For those numerous consumers of news and opinion whose political views are right-of-center, the ideology and ubiquity of people like Glenn Beck, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Andy Breitbart are a breath of fresh air. Apart from the serious stuff, some of what they do – like Breitbart roller blading through a crowd of progressive protesters, or Drudge boasting of the MSM’s efforts to get a link on his website (“they kiss the ring”) – is fun.
More than this, all four have demonstrated a substantial talent for creating commercially successful journalistic products. In 2009, for instance, the financial website 24/7wallst.com estimated that the Drudge Report was worth $46 million. Given that the same report, though, suggested the Huffington Post was worth only $96 million, whereas AOL paid $315 million for it just two years later, the Drudge estimate is undoubtedly on the low side.
Their personal attributes notwithstanding, however, the simple truth is that none of these gentlemen, alone or together, provides a substitute for mainstream journalism or a cure for what ails it. In part this is because all of them engage in opinion rather than reporting – and in Drudge’s case not even his own opinion but that found in the content he aggregates. But it’s also because, like their liberal counterparts, they address issues solely from within their own ideological constructs, with predictable if sometimes bizarre results.
Take, for instance, Glenn Beck’s absurd suggestion that Sen. Scott Brown’s joking reference to his single daughters’ “availability” was tantamount to “pimping them out.” Or Andrew Breitbart’s careless or deliberate distortion of the words of Shirley Sherrod. Or, these days, of the prevalence on the Drudge Report of overwrought headlines that mislead about the content of the articles to which they’re linked.
There is a place for opinion journalism, and for conservative opinion, but the great journalistic need today is for mainstream, objective news reporting. Indeed, it is the perceived absence of objectivity among the MSM that has created the market for conservative opinion, not just among the four individuals mentioned above but in talk radio generally, at Fox News, and on the Internet.
Which is not to say that this fact is widely acknowledged. Actually it’s never acknowledged by those people and institutions, such as J-school professors and journalists themselves, who instead follow the lead of the grant-giving groups, like the Knight Foundation, whose munificent gifts set and pay for the journalism establishment’s agenda.
So instead of spotting the journalistic elephant in the room, which is the perceived lack of objectivity (bias, to use the word most commonly employed), the journalism reviews and media critics are uniformly pushing these days the notion that journalism’s greatest need is for more “localism” and “investigative journalism.” And if the MSM were seen to be objective players in the news business these would be good and timely ideas. But given that they are not seen that way, the question becomes who would read or watch such stuff, or believe it if they did?
Though the mainstream media’s problems are frequently conflated, there are at least two severable parts to the whole: the business problems, which derive from the damage inflicted on the MSM’s advertising revenue by the Internet generally (and Google specifically); and those strictly journalistic problems, only some of which are a consequence of business problems that have led to downsizing.
Management of the MSM have been slow to come to grips with their business problems, but even slower to deal with their biggest journalistic problem. Whether this is because they share and approve of the perceived bias in their newsrooms, or because of the firewall that separates the business and editorial sides at most news organizations, the damage to the MSM, to professional journalism, and to the country is palpable – and not at all relieved by the growth of the conservative commentariat.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.