RALEIGH — There’s an old newsroom adage that if a dog bites a man, it’s not news, but if a man bites a dog, it is. For those who don’t understand this musty aphorism, it means that something being unusual greatly adds to its newsworthiness.
There was a time when a man-bites-dog story would send a city editor into paroxysms of glee: Just think of the witty headline we can write. Just think of how many additional rack sales this could mean.
Nowadays, things are a bit different. The man-bites-dog story must be run through the filter of “the narrative” that the media has begun using. Newsworthiness alone is no longer good enough as a barometer. How it might help or hinder “the narrative” has become the most important factor.
As you may already have guessed, “the narrative” is the left-wing template that news stories must nowadays be wedged into, sometimes tortuously. If they can’t be massaged, molded, twisted, and filled with enough ambiguities and questionable “facts” to fit “the narrative,” often they simply do not appear in the news.
It’s often said that the greatest power newspapers and other mainstream news media have is the power to ignore a story. Ignoring one for lack of newsworthiness is good journalism. Ignoring one for ideological reasons is bad journalism.
A good example of the latter occurred on Feb. 25, when a group of black pastors held a press conference to call for the impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder for urging state attorneys general to ignore state laws against gay marriage.
“Any decision — at any level — not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare. They must be reserved only for exceptional circumstances. And they must never stem merely from policy or political disagreements — hinging instead on firm constitutional grounds,” the Rev. William Owens, founder of the conservative Coalition of Black Pastors, said in his statement.
This has all the key elements of a man-bites-dog story. Conservative blacks alone fit that bill. Blacks attacking our black attorney general, as well as our black president, also fit the formula.
But a funny thing happened. Not one national media outlet reported this group’s statement of opposition to Holder and Obama. A local New York CBS station did a story, but the national CBS folks ignored it.
The conservative-friendly Washington Times and Great Britain’s Daily Mail ran the story. So did many conservative websites and blogs, but no mainstream outlets.
I guess the mainstream media didn’t hear about it because the black pastors held their press conference in an out-of-the-way venue called the National Press Club.
Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.