I’ll give Howard Fineman points for trying, mostly because I have a soft spot for Fineman. That schoolboy hair, the studious glasses, you just want to bring him home and give him a bowl of soup with crackers.
But the man doesn’t get it. Writing about Rathergate, and its effect on the mainstream media, he correctly identifies his industry as a political party in demise, but immediately blows it by reversing the order of this party’s destroyers:
A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don’t mean the Democrats. I’m talking about the “mainstream media,” which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush’s Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox’s canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards. At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.
Sorry…the MSM is not dying because of George Bush’s Republican Party, or because of Roger Ailes. . The MSM is not dying because of Rush Limbaugh or talk radio. The MSM is not dying because of the Internet – although, admittedly, the blogs have wounded them. No, the MSM is dying specifically and wholly because of those “fraying journalistic standards,” the ones which have been “fraying” since at least the Reagan presidency.
Those “fraying journalistic standards” came to my attention during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings and caused me to turn rightward, and I wasn’t alone. The MSM (and the Democrat party) are not dying because President Bush prefers not to allow a press that palpably detests him to filter his words, his message and his vision.
They are dying for two reasons:
1) They have for too long been unaccountable to anyone.
2) They lack diversity of thought and therefore have become a cautionary tale of what happens when you lack a “two-party” system – you collapse from your own ponderous weight, a weight built of excessive ego, confidence, cynicism and (you know I’m going to say it, because it always comes down to love or hate with me) too much freedom to unconditionally love and hate.
The same collapse of culture is going to happen very soon on college campuses, and for the same reason: where diversity of thought and openness to new ideas is suppressed, energy goes negative, then stagnant. What is stagnant begins to stink; it becomes unhealthy, then unusable.
The MSM has been stagnating in its smug, we-have-all-the-answers-let-us-tell-you-how-to-think little pool for decades. While the Thomas/Hill hearings may have been the event that opened my eyes to it, it is very clear, if you read back, that the press has been out of control for a while.
Fineman suggests that things began to go awry back when Cronkite began not merely to report on the Vietnam war, but to opine on it. He is probably correct about that, but he ignores the fact that since then the press has shirked its public responsibilty with a an almost vulgar glee that has at times mimicked Pravda. Suddenly the press wasn’t merely a body with an opinion on one issue, Vietnam; it was a machine which finally understood its influence and its power to build or destroy, and it went a bit mad with it. Hence, Clarence Thomas was not merely a conservative black man who might influence African Americans away from the Democrat party, he became A Sexist and Dumb Stumblebum Scalia-Hugging Acolyte to the Right. Hillary Clinton wasn’t simply a bright woman with a law degree; she became The Smartest Woman in the World and She Who Must Be Obeyed. Monica Lewinsky wasn’t merely a chubby girl with dubious taste in men and clothes, she was A Lunatic Stalker… – oops, until the blue dress turned up. Rush Limbaugh wasn’t merely an ankle-biting nuisance to the mainstream media, he was A Nazi Who Leads His Dittohead Minions. George W. Bush wasn’t an affable-if-verbally-challenged man with different ideas the press didn’t like, he became The Stupid, Moronic Cheney/Rove Puppet of Hitlarian Ambition Cowboy.
Can we say “over the top?” The MSM bubbled and frothed its way over the top in the ripe excesses leading up to the millenium, and then simply continued, full steam ahead.
And then, of course, there is the matter of their love or their hate resulting in selective glee or outrage under identical circumstances: In 1996, when the unemployment rate was 5.4%, the press gave enormous kudos to President Clinton and called it “virtually full employment.” The exact same unemployment rate in 2004 was derided as part of the “faltering Bush economy.” Today, this morning, in fact, Nicholas Kristof has his dress over his head about America’s Infant Mortality Rate but he wrote nothing similarly agrieved in 1998 when the IMR was actually higher. Different presidents, different – selective – outrage. Quite amazing. Also, Kristoff loves China, land of the forced abortions that go unreported in Infant Mortality Rates. Go read Captain Ed’s quite justified outrage at Kristof’s sloppy, agendized reportage (guess what, he (Kristof) finds America bad, Cuba good) and remember this one important fact: It was not the MSM reporter at “the paper of record” who cared enough about accuracy to flick a few keyboard keys to pull up the accurate mortality tables. It was the intrepid blogger.
The press is dying because they love what they love too blindly, and they hate what they hate too vehemently, and in both their love and their hate, they do a disservice to their subjects and to their reading public. And it goes without saying that they insult our intelligence, too.
As I was catching up on blog-reading re Rathergate, I came across one comment, and I wish I could remember who said it (if anyone can remind me, I will add the attribution) but a blogger said, (paraphrasing) “this whole mess at CBS would not have happened if there had been a few Republicans working there – a few people with differing perspectives who might have asked different questions and put a halt to the rush to air the story.” It is an excellent observation, and if news organizations want to recapture any sort of public trust, or even remain competetive in a very different “newsworld” they might want to consider investing in a diversity of thought that goes beyond the NY Times giving token Tuesday and Saturday op-ed space to a conservative writer.
But I suggest that the MSM is too entrenched in its bunker mentality. Newsgathering and reporting was, once upon a time, thought to be a dispassionate enterprise: no cheering in the press box. Even if it were not wholly true, the press did manage to mantain some illusion that such was the case. No longer.
In their l
ove and in their hate, the press has lost sight of their responsibilities to fairness and accuracy and balance. The blogs, both on the left and on the right, have already stepped in and begun supplying the diversity of thought and opinion needed to revitalize national dialogue and tell both sides of the story. The MSM can either try to be part of that, or they can continue to stagger along in a state of delusion, thinking that genies can be put back into bottles.
I wrote earlier that this situation is also a cautionary tale of what happens when you cease to be a two-party, balanced, system. It is. Glad as I am to see President Bush re-elected, and the GOP in a position where (if it has the spine to do it) it can effect some real and necessary reform to some social programs, I also recognise that a healthy republic needs a viable and visionary second party, as well, or the nation will collapse from its one-sidedness; it will stagnate for lack of fresh ideas.
I hope will all my heart that both the press and the Democrat party can pull themselves back from this self-destructive precipice of arrogance and delusion upon which they teeter. Dare I hold my breath?
UPDATE: Polipundit has some good and succinct remarks about the culpability of the press as a whole that seems to me to jibe well with Fineman’s thoughts. Better, in fact, because he’s not spinning anything. Read it all, but here is part of it:
CBS’ “haste” was caused by the fact that every outlet in the lying liberal media – not just CBS – was out to get President Bush. CBS’ “haste” was caused by the pervasive liberal bias of the dinosaur media in general. It wasn’t “haste” that caused this fiasco. It was bias.
…the fundamental problem that led to the downfall of 60 Minutes and, perhaps, CBS News, was the fact that no one involved in the reportorial or editorial process was a Republican or a conservative. If there had been anyone in the organization who did not share Mary Mapes’s politics, who was not desperate to counteract the Swift Boat Vets and deliver the election to the Democrats, then certain obvious questions would have been asked: Where, exactly, did these documents come from? What reason is there to think that they really originated in the “personal files” of a long-dead National Guard officer, if his family has no knowledge of them? How did such modern-looking memos come to be produced in the early 1970s? How can these critical memos, allegedly by Jerry Killian, be reconciled with the glowing evaluations of Lt. Bush that Killian signed? Why haven’t you interviewed General “Buck” Staudt, who is casually slandered in one of the alleged memos? Why didn’t you show the memos to General Bobby Hodges, rather than reading phrases from them to him over the telephone? Isn’t it a funny coincidence that these “newly discovered” memos are attributed to the one person in this story who is conveniently dead? Good questions, all.