Toward the End, Editor and Publisher Lurched Left

With the demise of the Editor and Publisher this week, many media commentators are nostalgic for the hard-nosed trade journalism the newspaper industry publication often engaged in. E&P's strength was always in its core mission of reporting news industry trends. In its latter years, like a number of other outlets, it began to stray off-course into garden-variety, hypocritical leftist media criticism.

Greg Mitchell, E&P's editor since 2002, consistently called for newspapers to print more opinion in their coverage of major world events. Most notably during the Israel-Hamas conflict early this year, Mitchell lamented that media outlets were not taking sides.

"[A]fter more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and two op-eds," he complained at the Huffington Post.

But Mitchell did not just want opinion. He wanted his own opinion. Some newspapers did provide commentary on the Israel-Hamas conflict, but backed Israel and consequently earned Mitchell's scorn. The Washington Post, he noted, "did manage to work up an editorial for Sunday which, in the usual contortionist manner, found the invasion 'justified' but also highly 'risky'."

As newspapers weighed in on the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Beirut, Mitchell was happy that they were taking sides, but still disappointed that they would not present the angle that he wanted. "[I]t's a disgrace that few have expressed outrage, or at least condemnation, over the extent of death and destruction in and around Beirut."

In American politics, Mitchell was similarly insistent that newspapers adopt political stances and shill for them. Writing of the Iraq war, Mitchell stated "It's time for newspapers, many of which helped get us into this war, to use their editorial pages as platforms to help us get out of it. So far, few have done much more than wring their hands." When newspapers defended the war, however, Mitchell attributed it to "the media's patriotic fervor."

Mitchell's intense opposition to the Iraq war also led him to praise as "some of the best reporting on the war" sarcastic, often anti-American blog posts from anonymous Iraqis promoted by McClatchy's in 2007. There was no way to verify the authenticity of these bloggers or their posts, yet their consistently negative portrayals of the American presence in Iraq--expressed in often derisive and sarcastic tones--earned them Mitchell's respect.

So when media commentators recall the glory of the E&P, let them not omit the many instances in which the publication's editor called for the destruction of the line between journalism and commentary. Let us also remember that Mitchell himself touted his own views through his reporting, called on others to do the same, and dismissed journalists who reached conclusions that contradicted his beliefs.

The journalism community will suffer at the loss of the E&P, but, in honor of the publication's last editor and his insistence that reporters not accept facts at face value, one should not overlook the many instances in which the E&P cross the line from straight journalism into political commentary, and the many cases in which the two overlapped.

UPDATE (Sunday, 1:05 PM) - Ed Driscoll quotes this post at length, and further explores the E&P's tendency to cross the line from reporting into commentary. Driscoll reports,

In 2006, E&P ran an essay titled, “Climate Change: Get Over Objectivity, Newspapers.” Which flows in a strangely logical direction from attempting to shape the narrative on war, as the two issues were remarkably interconnected in recent years; war versus the moral equivalent thereof.

As I wrote late last month when ClimateGate broke, you could make the case that the above essay foreshadowed remarkably well the 2008 presidential election, when the legacy media got over objectivity in a big way.

So while I’m sorry to see any publication fold-up shop, its last years offer a tale of warning to those who remain in journalism — where, in-spite of the economic woes, a few news sources appear to be flourishing.