In 2001, the events of 9/11 were covered by the news media in a way that reassured and unified an angry and fearful country. In 2008, a financial crisis that in its own way is as dire as 9/11 is being covered in ways that are divisive and infuriating.
At the root of the problem is the colossal failure of reporters to report the crisis, in the context of the presidential campaign, objectively and in a way that challenges the major party candidates to address the issue with the seriousness it demands.
Before it is over our financial and economic distress will almost certainly take the life savings and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, and perhaps many more. But by the evidence to date, reporters don’t get it. So taken are they with the “horse race” conventions of political reporting that they have reduced even this, the worst economic portents since the Great Depression, to the familiar banalities of their stock in trade: who’s up, who’s down, and polls galore.
This, plus of course, their own political spin on things. Thus are we told that the financial mess works to Barack Obama’s political advantage … and not much more.
Whether reporters perform this way because they are biased in favor of the Democratic Party and Democratic policies, or because they are themselves clueless about all things economic, or because they are, perforce, tethered to the inadequacies of the politicians they cover (with the correct answer being all of the above), makes not the tiniest bit of difference.
The stark fact is that the national news media have underreported and misreported virtually every important aspect of our national nightmare: how we got into it, how we can prevent it from happening again, and, most importantly, how we can escape its worst effects now — and how our national leaders can help us.
Here at The Media Institute, which receives all of its financial support from media companies, we spend most of our time promoting the Speech Clause of the First Amendment. This means that we promote those laws and regulations that maximize freedom of speech and of the press — something we will continue to do whatever the media’s journalistic shortcomings.
But at a time when all of the legacy media are in grave jeopardy — first from the competitive effects of the Internet, and now from the struggling economy — they are not making it any easier for themselves or for us. If worse comes to worst, the people of this country are unlikely to forget or forgive the role the media have played at this crucial hour.