Ideology matters

Andy Martin is an excellent journalist. For a long time, he worked for the Chicago Tribune’s investigative team and broke some major stories, including several about corruption at City Hall, before moving on to the paper’s Washington bureau. I learned a lot from him in the investigative reporting class he taught at Columbia. In many ways, he’s the perfect example of a very hardworking, nose-to-the-ground type of journalist.

And he’s also, apparently, wearing ideological blinders. I posted earlier about a story of his on the anti-fast food crusade. In that story, he featured several of the usual anti-choice suspects, and I noted that he didn’t speak with anyone from the Center for Consumer Freedom . Martin’s story more or less left all the contentions made by the anti-choice crowd unchallenged.

But yesterday, he finally got around to it. His quick and dirty profile of the Center for Consumer Freedom’s executive director, Richard Berman, ran under the headline, “Flinging mud in the nation’s food fight.”

Gee, I’m sure this story will be very fair. The story goes on to give Berman’s critics the most space, as they charge that he’s unfair and hits below the belt, that he exaggerates and is just a paid shill of the food and beverage (and formerly, gasp, the tobacco) industries.

I suppose the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s extreme and bizarre agenda is measured and reasonable by comparison, right Andy? Come on.

And so it goes. Any old busybody who puts on his scientist lab coat can tell us how to live our lives, but if a targeted industry tries to defend itself — and, oh yeah, its consumers — then they’re just a bunch of self-interest mudslingers. Talk about your hoary journalistic cliches.

That’s the nut of the problem, though. If a really good journalist like Martin goes slants the stories this way, what’s the barely competent journalist doing? I’d like to think good journalism is good journalism, but many times it’s untrue. Journalists make critical evaluations about how to describe the subjects of their stories, who to quote, etc., and by so doing reveal their biases. Martin has revealed his.