Decline of Legacy Media, Rise of the Conservatives?

For the legacy news media, the bad news just keeps on coming.  In recent days, for instance, the Pew Research Center released a piece titled “The Declining Value of U.S. Newspapers,” chronicling the extraordinary decline in the purchase and sale price of major U.S. dailies.

Some of the examples given are so extreme they look like misprints.  The New York Times Co., for instance, purchased The Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette for a little over $2.2 billion, and sold them both in 2013 for $71 million – a valuation change of minus 96 percent!

Not far behind are newspapers like the The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, all of which themselves sold in 2011 and 2012 for around 90 percent less than their earlier purchase prices.

Nor is the challenge to newspapers just an American phenomenon.  Recognizing the importance of the American media, and its similarity to their own challenges, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) is holding its annual World News Congress in Washington June 1 to June 3, only the fifth time in the past 60 years that they have held this event in the United States.

A WAN backgrounder puts the matter succinctly: “The 2015 [Congress] comes at a time when independent news media are under enormous pressure, one that threatens their societal role as the provider of credible news and information to citizens so they can make informed decisions in democratic societies.”  >> Read More

Politico Accuses the Post and Times of Media Bias: Reporters Detect a Disturbance in the Force

Every once in a while something happens in medialand that stirs up reporters. The most recent example occurred last Thursday when the editors of Politico accused the Washington Post and the New York Times of bias in their coverage of the presidential campaign.

Under a headline that read, “To GOP, blatant bias in vetting,” the authors added their own commentary in ways that suggested that Republican critics of media coverage of the presidential campaign are right.

“Republicans cry ‘bias’ so often,” they wrote, “it feels like a campaign theme.  It is, largely because it fires up conservatives….  But it is also because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh – or Haley Barbour.”

And with that, the dawn came up like thunder among those whose calling it is to resist journalistic apostasy whenever it rears its head. Take, for instance, one Devon Gordon, who writes for GQ (“Look Sharp/Live Smart”). Gordon wrote a piece whose thrust was nicely summed up in its title: “Five Points About Politico’s Hatchet Job on NYT and WaPo.”

Or how about John Cook who, writing in Gawker, began this way: “Megalomaniacal supervillain Jim Vandehei and emotionally hobbled robo-reporter Mike Allen, both of Politico, have penned a rugged endorsement of Mitt Romney’s chief grievance today, agreeing with his advisers that the press corps is busy ‘scaring up stories to undermine the introduction of Mitt Romney to the general election audience.’”

And lest we forget our friends from papers across the pond, there’s the Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman.  Digging deep into his reservoir of profundities, Burkeman relieved himself of this penetrating observation: “This is always the problem with the charge of ‘media bias’: for it to be valid, it would have to be the case that ‘not being biased’ were a viable alternative option, and it isn’t.”

And then there’s the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.  In (at last count) six separate pieces on his blog, Wemple makes points like the following: (1) Politico is jealous that they didn’t develop the Post’s story about Romney’s alleged bullying in high school; (2) Politico itself gave lots of attention to the Post’s bullying story; and (3) Politico’s claim that the Post’s story was overdone fails to acknowledge that “Bullying (a) schoolmate by pinning him down and cutting his hair is not only illegal but hateful, violent and destructive."

And there it is. Never mind the well documented history of Republican unhappiness with the media, or the larger issue of media bias as perceived by about half the people in the country, and what that portends for the future of the commercial media. 

No matter that polling organizations like Harris Interactive and Pew established without any doubt in 2008 that Republicans overwhelmingly thought the media favored Obama over McCain (indeed, the Pew poll found that Democrats and Independents felt that way too), or that a Gallup poll published just last September found that 47% of the people think the media are too liberal (a number that rises to 75% when polling Republicans only), while just 13% think they are too conservative.

It is, apparently, one thing for such data to be reported in the charts and graphs of pollsters, or in the words of known or suspected Republicans, but another thing entirely for a member of the MSM to break ranks and criticize the media along the same lines.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.


The Shrill and the Marginal: The Left’s Criticism of the Media

Readers of this blog know that it’s the personal opinion of the writer that the mainstream media are hurt by the years-long perception, among Republicans and conservatives, that the media are unsympathetic to their views.  Given their large and growing numbers, and the availability of competing sources of news and commentary, this perception seems like both a journalistic and a business problem for the MSM.

This said, we’re always on the lookout for those people who view this matter differently, even where they represent only the most marginal points of view.

Thus it is that we’ve come across a piece in The Nation magazine (than which nothing’s more marginal), by Eric Alterman.  Titled “The Problem of Media Stupidity,” the thrust of the thing is that journalists, unwitting victims of a so-called “cult of balance,” are much too fair to Republicans.

As Alterman so elegantly puts it:

There is a specter haunting America today.  It is the specter of stupidity.  A few months ago, I wrote a column I called “The Problem of Republican Idiots.” Believe me, this problem has not gone away.  No less alarming is that this stupidity is apparently contagious.  The men and women who inhabit the upper reaches of the U.S. media (and pull down the multi-million dollar salaries) appear to believe that to do their jobs properly, they must make themselves behave like idiots in order to be “fair” to the Republicans and their idiot ideas.

In support of this thoughtful view, Alterman cites the progressives’ favorite wordslinger, Paul Krugman, and quotes from an interview David Gregory did with Rick Santelli – seven months ago – on “Meet the Press.”

Santelli’s comments, this one especially, figure large in Alterman’s argument: “If the country is ever attacked as it was in 9/11,” said Santelli, “we all respond with a sense of urgency.  What’s going on on the balance sheets throughout the country is the same type of attack.”

Never mind that Gregory didn’t respond to Santelli, as other guests on the show jumped in with their own observations, it’s Alterman’s opinion that for Gregory even to countenance such a comment without criticism is proof of a kind of intellectual rot among mainstream journalists.  “On America’s most respected television news program,” he wrote, “it is apparently OK to equate a problem with your fiscal balance sheets with terrorist mass murder.  Here again, we see the ‘cult of balance’ destroying the brains of our press corps.”

Given the modest dimensions of his own intellectual attributes, one suspects more people will be struck by the chutzpah of Alterman calling other people idiots than will be put off by Santelli’s remark, in which the CNBC personality was obviously equating not the acts (9/11 and the nation’s balance sheets), but the societal impact of the two, and the need for the kind of urgent action re the latter as was the case with the former.

Still, there remains the larger issue raised by Alterman’s rant: Are the MSM too evenhanded in their treatment of Republican and Democratic policies and politicians?  Do they, as Alterman suggests, show undeserved respect for Republicans?  And if we wanted to test this hypothesis, how would we go about it?

It’s a tricky thing, this business of calling people idiots.  Dostoevsky titled one of his novels The Idiot, though in that case the subject of the pejorative, Prince Myshkin, was likened favorably to Christ, something that is probably not the way Alterman sees Republicans.  Clearer still is that Alterman is no Dostoevsky.

Which is just to say that, as a practical matter, we can’t vet Alterman’s claim just by taking his word for it, any more than we could subject it to the opinions of like-minded leftists, or conservatives for that matter.  This, because whatever “evidence” any of them might conjure up, it’s going to be tainted by their own subjective view of the world, by their ideological IDs, so to speak.

One way, perhaps, of getting around this problem is by looking at whatever evidence there is, anecdotal or scientific, indicating that Republicans themselves feel privileged by the quality of their media coverage, something one would expect to find if Alterman’s claim is true.

Unfortunately for the gentleman’s thesis, Republicans seem not to have gotten the memo. Whether measured by public opinion polls, the public statements of Republican politicians or conservative commentators, or simply by letters to the editor written by Republicans or conservatives, it’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority feel, much to the contrary, that the media are largely in the camp of Democrats and liberals.

Perhaps, though, there’s another way of looking at this matter.  Call it, depending on your own political leanings, either the “democratic way" or the "way of the marketplace.”  I refer to the percentages of people who, as measured over the years by organizations like Gallup, classify themselves as liberals, conservatives, or moderates.  If, one could argue, these statistics show a much larger number of liberals than conservatives, media coverage of Republican policies might fairly be criticized if it could be shown that such coverage was at the expense of the larger number (of readers and viewers) who are liberals.

As it happens, though, the exact opposite is the case.  As shown by a Gallup poll conducted just last month, conservatives outnumber liberals by two-to-one, and in fact outnumber self-described moderates as well. Even more telling, for purposes of assessing Alterman’s accusation, is the poll’s percentage breakdown of those people who call themselves conservative or very conservative, in contrast with those who say they are liberal or very liberal.

Here are the numbers, as broken down by Gallup’s poll of national adults: Conservative, 30%; Very Conservative, 11%; Liberal, 15%; Very Liberal, 6%.  Apart from the much larger numbers of conservatives vs. liberals, the datum that is uniquely relevant to Alterman’s claim is the tiny percentage of people who consider themselves very liberal.

Why is this important?  Because Alterman, like all of the editorial contributors to The Nation, would admit to being “very liberal,” if not further to the left.  And as shown by the Gallup poll results, very few people share his views!

Seen this way, one can confidently say that whether one believes that the media, in a democracy, should proportionately represent the will of the people, or understands the need for the media, as for-profit businesses, to cater to the majority of their viewers and readers, there is as little evidence that they need to veer further to the left as there is that they need to take instruction from Eric Alterman.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Matthew & Rush & Glenn & Andrew

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/ 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.


With Friends Like These

Signs of institutional meltdown are everywhere apparent.  Wall Street and Detroit are obvious examples, as are the states of New York and California.  But nowhere is the collapse of standards and credibility more alarming than among journalists and their profession.

Evidence of journalism’s implosion is seen not only in the declining readership and viewership of the MSM, and in public opinion polls, but also in the recent antics of journalists themselves and of those grant-giving foundations that support journalism programs.

A lamentably good example of the latter was provided last week by the Knight Foundation — the largest provider of funding for such programs at universities and nonprofit organizations — and by the Associated Press.

In a release dated June 15, the AP announced that it was launching a project “to distribute watchdog and investigative journalism from nonprofit organizations to its 1,500 member newspapers.”  Two days earlier, the Knight Foundation announced a new $15-million program of grants to several investigative news organizations.  Among them are two that the AP plans to include in its distribution, the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

These two announcements herald the birth of what would have been unthinkable in better times, the spectacle of an established news organization like AP accepting and distributing handouts from third parties.

Such an arrangement is, and would be, objectionable even if the “investigative news” organizations in question possessed the qualities of balance and objectivity.  But these don’t, and you don’t need to be an investigative reporter to figure that out.

Take, for example, the best funded of them, ProPublica.  From their own website comes this revealing statement about their mission: “Our work,” they say, “focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’  We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

What this suggests, of course, is that ProPublica is likely to have little or no interest in some of the worst aspects of public policy in the USA.  Things like the disastrous dependency on government, forged after decades of welfare programs, in America’s inner-city neighborhoods.  Or like the ruinous role played by public employees and their unions on state and municipal finance.  Or the impact on the cost and provision of health care by ambulance-chasing trial lawyers.

Just by their mission statement it’s clear that ProPublica’s heart wouldn’t be in doing these kinds of stories.  But that’s not the only evidence of the organization’s unfitness for the role being given it by the AP.  There’s also the small matter of its founder and largest benefactor.

Billionaire Herbert Sandler and his wife, Marion (they’re always mentioned together because of the role each played in the founding of Golden West Financial), have painted, through their contributions to Democratic and leftist organizations like the Center for American Progress and Acorn, an unmistakable ideological profile, leavened with a fair amount of hypocrisy.

As Jack Shafer of Slate put it, in a piece published shortly after the Sandlers founded ProPublica in 2007: “What do the Sandlers want for their millions?  Perhaps to return us to the days of the partisan press … ProPublica’s Web site vows that its investigations will be conducted in a ‘non-partisan and non-ideological manner, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality.’  But philanthropists, especially those who earned the fortune they’re giving away, tend not to distribute their money with a blind eye to the results.  How happy will they be if ProPublica gores their sacred Democratic cows?  Or takes the ‘wrong’ position on their pet projects: health, the environment, and civil liberties?”

Providing an almost comic dimension to the Sandlers’ ambitions is the fact that earlier this year Time magazine named them to their list of the “25 people responsible for the financial crisis,” and "SNL" did a skit in ’08 in which it was suggested that they should be shot.

Looming over the whole of the Knight/AP exercise is the elephant in the room that is the public’s growing lack of trust in the media.  A piece written last month by Melik Kaylan for summarized that distrust as follows:

“The Reagan years also ushered in the distrust of the Eastern-seaboard intellectual elites.  President Reagan understood and exploited the great divide between the heartland and custodians of news, who were chiefly in New York.  The two sides saw two different Americas.  Journalists and the institutions that formed their ideas saw a country composed largely of wronged minorities with fascinating grievances.  Much of the country saw itself as a unified coherent nation with its traditions under siege from insular power blocs who were back-scratching each other all the way up and down the seaboards.  Out of that disconnect grew the success of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Fox News, the blogosphere and the great decentralizing force of the alternative media."

By an ironic coincidence, on the same day that the AP came out with its announcement, the Gallup organization released the results of a new poll of Americans’ ideological attitudes.  It found that conservatives outnumber liberals by a margin of 2 to 1.  More importantly it revealed that only 5 percent of the people consider themselves "very liberal," a designation that accurately describes the investigative nonprofits the AP and the Knight Foundation have now embraced.

Leave it to them to explain, as the media continue their march toward oblivion, how such a biased and shabby program will improve the public’s trust in the mainstream media or in journalism.

Whither Journalism? Part II

If journalism of a satisfactory depth, independence, and scale is going to survive, it will have to be produced by professional journalists employed by profit-making organizations.  As such it will require revenue streams that are sufficient for the purpose.  As a practical matter this means that newspapers will have to find ways of getting paid for access to their online content.  Advertising by itself will not do the trick.

But given the growing number of bloggers, citizen journalists, and news aggregating sites who specialize in opinion pieces (RealClearPolitics, Huffington Post, Drudge) there is a real question of how professional journalists can distinguish themselves from the rest of their online competition.

The view from here is that the question answers itself.  Professional news organizations, newspapers especially, should rid their online news pages of opinion and concentrate instead on the production of news and feature stories that run deep and straight down the middle.

Unfortunately this is the precise opposite of what is in vogue today, with media organizations like Newsweek and even the Associated Press moving in the direction of more rather than less opinion in their news stories.  It’s a mistake.

Opinion is the cheapest commodity in the world, precisely because everybody has one.  No need for inside or expert sources, for special expertise in the subject matter, or even for any real writing ability.  Opinion gains recognition in direct proportion to the extravagance of its expression.  As such, opinion is the “killer app” not of newspapers but of the blogosphere, which is why a site as undistinguished as Daily Kos attracts such a large number of visitors.

The problem for newspapers is compounded when the opinions they express in their news and editorial pages are too one-sided politically.  To give one example, the New York Times, which is losing paid circulation at a ferocious pace, reads these days very much like a house organ in its support of the Democratic party and policies.

To believe that this is not spotted, and resented, by people who are, say, Republicans or conservatives, is an exercise in self-delusion.  Even if one wants to argue that Republicans and conservatives are not in the majority today, they represent a very large minority for any business needing to sell itself to the public at large.

In any case, the main point is that newspapers and other professional news organizations should concentrate on doing those things, like in-depth and objective coverage of domestic and foreign affairs, which neither the news aggregators nor the bloggers have the talent or resources to do themselves.

Whatever their future revenue streams — from advertising and micropayments or walled content — it’s going to be necessary for the “mainstream media” to finds ways of distinguishing themselves from their online competitors.  One way of doing that would be to practice first-rate journalism and rigorous objectivity in the reporting and analysis of the news.

The Media and the Economy

Virtually everyone who’s taken an objective look at the subject agrees that media coverage of the presidential race was tilted in favor of president-elect Obama. The latest to make the claim is Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, who last week characterized “extreme pro-Obama coverage” as “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war.”

Late last month, a study by the Pew Research Center found that by a margin of 70%-9% (including over 60% of Democrats and Independents), Americans said journalists wanted to see Obama win on November 4. Even the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, corroborated the charge. “Readers,” she said, “have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.”

So for 70% of the people of this country, the media’s performance was noted. And for 46%– those who voted for McCain– it was noted and resented, thereby further alienating a large part of the audience of the foundering newspaper and broadcasting industries, a woeful aspect of contemporary journalism that’s been mentioned here before.

But there’s another feature of the media’s campaign coverage that is the subject of this note, also mentioned here before: the failure of political reporters generally to focus their coverage on the issue which mattered most– the extraordinary financial and economic crisis, and what, if anything, the candidates knew, or proposed to do, about it.

An item reported on Bloomberg shapes the problem nicely: “Obama’s program will be far larger than the $175 billion package of tax cuts and stepped-up government spending he proposed just a month ago. Some of his advisers, and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have suggested a figure of $700 billion.”

In a country in which trial lawyers routinely work their will on juries comprised of people who have no conception of the difference between, say, a million and a billion, the difference between what Obama was saying then and what his aides are saying now may seem to many like no big deal.

But as people come to understand, however imperfectly, that this is a piper they’ll have to pay, they may look upon the matter differently, especially if the effects of the stimulus and bailout plans don’t come in time or in numbers sufficient to save their jobs, or homes, or life savings.

There is no suggestion here that substantial and intelligent media coverage of the economy would have changed the election results. For that to have been the case, even in theory, would have required an opponent with a far stronger grasp of economic issues than John McCain, about whom it may fairly be said that no presidential candidate in recent history was more inarticulate or unpersuasive.

But by their neglect of the economic issue, political reporters disserved the nation as a whole, and left the people utterly unprepared to vet the candidates’ economic proposals, then or now. That they did this while also clearly favoring Obama just adds journalistic insult to civic injury.

The Financial Crisis and Horse Race Journalism

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.

Fact and Opinion

Name a national news organization that commands the respect both of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Can’t do it? Neither can I, but as the head of The Media Institute, and as a citizen, I wish I could.

At a time when there is no governmental institution in America—and scarcely any institution of any kind– that is not the subject of contempt or contention, the news media have a rare opportunity right now to play a meaningful and unifying role, and in the process to do wonders for their own flagging fortunes. But it’s not happening.

The United States today is fairly seething with fear and anger. It is no overstatement to say that many people in this country, left and right, literally hate some of their fellow Americans– a state of mind that will only be exacerbated as the presidential campaign yields a winner, and as the financial crisis takes its inevitable toll. A few years ago I used to say jokingly that I didn’t think the country was up for any more foreign wars, but that I thought there might be an appetite for a good civil war. I don’t think it’s funny anymore.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong, and a lot that is right, with opinion journalism. But when, as now, people in large numbers are fearful about the future and questioning what’s best for themselves and for the country, it is as ominous as it is lamentable that we don’t have at least a few national news organizations that are trusted, for their rigorous commitment to thoroughness and objectivity, by people of different political persuasions.

There is no need to define objectivity with mathematical precision; two parts of this to two parts of that. Neither is there any suggestion that objectivity means pleasing everyone, even some of the time. There are, after all, some people–like Marxists on the left and fascists on the right– whose views can’t be reconciled with any strain of objectivity.

But the larger point survives, and is all the more dolorous for those of us whose careers are linked with these organizations, by the fact that this glaring void exists at the same time that the news media are facing a difficult present and a parlous future.

At what better time, and in what better way, could the legacy media demonstrate their continuing and essential value to this country than by recommitting themselves, at this very moment, to a journalistic standard that strictly adheres to objectivity in the gathering and reporting of the news?


The (Il)liberal Critics

One of the most underreported stories in the country today is the extent to which media bashing–formerly the almost exclusive preserve of conservatives–is these days being waged by liberals and leftists.

From blogs like DailyKos and the Huffington Post, filled to the gunwales with attacks on “corporate media,” to “media reform” groups like Free Press, Media Matters for America, and the Orwellianesque  FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), liberal activists are sounding and acting more and more illiberal. Indeed, they sound and act like conservatives.

Hardly a day goes by that at least one of them fails to fault the mainstream media for their coverage, or non-coverage, of some issue in which they have an ideological investment. And when that’s not enough they don’t hesitate to call on policymakers for laws or regulations they think would help promote their political views.

In this and in other ways, the Left’s assault on the media is virtually indistinguishable from that of the Right. The conservative Parents Television Council petitions the FCC for sanctions on TV indecency; the left-leaning Free Press petitions the FCC to stop media consolidation. Media Matters purports to expose “conservative misinformation” in the  media; the Media Research Center “leads in documenting, exposing, and neutralizing liberal media bias.”

Both sides incorporate “content analysis” as a research tool, and both organize letter-writing campaigns aimed at Congress and the FCC.

But it’s the rise of liberal media bashing that is the newer and more worrisome thing, because liberals have a past history of tolerance for free speech.

The transparent lie among all organized media bashers is that their attacks are objective and selfless. They are not. Ideologues see the media as a kind of blackboard on which to write and spin their political opinions. This, and nothing else. Not fairness. Or accuracy. Or a free press.