Journalism Explained: Dana Milbank “is one of the most extreme ideologues in the business”

Jay Rosen, via Romenesko , has taken a not-bad whack at the undying question/problem of journalists’ ideology . (That “not-bad” I used there—classic device to hedge my own position, to make me sound neutral and reserved.)

Rosen’s essay gets fogged up by its own respect for complexity, but some clear judgments shine through:

Dana Milbank is the Washington Sketch columnist for the Washington Post. To me, Milbank is one the most extreme ideologues in the business….[In a column about online comments, he] discovered that everyone’s a bitter ideologue— except him, the columnist who by duty observes the foibles and excesses and pure BS of the hotheaded believers on both sides. What I mean by an “extreme” ideologue, then, is that Milbank is extremely likely to see the world is this hyper-symmetrical and self-congratulatory way.

Also Rosen nicely scrapes away at the “ideology that is baked into” David Broder’s column, and he correctly diagnoses the press’ disdain for “true believers”:

Important fact: “True believer” is a universal term of contempt in newsrooms, skeptic a universal term of praise….[O]ne of the consequences of the contempt for true believers is that street protests and marches aren’t taken very seriously in political journalism.

And because journalists don’t see freedom of assembly as being as important as other parts of the

First Amendment

, they cover protests reluctantly and inconsistently. So police now routinely

go ahead and arrest would-be protesters

(and people unlucky enough to be near would-be protesters) en masse, in the name of public order, knowing that any bad publicity will be strung out over months and years after the fact.

Lest this read as one self-congratulatory journalist saying “Look at those assholes” about other journalists: as a news editor, I personally encouraged reporters to regard a protest as

empty street theater

, for the usual journalistic-ideological reasons. And that particular protest was empty street theater, but the police handling of it ended up being a

civil-liberties disaster

. It was also a great long-term story for the newspaper, no thanks to me.