A lot of media criticism revolves, rightly, around the concentration of media control by a few large corporations—Disney, News Corp., Viacom, etc. The argument is that the dwindling number of owners will lead to a limiting of different voices.
In the face of that real fear, Friday’s New York Times gives hope.
The page A1 headline is “BUSH AND PUTIN EXHIBIT TENSION OVER DEMOCRACY… An Awkward Appearance.” In the story, Elisabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger—Washington-based reporters traveling with the president in Europe—describe how Dubya “chided Mr. Putin gently but more directly than before,” and how Putin “tartly responded” in a press conference that “offered unusual moments of heat.” The front-page photo shows a stern looking Bush glancing at a frowning Putin.
But inside, veteran Moscow correspondent C.J. Chivers writes in a news analysis piece that Putin and Bush “chose to stand together and emphasize the narrowing areas where there nations could agree.” Chivers continued:
Much was said gently, or avoided altogether, at least in public. The presidents focused their remarks after the meeting on personal trust and on commitments to fight terrorism and control the spread of weapons or materials terrorists might use. While raised, Western concerns about the decline in the development of democracy in Russia were muted after a period in which Mr. Bush heightened expectations with soaring language on the irresistible lure of freedom and democracy.
Critics of corporate media might not be impressed with this clash of opinions on page A10: This is not a radical difference of opinion, after all, but a disagreement over nuance.
Yet it illustrates the value of having different perspectives on the same story. Bumiller had on Monday penned a piece headlined “Bush Says Russia Must Make Good on Democracy,” about the president’s speech in Brussels. While that was only one element of the president’s talk, Bumiller obviously gave it great weight, so she was looking for a clash of opinions when Dubya met Vlad. But for the other piece, Chivers interviewed democracy advocates, who were looking for more than the president delivered.
It also demonstrates the importance of foreign bureaus: If the Times didn’t foot the bill to keep Chivers overseas, Bumiller and Sanger would have had the only word. What’s a reader supposed to come away with? What’s the truth? The Times prints excerpts from the leaders’ remarks so we can decide on our own.
(For the full remarks, click here for the White House transcript. It’s headlined “President and President Putin Discuss Strong U.S.-Russian Partnership.” I guess that means they like Chivers version better.)
(CORRECTION: Last week an item on this blog reported that The New York Times magazine of February 27 had failed to include a picture of one of the film stars it listed in a photo montage dubbed “Great Performers.” The photo of Eva Green did, in fact, appear, but it was on the page with the Table of Contents, not with the other images.)