Lesson for Journalism Students: Donald Rumsfeld and Andrea Mitchell Spar Over Iraq

Please examine this video of Andrea Mitchell more or less trying to interrogate Donald Rumsfeld.

This is a fantastic example of many of the worst aspects of journalism. In this interview Andrea Mitchell displays the most common forms of bias that undermine journalistic ethics and standards. It is rare to find a single clip with so many clear examples of exactly how the ethical and professional journalist should not conduct themselves.

The biggest form of media bias is not a partisan slant to the left, it is the slant everything towards conflict, the more personal and/or salacious the better. As you examine the video you will notice that Mitchell takes every observation and even the slightest critique as an indication of dramatic personal conflict the likes of which one would only see in an  epidode of “The West Wing”. In order to create this dramatic and combative narrative in her own mind Mitchell relies on statements and sources from people who were not “in the room” and were three or four levels down.

A journalist must always keep in mind that too many bureaucrats/consultants/staffers wish to see his or her name in the paper or in a book. Others wish to be a ‘secret source”. As is so often the case when stories or rumors come from officials three or four times removed from the President the story gets embellished, sometimes for dramatic effect and sometimes just to fill in the blanks. Through each stage the truth becomes less and less directionally accurate and this is much more so for the “source” that wants to see his name in a book or be “Deep Throat” as they have to keep feeding the journalist in order to keep them coming back for more.

Combine the biases of conflict creation, dramatic theatre, fill in the blanks, and attention whoring with Mitchells clear partisan slant and you can see that she ends up with a narrative in her own mind that she is certain is true, but does not resemble objective reality. Mitchell becomes incredulous while Rumsfeld simply explains to her that she just doesn’t know what she is talking about.

The concentration on conflict and the dramatic at the expense of the historical record is the biggest factor that marginalizes elite media journalism in the eyes of the public. Partisan bias is a significant second.

Journalism students, if you want to be truly respected and trusted  the example Andrea Mitchell gave in her “performance” is perhaps the quintessential example of how journalism should not be done.