A May 4 NewsBusters post by Greg Sheffield shows how little he knows about journalism -- and how willing he is to recycle stereotypes.
In critiquing an American Journalism Review column by Rem Rieder suggesting that the White House correspondents' dinner be ended because it makes journalists look like "a wealthy elite, completely out of touch with ordinary Americans," Sheffield pushed the idea that all journalists are elitists. He singled out Reider's claim that the elitist claim is "ridiculous" because "far too many journalists at smaller papers work for hideously low salaries."
Sheffield, by apparently scoffing at that idea, appears to believe that your typical small-town daily and the White House press corps are somehow interchangeable and similarly glitzy and pampered. Sheffield has obviously never worked in journalism. Conservative press-bashers like Sheffield love to tout the high salaries at top papers like the New York Times as being de regieur for journalism -- an April 26 item by Noel Sheppard at the Free Market Project (like NewsBusters, a division of the Media Research Center) highlighted questions about "the pay structure of the Times’ upper management" -- but they don't understand that these are exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of journalists don't make a lot of money; the starting wage for an entry-level reporting position at a small daily newspaper is only slightly above minimum wage. More journalists are having ramen for dinner than are schmoozing at black-tie soirees. (And if they do somehow find themselves at a black-tie soiree, they didn't pay for it out of their own pocket, they rented their tuxes, and they're too busy scarfing down all the free food they can get their hands on to do much quality schmoozing.) Journalism and Washington journalism are two separate things.
Ironically, this stereotyped portrayal comes just a couple days after Sheffield promoted a study that he claimed contradicted the stereotyped "media image" of bloggers.
Sheffield also takes a whack at Rieder for stating that "[t]he WMD fiasco should have been a jolt" to the "smugness" of Washington journalists; he adds, "as if that is what indicates Washington's liberal elite." Sheffield wrote: "The lesson: more attacks on the Bush administration will get rid of that nasty image of being liberal elitists." Sheffield follows another stereotype here in repeating the conservative view that any coverage that reflects negatively on the Bush administration, even if it's true -- which the "WMD fiasco" is -- is an "attack" by "elitist" liberal journalists.
This attitude shows Sheffield's own brand of elitism -- that conservatives in general and President Bush in particular are somehow above criticism, and that any criticism they do encounter can be automatically dismissed as coming from partisan liberal "elitists." We suspect that if a Democrat was president and similar things were going on -- warrantless domestic spying, secret CIA prisons -- Sheffield and the NewsBusters gang would be praising the New York Times and the Washington Post for exposing them rather than attacking the reporters who exposed them. For conservatives, partisanship trumps the truth.
And if attendance at a black-tie soiree is evidence of elitism, what are we to make of the MRC's own annual black-tie soiree? And what did Sheffield wear to it?