NYT Columnist David Carr: ‘It’s News When We Say It Is’


By: Warner Todd Huston

So, why did the Old Media seem to miss the John Edwards Love Affair story? Well, maybe it was because the Old Media hadn’t deigned to decide for us that it was “news” until after the New Media had chewed up and spit out the story for days and days? Apparently, that is what David Carr of The New York Times thinks, anyway. In an interview with CNN he alludes to the fact that he is used to the Old Media deciding when something is officially “news” and that maybe he and his contemporary journalists have lost that level of control they were used to enjoying. This fall from grace is being seen most readily in the Edwards story that the New Media had digested for a week before the Old Media got to it.

CNN’s Election Center Blog posted the Carr interview on August 10 with the headline “Edwards affair: Was media part of a ‘conspiracy of silence’?” This CNN posting purports to explore why the Old Media seemed absent from the story for so long?

The CNN piece cites many factors from the fact that the Old Media has a disdain for National Enquirer stories to a claim that the Old Media is reticent to exploit sex stories. The former is a sensible precaution and the later an outright laugher. After all, the Old Media had no problem whatsoever in exploiting the rumors of George H.W. Bush’s affair, Newt Gingrich’s affair, Newt’s successor to be Bob Livingston’s affair, the John McCain affair story, Larry Craig’s restroom stall story, or Mark Foley’s Page Scandal… but then again, THOSE are Republican sex scandals. The same delicacy the Old Media handles sex stories with as claimed by CNN does not exist for those sorts of stories.

There was one section of this CNN piece that was telling about John Edwards’ character. The story recounts how the National Enquirer brought up the Edwards love child story last October and that, since the Enquirer had some incorrect assertions, Edwards used those inaccuracies to claim, “The story is false, it’s completely untrue, it’s ridiculous.”

Edwards on Friday said he used the fact that the Enquirer story “contained many falsities” to deny it. “But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough,” he said in a statement.

Of course, even in October, Edwards knew that the story was basically true even if the Enquirer got some of their facts wrong.

But wait a minute. Let’s follow Edwards’ logic here. So if a witness says he saw you rob a store and it was true. If he said you killed the clerk and that was true. If he said you had stolen a car to make your get away and that was true. But he said you had on a red shirt when in fact you had on a blue shirt then if you were to categorically deny the story you’d be in the right because you were “99 percent honest”? There’s some nice John Edwards logic, eh?

Another funny part of this piece is where ABC correspondent Kate Snow was claiming that they “broke the story” officially when they got the John Edwards admission on TV.

“Until he called — and it’s on the record that he called us on Friday and said, ‘I want to talk.’ You know, that’s what broke the story. He was willing to admit that he had been lying,” Snow said.

What amusing arrogance. Everyone else in the world already knew the truth. But, because Edwards decided to tell ABC, why it was that interview that “broke the story.”

The CNN posting goes on to give all sorts of Old Media excuses for why they waited so long to cover the story but they saved the most interesting one for last. It was a few quotes from New York Times columnist David Carr that is of special interest.

“I was taught when I was a young reporter that it’s news when we say it is. I think that’s still true — it’s news when ‘we’ say it is. It’s just who ‘we’ is has changed,” Carr said.

“Members of the public, people with modems, people with cell phones are now producers, editors. They can push and push and push on a story until it ends up being acknowledged by everyone.”

Notice the arrogant assumption that only they have the official standing to let us know what the news is? That is where the Old Media comes from, for sure. They think they are the arbiters of what we, the great unwashed, should be allowed to know.

But, it is interesting that he is beginning to get the notion that the exalted place the Old Media used to hold up there on Mount Olympus is beginning to change. The lowly “members of the public” are beginning to change the Old Media’s role and challenge their claims as the oracles of the news. Notice, by the way, that Carr refused to use the vulgar term “bloggers” preferring to say “members of the public, people with modems, people with cell phones” in place of the term “blogger.”

Still, it is an interesting series of quotes on the Old Media and its changing role all coming sharply into focus with this major failure to report a story that everyone already knew — everyone but the Old Media, of course.

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