With all the buy-outs and shedding of talent going on at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I suppose it would be too much to ask them to hire or even let a volunteer act as an ombudsman to deal with their various, er, issues related to coverage, non-coverage, bias and incompetence. If you, dear reader, have an issue with the paper, you may only take it up with the editors through their laughable Ask the Journal Sentinel feature on occasional Sundays. If you don’t like the answer, well, too bad.
This Sunday, the J-S’s right-wing managing editor George Stanley steps in to make excuses for exaggerated coverage of fluffy issues like Favre’s unretirement to the exclusion of more weighty matters like the recent exposure of more Lies of Still-President Bush. Using old standard phrases of defensive corporate double-speak, Stanley dances around the issue, blaming his selective use of the J-S’s shrinking news hole on the perceived interests of his short-attention-span readers. "We try to choose stories our readers will consider the most important, most relevant and most interesting," he writes. See, it's you, you stupid readers, not him.
Not that he is going to give his readers the chance to get interested in a story like, say, the Bush administration sending White House stationary over to the CIA and ordering them to phony-up a Hussein-Atta link after-the-fact. The excellent question posed by an anonymous reader references that story, the full-of-holes case against the conveniently-suicided anthrax suspect Bruce Ivins and the ridiculous substance and result of the political show-trial of OBL’s driver, all of which were a) important, b) embarrassing to the Bush administration, and c) virtually ignored by the Journal Sentinel.
Stanley addresses the substance of none of these interesting stories specifically – perhaps, if he did, he would have to admit that they all run contrary to his conservative perspective and thus the, er, "space" problem. The J-S has "space to only print a small fraction" of the national news stories that come over the wires, he says, so, natch, he’d rather run a New York Times story about the anxiety of a few Democrats over Obama’s failure to gain as much traction as they would like in the race against McCain and the trunk-length and shoe size of Michael Phelps (with art) than all this falderal about the potentially criminal acts of Bush officials to gin-up the case for the Stupid War that has claimed the lives of over 4,100 American servicemen and women and counting. I mean, as far as Stanley is concerned, get over it already.
You want the real news, Stanley says, get on the internets. "More and more, we’re linking readers to sources on the Internet and elsewhere where they can dig deeper into a subject of special interest to them," he claims. Oh, really? Other than headline links to AP wire stories, good luck finding any links to in-depth national stories on the front page of the J-S web page, much less the kind of non-breaking news expose demanded by the questioner.
In other words, the Journal Sentinel has officially abdicated its responsibility to expose people to news simply because it is news they should know. "We try to choose stories our readers will consider the most important, most relevant and most interesting," he says. So the editors forego their judgement for that of their perception of the elusive, imaginary Typical Reader. This is newspapering by focus group and polling. If the consultants tell Stanley that establishing the historical record of Bush’s many continuing scandals is a downer, well, order up another twenty inches (plus art) on the 65 year-old British matador.
As with all these Ask the J-S puff-pieces, Stanley can’t help but remind the ungrateful complainer how wonderfully local the paper is, covering the world "as if southeastern Wisconsin were at its center." Thereby Stanley makes the remarkable admission that the J-S reports from a fantasy world. Oh, and did he mention the Pulitzer Prize they got last year, and by the way the same reporter starts a series today...What any of this has to do with the failure to report important national issues is anybody’s guess. If an investigative tree falls on Junior Bush in Washington, does it make a sound to people with their heads in the sand in Mequon, or, for that matter, to newspaper executives with their heads up their asses on 4th and State? Not if Stanley can help it.
In the end, Stanley falls back on that old saw that if all sides complain, they must be doing something right: "We are criticized by folks with strong personal political opinions from all over the spectrum." Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah...back when Stanley and his bevy of reporters were doing their best to get the hapless Mark Green elected governor in 2006, I took them to task for their extremely biased story placement and reporting. Stanley responded to my observations by saying "every election season we receive the same volume of complaints from people who work for candidates of both major parties..." This line of "argument" is the cheapest of dodges, ignoring the substance of each complaint by throwing all complaints in the same circular file. Yeah, you say that, but this guy on the other side says this...whatever.
Some criticisms happen to be more valid than others, but Stanley does not accept that as a possibility. If he did, he’d have to do something about it. But, behind the barricades of the Only Newspaper in Town (which increasingly reminds one of Monty Python's Very Big Corporation of America in The Meaning of Life), they ain’t doin’ nothin’. It seems like a strange attitude for Milwaukee’s last vestige of the wilting dead-tree industry to take: Shut Up and Trust Us.
This kind of arrogance does not bode well for those still working in the building that once housed a great newspaper.