Matt Miller's horrible 2 percent idea.

Media criticism.
Sept. 19 2003 8:10 PM

All the News That's Fit To Preach

Matt Miller's horrible 2 percent idea.

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One would think that the political parties, think tanks, and special interest groups—designed from the bottom up as partisan bodies—would be the logical object of Miller's lobbying to get "important" and "uncovered" issues that matter to him into the news, and not the non-partisan press. Surely it would be easier to persuade the Democratic Party or the Greens to embrace the 2 percent solution than to arrange its sale to Downie, Bill Keller, John Carroll, and Paul Steiger. But no, says Miller. The responsibility falls to the press because the parties aren't "addressing these issues seriously."

In other words, newspapers should become more like political parties because the political parties have become more like the nonpartisan—and by implication, responsibility-evading—newspapers. One can almost smell the steam rising out of Len Downie's ears.

Public journalism failed to catch root with readers or reporters because it's more a New Age exercise in "empowerment" than it is news-gathering, recasting reporters as mediators or public therapists guiding the citizenry on their happy path to storybook consensus and closure. But Miller and the public journalism avatars not only overestimate the desire of daily newspapers to push and drive the public in the direction of "social justice," they overestimate the willingness of the reader to be led. Only the intellectually sheltered could think of readers as passive serfs awaiting the prodding of the philosopher kings on the bottom of Page One.

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I read 2 percent of my e-mail at pressbox@hotmail.com (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Correction, Sept. 22, 2003:Due to a copy-editing error, this piece originally and incorrectly said that Charlotte was in Virginia. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.