from the right or left. I find it far more interesting to consider how the media are biased by their institutional structures. So let’s consider the only newspaper source Kurtz quoted:

“I’m an absolutist about this,” says Baltimore Sun columnist Jules Witcover. “I feel like there should be them and there should be us. It’s hard for the reader or viewer to separate the sheep from the goats. This easy crossing-over has made the public confused and maybe jaundiced about the news business.”

This quote demonstrates a fundamental difference between television news presentation and print journalism, a difference that is slowly disappearing. Television is about drama and personality–who is “reporting” is as important, or more important, than what is being reported. If you want journalism you need to read a newspaper. As Neal Postman suggested in his fussy book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” television, because of the kind of medium it is, cannot do anything but trivialize, simplify, and dramatize the news as it focuses on personality, pictures, and conflict.