Departing Harvard Media Center Chief: Right-Wing Pundits Are “Damaging” America

Right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have damaged the country, according to Alex S. Jones, the outgoing head of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, who announced his departure Wednesday after 15 years leading the prestigious media training center.

“I wish they could be more objective, I don't begrudge them their particular politics, I just wish they weren't simply one note, I think it's damaging,” said Jones, a former media writer for The New York Times and longtime media critic.

Jones cited the conservative media's coverage of President Obama: "Obama certainly is the president and the president is always legitimate prey for criticism, but I don't think that they have done a good thing for our country to be completely undermining him in every way they possibly could. I don't think that's good for any president, Republican or Democrat."

Jones, who announced his pending departure in a letter to supporters published on the Center's website, said it was “time for change,” but did not state what his next plans would be.

In an interview with Media Matters, Jones cited concerns about what he deemed the “highly polarized political environment on cable news.”

“There's no question that the people like the right wing pundits -- left wing too, to a degree, but they are dwarfed by the right wing -- have done a lot of damage to this country in my opinion, I don't consider that journalism, I consider that to be advocacy.”

Jones added of O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and Fox's Sean Hannity, “I don't think that they don't believe what they say, I just wish that they looked at the world in a different way, something more constructive.”

He added, “it's more catering to what will draw an audience rather than what is important ... if anything it's the shift toward what has been thought of as the local television model, anything that will attract a crowd, but not necessarily invested in issues and in policy questions and in political debates and things that are of genuine importance.”

Jones also had advice for more credible news outlets. He stressed the need for journalists to keep focused on accuracy, fact-checking, and credibility as they increase speed and technology in reporting.

“I think it's gotten worse, I guess because it's gotten so much faster,” he said of inaccurate and incomplete reporting. "All of the inherent weaknesses of a human enterprise like journalism are exaggerated and amplified by the speed of technology, being careless and being wrong and jumping to conclusions and not doing your homework, those were all there before the web, but the web makes them all realized quickly.

“The technology of course has changed everything, the thing that I hope would not change and the thing I would express as my number one concern is that the values that were imbedded in the journalism that has been traditional, I hope that they will endure and be projected in this new media world. I think that is essential to there being credibility that will keep genuine news a force for good.”

He also pointed to the demand for profits and easy revenue over substance:

“What has happened is that as the economic model has collapsed, all kinds of news organizations have made the overwhelming priority of getting the largest audience. That has meant, in some cases, pandering, cutting expenses and in the face of reduced revenues cutting the quality of the news. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the economic model has not been discovered that will support high-quality news on an enduring basis.”