May 19, 2010

Blogosphere blow-out preventer backfires on Ifill

As blogosphere spats go, this one is rather perplexing. Washington Week in Review's Gwen Ifill doesn't name the "journalism professor from New York University" and "self-appointed media critic" who recently described her show as the quintessential example of everything that is wrong with political journalism. Ifill would have preferred to ignore the Washington Post opinion piece by this nobody, she acknowledges in a reply posted May 13 on WWR's website: "Fighting against blogs is a lot like trying to stop oil escaping from a blowout preventer – it can go on forever. Hitting that 'send' key can get you in deep," she writes. Ifill defends her political roundtable show as a refuge from cable TV news nets, a show for people who "want more light than heat; who do not turn their televisions on to watch yet one more group of pundits race past explanation to battle."

The critic that Ifill chose not to name is Jay Rosen, a leading advocate for public journalism who blogs, tweets, and is often called upon to share his opinions on the future of journalism.

Rosen aimed his WashPo critique not at the tone of the banter around Ifill's Friday night PBS mainstay, but at the political journalists she brings in to distill the week's news. Ifill and her regular panelists are "pros" who have mastered the game of professional politics, and therein lies the problem, Rosen writes: "They're in the same business as the people they cover--the game of professional politics, also called the permanent campaign. As lifers in this game, they share a sensibility with their subjects: that in politics savviness is next to godliness, and everything's really about the next election."

After Rosen expressed ambivalence about responding to Ifill, pubcasting social media advocate John Proffitt took up the cause for him. By not taking Rosen's criticism seriously or acknowledging his expertise on the subject of political journalism, Ifill demonstrated that Rosen was right all along, Proffitt writes on his blog. "Dismissing his argument simply reinforces his point: that this program, the host and its guests are beltway insiders talking shop rather than helping the public hold politicians to account in meaningful, public-service ways....[T]he demonization of Rosen is breathtakingly ignorant and/or deliberately dismissive at a level unbecoming of a PBS-sanctioned 'journalism” host.'"

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