The Virtues of Editing—in the Media and Our Institutions

(Photo by Getty Images.)

If you ask most people, including most journalists, what the job of the press is, they will reasonably respond with a number of high-minded cliches: “report the news,” “hold the powerful accountable,” “inform the public,” etc. 

That’s all well and good. But you almost never hear anyone say the job of the media is to edit the news. Indeed, to the extent you ever hear discussion of the press’ editorial function, it’s almost always negative. Media critics, both amateur and professional, spend much—perhaps most—of their time complaining about the way “the media” is more concerned with shaping or pushing narratives, framing debates, or keeping ideologically inconvenient facts out of the news. 

There’s a lot of merit to such criticisms. The New York Times and other outlets are still scrambling to explain, or apologize for, their instantaneous credulity over Hamas’ claim that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza, killing more than 500 Palestinians. The preponderance of the evidence indicates that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket by Palestinian Islamic Jihad that killed a fraction of that number (though reporting continues on that question).   

For many Israel supporters, such too-good-to check distortions look like nothing more than anti-Israel narrative-formation. Of course, plenty of people unsympathetic to Israel have their own examples of what they see as bias in the other direction. 

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