By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Reflections on the state of media criticism

Hayes_20091222I’ve got an essay in the current issue of Nieman Reports on the evolution of media criticism, from its roots in the work of A.J. Liebling and the alternative press to its current status as an Internet-fueled growth industry.

The essay is, in part, a review of a new book by the media scholar Arthur Hayes called “Press Critics Are the Fifth Estate: Media Watchdogs in America.” Hayes deliberately eschews journalistic practitioners of media criticism such as Jack Shafer, Howard Kurtz, David Carr, Eric Alterman and Liebling himself in favor of political activists. (The cover aside, Stephen Colbert and even Jon Stewart receive surprisingly little mention.)

Hayes’ argument is that activists from ideological organizations such as Accuracy in Media on the right and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting on the left are more likely to bring about change than those whose mission it is to report on media institutions and write about their findings. As you might imagine, I disagree. I write:

At its best, media criticism — like all good journalism — is about digging out uncomfortable facts and telling them fearlessly. It is difficult to do well and, it shouldn’t be the critic’s job to bring about change. Truth is a rare enough commodity that it ought to be valued for its own sake.

Hope you’ll take a look.

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  1. Harrybosch

    A media critic reviewing a book by a media critic on media critics.

    Enjoyed the article, yet still can’t help but wonder how many more degrees of media criticism will make my head explode . . .

  2. Neil

    What’s up with Kurtz’s obsession with Letterman and Woods’ penis when he has had virtually no interest in Sen Ensign’s penis?

  3. Michael


    Not sure I agree that Media Matters is more credible thant FAIR. Media Matters is more wealthy, and has a better look and larget staff, but it is brazenly partisan, serving the goal to elect Democrats. Its critique, is that the media is too nice to Republicans, and to mean to Democrats.

    Fair’s critique is far more systematic. It looks at the media ownership structure as an inherent flaw — a pretty reasonable critique, no? — and attacks coverage for serving the ends of its owners, not a political party.

    Just because Media Matters is not “as far to the left” does not make it better. The serious analysis at FAIR is often far more thorough, and critical of liberals and conservatives (say for ignoring single-payer adocates, which is a valid point), wheras, Media Matters does a lot of knee-jerk defending of Democrats. I find FAIR to be far more independent and more valuable, no matter how “left” it is.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael: I didn’t say Media Matters is “more credible” than FAIR, nor do I secretly believe it in my corrupt and malignant heart. I said MM is more mainstream and more effective than FAIR, and for some of the very reasons that you state. For the record, I consider FAIR to be quite credible.

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