There has been a lot of navel gazing among lefty political blogs lately. There is nothing particularly uncommon about this. We tend to look inward in our continuing attempt to develop a language of interiority, which inevitably results in a significant amount of reflexivity and self-commentary. However, excepting the habitual "liberal bias" columns from prominent, well-established, conservative pundits, it is actually quite rare for prominent, well-respected members of the established national news media to turn their gaze inward. It is thus quite interesting that David Broder did just that in a recent broadside
: We don't yet know who will win the 2004 election, but we know who has lost it. The American news media have been clobbered.
In a year when war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism and looming problems with the federal budget and the nation's health care system cry out for serious debate, the news organizations on which people should be able to depend have been diverted into chasing sham events: a scurrilous and largely inaccurate attack on the Vietnam service of John Kerry and a forged document charging President Bush with disobeying an order for an Air National Guard physical.
With these events coming after the editors of two respected national newspapers, the New York Times and USA Today, were forced to resign because their organizations were duped by lying staff reporters, it is hard to overcome the sense that the professional practices and code of responsibility in journalism have suffered a body blow.(...)
The common feature -- and the disturbing fact -- is that none of these damaging failures would have occurred had senior journalists not been blind to the fact that the standards in their organizations were being fatally compromised.
We need to be asking why this collapse has taken place.
My suspicion is that it stems from a widespread loss of confidence in both the values of journalism and the economic viability of the news business.
Broder goes on to take a bizarre swipe at political blogs for having no journalistic standards whatsoever. Aargh. How long do blogs have to keep organizing volunteers, raising money for candidates, and coordinating with groups interested in direct action before people like Broder finally realize that we don't have their standards because we are not trying either to replace journalists or be journalists. We serve a different function altogether.
The other thing I find very frustrating about Broder's otherwise accurate assessment of the national news media during this campaign season is that while he identifies economic concerns as the primary source of the problem, he does not identify the legislation that caused an acceleration of those economic concerns within news journalism and, inevitably, a concurrent acceleration of the decline in journalistic standards. The 1996 Telecommunications Act, a piece of legislation that in retrospect Clinton must regret not vetoing, sold out American news journalism to the highest bidder--literally. If there is ever going to be a significant improvement in the state of American news journalism, the federal government must step in and pass laws that restrict corporate media consolidation and ease the economic pressure on the industry to produce a profit.
Ironically, what is preventing Broder from making the case against laws that allowed for massive media conglomeration and calling for legislative reform of the media and telecommunications industries is that he prides himself too much on adhering to the journalistic standards, including "objectivity," that he praises in his piece and that were dealt such severe blow by previous legislation. He could never bring himself to loudly proclaim the heinous nature of such a major piece of legislation. My God, that would be an act of partisanship! It would almost make him one of those horrible creatures breeding on the Internet! If we lose our objectivity, we are ruined!
However, much more than our overt partisanship, it is his inability, and the inability of many others in his profession, to be overtly subjective on specific legislation that has helped bring about the ever-quickening death of the American news media. To paraphrase what Christiana Amanpour once said when she was being bloodied in the national press for not being "objective" about attempted--and partially successful--genocide in Bosnia, there is nothing unfair or unprincipled about calling a thug a thug. Fortunately, and significantly due to Amanpour's reporting, we finally stepped in and helped France stop what was happening in the former Yugoslavia. Hopefully, for the sake of the public interest and his profession, Broder and his ilk won't stay silent when future telecommunications bills are presented before Congress. There is nothing wrong with calling a threat to the American public's access to information a threat to the American public's access to information.