Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Why is Jay Rosen going easy on CJR over the Victor Navasky matter?

In case you're new to this blog and haven't read my incessant harping on the Columbia Journalism Review/Victor Navasky story, there is some background reading here and here (as well as elsewhere in the June 2005 archives of this site). In short, media watchdog CJR hired Navasky, a leftwing ideologist, to run the publication without putting him on the masthead. Once Navasky's role was revealed in the blogosphere, CJR suddenly decided to list him as the publication's chairman.

One side story is that CJR's blog, CJR Daily has not so far commented on the issue. But CJR Daily's assistant managing editor has apparently laughed about the matter, and its managing editor Steve Lovelady has now weighed in on the matter in the form of comments on media critic Jay Rosen's blog. First Lovelady writes, with an apparent dose of sarcasm, that Navasky is not around the CJR office much:
One of these days, I'm sure I'll meet, or hear from, the elusive Victor Navasky.
I'm told his new book is a must-read, and it's said he's a lovely guy.
Sooner or later, we have to run in to each other.
I'll let you know when it happens.
Stay tuned.
Lovelady follows up (again in a comment on Rosen's blog) with a defense of Navasky's credentials:
And thanks for pointing out in the previous thread that Victor Navasky has neither horns, nor tail nor cloven hoofs. What he has is smarts -- and knowledge about how to make a small opinion magazine, right, left or center, self-sustaining.
That's a valuable commodity.
Notably, none of this has shown up on CJR Daily. And to my knowledge, neither Lovelady nor anyone else affiliated with CJR has commented on the inappropriateness of Navasky's absence from the publication's masthead until Navasky's role was made public by outsiders. Nor, except for Lovelady's brief comment above, has anyone at CJR (to my knowledge) commented on the issues raised by a partisan ideologue running a supposedly neutral publication.

Jay Rosen, a noted media critic who has contributed to both CJR and The Nation, has essentially stayed out of the CJR/Navasky fray on his blog. Based on one comment Rosen wrote--apparently written in response to one of Lovelady's above comments--he has considered, and apparently dismissed, any issues that arise with a "man of the left" running a supposedly centrist watchdog publication. His reasons are apparently twofold:
  1. Rosen sees Navasky as a mediator, not an ideologue. Note however that Navasky calls himself a "card-carrying ideologist" (A Matter of Opinion, p. 269); I leave it to others to differentiate between ideologue and ideologist.
  2. Rosen sees Navasky as a mediator among factions rather that a faction himself. It certainly is plausible that Navasky is a competent mediator. But how can someone "definitely, firmly, deeply a man of the left" not be a faction? Rosen needs to explain a bit more; otherwise he comes off as defending an old friend rather than addressing a serious issue.
Here is Rosen's full comment on the matter:

I know Victor Navasky reasonably well and have for quite some time. I like him and always have. He once told me "public journalism" would take over my life if I didn't watch out. I didn't, and it did. He's an extremely intelligent and sensitive man. Slow to anger. Hard to convince. Learned. Knows a lot about the right, its history since Goldwater and its ideas. Way more than your average mushy-headed centrist newsroom head would. He would, for example, be more open to having a conservative columnist at CJR than most editors because he would think ideology plays a larger role in journalism than journalists sometimes think. (These are my own speculations, not Victor's positions, of course.)

Navasky often says there is an ideology of the right, an ideology of the left, and an ideology of the middle-- which I have found a very useful and reliable observation. Although he is a man highly attuned to ideology and shades of opinion, and definitely, firmly, deeply a man of the left, he is not an ideologue at all. He is used to mediating among factions, not being one.

By many accounts I have heard and read (including Rosen's) Navasky is intelligent and sensitive, cultured and thoughtful. But that is no reason for a serious media critic to avoid addressing the apparent conflicts raised by an avowed leftist at the helm of a supposedly centrist watchdog. And neither Rosen nor any other major media critic has commented on Navasky's absence from the masthead.
Update: A response from Jay Rosen and some further thoughts here.

And Mediacrity writes about Steve Lovelady's comments here.