Then, 12 days in, national news stories were still being published! Defeated, I decided to probe the why of it all. Was any larger purpose served by all the coverage? If not, is there an identifiable way in which the press should change its approach?
On reading the coverage, I gleaned insights from a few stories. I grant that few were indefensible. And I understand how structural features of the news ecosystem fueled the story. For example, coverage by one news outlet spawns coverage by others that don’t want to get beat; once any outlet covers a story, it is more likely to publish more stories, in part to update its audience on new information; and while commentators have a responsibility to direct people to what is important, part of the job is also conceding that one often cannot control what’s in the news, or what folks seize upon and cause to trend on social-media sites—but that even too-popular stories can offer opportunities to make tangential points of importance that readers will be unusually primed to ponder.
So it isn’t that I find fault with all the journalists who published on Joy Reid.
What’s more, I share many of the underlying concerns that sparked some of the coverage. I oppose homophobic stereotypes. I agree people should not claim hackers are responsible for their words and that public dishonesty is a transgression in journalism. I think there is a role for journalists to hold members of their own profession accountable. And I agree with those who insist that if a conservative were in Reid’s place, there would be furious calls on the left for her termination. (I am a consistent critic of such calls regardless of which tribe is involved.)
But even grasping many of the factors that fueled coverage and sympathizing with folks who reacted to some of them does not change my overall assessment.
Coverage decisions are judgment calls.
And in my judgment, the scarce time, attention, and resources spent on this matter far exceeded anything that could be plausibly justified as serving the public interest. Neither gays nor lesbians nor the trans community is better off for the exercise of resurfacing of old, forgotten blog posts that even their author now disavows. Probing the dubious hacking story got the public closer to the truth—but a relatively useless truth that is neither pertinent to any of Reid’s actual journalism nor civically useful to the public nor likely to advance the overall cause of greater journalistic honesty or accuracy in any future way that I can see.
Most damning of all are the opportunity costs.
A cable morning-show host’s old blog posts, and her explanations of those posts, no matter how dubious, were just not among the most consequential or important LGBT stories, or media stories, or ideological-bias stories of the last fortnight, let alone the most important national or business or general-interest stories.