I find it amazing that, while there are still some exceptional journalists out there who do some amazing investigative work, most of the press seems to strive to be as slovenly and pointless as possible. Why is that? You have pieces such as last Sunday’s New York Times piece on the Bush Pentagon propaganda machine that shine out as diamonds in a very large rough. But as even that story shows, much of the press seems to be happy just getting a paycheck for simply repeating White House releases, without even the slightest investigation as to the veracity of the story itself.
Note to reporters and news anchors; the purpose of the press isn’t to inform the rest of us of what the government says. If that was all that was necessary, then we could go to a government web site and download press releases, and read away. Just because George Bush and Dick Cheney, or even Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold, say something, doesn’t mean it’s right or true. If most so-called journalists have no purpose other than to repeat what someone says, with no follow-up questions to anyone, to determine the veracity of the claims, or worse, to simply offer his or her opinion on it based on the assumption that the statements made are true, then there is no reason to read, listen to or watch the news, is there? I can go to the government web site on my own and read what they have to say. The journalist’s job is to go beyond that step, and confirm whether what the government, or any other entity, feeds us is a line of crap. I have plenty of friends in various government positions; if I want to hear rumors and innuendo, I would have no problem finding that.
It used to be that journalists dug in their heels and created adversarial relationships with the people they covered. The reason was simple; it was impossible to be unbiased when reporting on people who were friends. Journalists used to be required to hand stories to others, when the story got too close to the journalist’s sphere.
Now, journalists have largely become something akin to "partners" with the very people they’re supposed to watch. All of these get-togethers they have with people in power is treated as if it’s just a joke by most of the press, but it’s not a joke. The various "correspondents dinners" and other parties, in which reporters and powerful government officials schmooze would have been considered nothing short of major ethical breaches many years ago, and are no less serious now.
Journalists are supposed to have an adversarial relationship with those in power, not a cozy, friendly relationship. For some reason, journalists now consider it an "honor" to be invited to such shindigs. They have this idea that being close to power is somehow a "plus" for them and their careers, and unfortunately, that has become true. The people in charge think "easy access to power" is a laudable goal. They encourage their reporters to kiss the ample asses of those in power, so as to maintain that "easy access to power."
The problem is, when reporters have "easy access to power," they become huge wimps, and they really only get the scraps of information those in power choose to hand them. The greatest journalistic coups in the last century weren’t obtained through "easy access to power." Woodward and Bernstein worked outside the corridors of power and pissed a whole bunch of people off in the process. The Pentagon Papers weren’t obtained by journalists glad handing those in power and asking to see their secret plans. Good journalism usually requires going through the back door, and talking to the decidedly un-powerful. Seriously, reporters, do you honestly expect your buddy, George W. Bush to tell you, "Sure I approved torture! And here’s all the e-mails and memos to prove it!"??
The current incarnation of the mainstream press has largely become superfluous, and those in change of it seem to be absolutely stunned that this has happened. Listen to them, and you would think that the Internet, especially blogs, is killing them. This, of course, is a crock. Say what you will about blogs and their questionable accuracy, but if the press wasn’t largely falling down on the job — wait, let me re-phrase that — if it wasn’t for the press not doing their job, bloggers would be a far less necessary entity. But editors, publishers and news directors all over the country are largely clueless as to their position in the grand scheme of things. They see declining audiences/circulation, and in their zeal to puff the numbers up, they have a tendency toward laziness, and instead of solving their own problem, they copy whichever media entity qualifies as the most successful failure. And when everyone’s numbers continue to go down, they scratch their heads and cut staff.
This, of course, exacerbates the problem they already have, but they’re too dumb to notice.
On any given day, if you were to combine all of the audiences for all of the major nightly news programs, and the "hard news" first hour of the morning news programs, the most-watched hour of news on each of the cable news networks, and the circulations of all daily newspapers in the country, and assumed that no one was watching more than one of these, you would still find that roughly two-thirds of the country never watches the news. And yet, the people who run news departments and newspapers keep on trying for a larger share of the one-third who do watch.
Wouldn’t it be smarter to try to appeal to a chunk of the people who don’t watch?
The nightly network news programs "boast" of roughly 23 million nightly, for example. CBS News is in third place, drawing roughly 6 million viewers per night. Yet, if you watch what they do, they go after a larger chunk of the 17 million who watch the other two major networks, rather than a chunk of the 250 million people who never watch the news. CNN and MSBNC spent years trying to copy Fox News, in order to try to cut into their 2 million, rather than going after a chunk of the 280 million who don’t watch any of the cable news channels. Newspapers keep raising their prices and cutting their newsroom staffs, and then wonder why fewer people are buying their wares.
I can remember the day that I realized that Katie Couric would fail as the anchor for the CBS Evening News. It was before she even started, when i read a news story wherein she was quoted as saying she would go on tour to promote herself, and ask Americans — are you sitting down? — what they wanted to see on their nightly news program.
Now, it looks like I’m picking on Katie, but I’m not. This is the problem with the entire news media; she’s simply a product of it.
Here’s a clue, folks — how about reporting the NEWS! How about dealing with facts, telling us what the government is up to, what’s happening in other parts of the world, and just telling us what important events happened today? The news is supposed to be a surprise — do you guys get that? It’s not your job to tell me what I want to hear about; it’s your job to report on those events which will impact the most people.
Why hasn’t it ever occurred to most of the mainstream media that they have become largely irrelevant? Why would they even think that a person who works hard every day just to put food on the table and keep a roof over the family’s head, would give a rat’s ass about whether or not a celebrity was picked up for drunk driving? When the average person turns on the news to find out which presidential candidate might actually do something to make things easier for him or her, do the people who run and work inside of these mainstream media organizations really think they care one bit about whether or not one of them wears a Chinese-made flag pin, or another was actually fired upon when they visited Bosnia? How about doing stories about their positions on issues? Go to their web sites, download position statements, and then compare what they say with their past actions, if that’s possible?
I’m going to be talking about this a lot on this blog, because I think it’s important, and I’m not the only one. The press is supposed to be our eyes and ears to those in power. There are some great journalists out there, and I will point you to the good pieces, of course. But it’s time someone started ripping them a new one when they do something completely boneheaded. Yes, I know, I could make an entire blog just on Fox News alone. In fact, that will happen soon, when I start foxnewsblows.com at the end of next month.
You people can help, too. Spread the word about this blog, and send me stories and clips, if you can, of press irresponsibility.