MSM Requiem: After the Dan Rather scandal, American journalism will never be the same

Peggy Noonan wrties in the Wall Street Journal today on the decline of the MSM:

“The Rathergate Report is a watershed event in American journalism not because it changes things on its own but because it makes unavoidably clear a change that has already occurred. And that is that the mainstream media’s monopoly on information is over…”

“Is it annoying that the panel that issued the report did not find liberal bias in the preparation and airing of the Bush National Guard story? Yes, but only that. It’s not as if anyone has to be told. I hate to be cynical, and this is cynical, but the panel that produced the report was not being paid by CBS to find liberal bias. It was being paid to do the anatomy of a failure with emphasis on who did what wrong.”

Comments

  1. Note 49: Jim’s absurd defense MSM’s so-called objective journalism just gets better and better. Today he’s being critical of conservatives because they weren’t trained properly (If we’re not racist, sexist, homophobic or fascist, then we’re just plain dumb).

    Jim writes, “The problem with these peopole (sic) [was] that they didn?t come from journalistic backgrounds.” He than goes on to admiringly quote David Brock who wrote, “… none of the new conservative movement columnists had worked as truth-seeking journalists or academics before they began opining. Rather, they were trained in polemics in the right-wing propaganda mills or came from the hardball world of political campaigns.”

    There you have it folks: Conservative commentators are wretched little creatures of propaganda because they weren’t properly trained by the New York Times or CBS or they didn’t attend the proper academic program. And of course we all know how unbiased our colleges and universities are, don’t we?

    Another study of the bias free academia gives us the following information:

    The overall ratio of Democrats to Republicans we were able to identify at the 32 schools was more than 10 to 1 (1397 Democrats, 134 Republicans).

    o Although in the nation at large registered Democrats and Republicans are roughly equal in number, not a single department at a single one of the 32 schools managed to achieve a reasonable parity between the two. The closest any school came to parity was Northwestern University where 80% of the faculty members we identified were registered Democrats who outnumbered registered Republicans by a ratio of 4-1.

    o At other schools we found these representations of registered faculty Democrats to Republicans:

    Brown: 30-1
    Bowdoin, Wellesley: 23-1
    Swarthmore: 21-1
    Amherst, Bates: 18-1
    Columbia, Yale: 14-1
    Pennsylvania, Tufts, UCLA and Berkeley: 12-1
    Smith: 11-1

    o At no less than four elite schools we could not identify a single Republican on the faculty:

    Williams: 51 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    Oberlin: 19 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    MIT: 17 Democrats, 0 Republicans
    Haverford: 15 Democrats, 0 Republicans

    But, of course, in the distorted view produced by the Leftist mind 51 Democrats and 0 Republicans is a bias free environment.

  2. Missourian says:

    Jim Holman’s “Journalistic Backgrounds”

    You are still in love with the idea that journalism is a “profession.” Journalism is not a profession and shouldn’t be treated as one. You are still looking for that ideal journalist whom we all can trust. There is no such person.

    Anyone reporting on the political or social scene in America starts from a philosophical viewpoint. Everyone has their own idea of the proper relationship between government and the individual. This philosophical background frequently determines whether the reporter even thinks that an issue requiring public discussion exists. Example, some people think that any degree of income or wealth inequality is a problem which should be addressed by government, others think that income or wealth inequality is just part of life and can never be eliminated unless government controls every breath we take. Others think that income or wealth inequality is a powerful incentive towards work. So philosophical outlook determines whether a reported even touches a story or researches a particular angle of an issue.

    I don’t want to turn my brains over to Edward R. Murrow, as much as I respect him.

  3. Jim Holman says:

    Daniel writes: “Jim’s absurd defense MSM’s so-called objective journalism just gets better and better. Today he’s being critical of conservatives because they weren’t trained properly (If we’re not racist, sexist, homophobic or fascist, then we’re just plain dumb).”

    What I said is not a defense of mainstream journalism but an observation that many right-wing pundits and commentators are basically political operatives coming from non-journalistic backgrounds while functioning under the cover of journalism.

    Missourian writes: “You are still in love with the idea that journalism is a ‘profession.’ Journalism is not a profession and shouldn’t be treated as one. You are still looking for that ideal journalist whom we all can trust. There is no such person.”

    This discussion has taken some rather strange twists and turns. Initially, the objection of the conservative folks was that the mainstream media have a liberal bias. Then the objection changed — the liberal bias wasn’t the problem, but rather that mainstream journalists *said* they didn’t have a bias. Now the discussion takes a very different turn, in which the argument apparently is that all expectation of journalistic objectivity should be thrown out the window — coming from a culture of journalism means nothing (Daniel), journalism isn’t even a profession and journalistic objectivity is an illusion (Missourian), nor should journalistic objectivity even be the goal (Fr. Hans).

    All of this strikes me as very odd. If the mainstream media are biased, one might think that lack of bias would be the goal. But not so! Presumably this is because the right-wing media are so overwhelmingly biased that reducing bias in journalism would gut the right-wing media empire.

    Thus, rather than working to reduce bias in journalism from whatever side, my conservative correspondents suggest junking journalistic standards, denying the existence of journalistic professionalism, and abandoning all hope of journalistic objectivity. In other words, if you have unclean drinking water, the solution is not to install a filter, but to abandon the concept of sanitation.

    Certainly an interesting solution, but not the one I would have suggested.

  4. The closest a journalist can get to objectivity is C-Span, where the journalist removes himself from the story as much as possible. But this approach is not feasible for network news, newspapers, pundit shows, etc. “Objectivity” as such can’t really exist. It can appear to exist only when the presuppositions of the reporter match those of his audience. This is not a call for anarchy, only a reminder that claims of objectivity by the MSM is transparently one-sided, and leads to hubris, ie: Dan Rather and his claim that a story was true even when the corroboration he offered was fraudulent.

    Give me facts as best you can. Let the interpretation take place on editorial pages pundit shows (left and right). But don’t give me an interpretation disguised as factual reporting by calling it “objective.”

    The decline of the MSM will lead to abuses, but probably not more than those already perpetrated in the MSM. The arena where those abuses occur will change, that’s all. Some no doubt will occur in conservative media as it does in liberal media. Conservative malfeasance has to be criticised as well, such as the Armstrong Williams escapade. Despite these inevitable problems we are witnessing what I believe is a social revolution of sorts.

    Some people are laying the groundwork for a theory that attempts to explain and quantify this change, BTW. Do a Google search for “long tail” theory. It is very new, very tentative, and very interesting.

  5. Missourian says:

    ITS NOT THE BIAS, ITS THE MONOPOLY

    Bias can take crude forms, such as the MSM reporters neglecting to mention that private citizens used guns to subdue a deranged murderer before the police arrived on the scene. Or bias can take a subtle form, such as the revival of journalistic interest in the homelessness when a Republican is elected President and the disinterest in homelessness when a Democrat is elected President.

    [Cavaets here. I don't advocate the use of guns, but, I do advocate accurate reporting of the actual string of events. I also think that homelessness is something that should receive steady attention and serious discussion. In practice its gets used as a political football more often than not.]

    When a small group of people are able to claim exclusive right to use the broadcast media and to run the major newspapers, we have a monopoly and public discourse is in danger of being distorted by the biases of the people doing the writing and editing. When this exclusive right, or monopoly, is broken and people from various viewpoints have an equal chance to be heard, the danger of bias subsides. As I have frequently noted, there is nothing stopping the 60 minutes crew from taking an in depth look at Rush Limbaugh and demonstrating any distortions in Rush’s broadcasts. This is the idea of public fact checking and logic testing. Ol Dan Rather has never been subjected to intense fact checking before ( to my knowledge). Rather thought he could get out of his pickle by relying on his supposed authority as a “leading professional journalist.”

    WHY JOURNALISM IS NOT A TRUE PROFESSION AND WHY IT SHOULDN’T BE CONSIDERED ONE

    My position remains that journalism is not a true profession and that it shouldn’t be treated as one. A true profession such as medicine involves acquiring a high level of specialized knowledge, such a high level of knowlege that society cannot expect the average person to attain that level of knowledge. The licensing of doctors, therefore, is necessary to protect a public that cannot protect itself.

    Journalism can be practiced by anyone with a good mind, decent communication skills and access to some means of publication. This is as it should be. Journalism is part of our political process and as many people as possible should participate. Professionalism leads to the “priesthood” approach. All due respect to real priests, Fr. Jacobse. People are discouraged from participating in tasks which should be “left to the professionals.” Political discourse is the heart of what people call journalism and it most assuredly shouldn’t be left to the “professionals.”

  6. Missourian says:

    Lawyer’s Delight: Musn’t Chuckle, Musn’t Rub Hands with Glee

    Seems as if three of the four people asked to resign from CBS have declined to resign. Instead they have retained lawyers. Imagine that.

    It appears that some of the people involved in Rathergate are not going quietly. All kidding aside, one can only hope that these people will insist on a more complete investigation of the events. The formal report left out a great deal.The “investigators” did not admit the documents were thoroughly fake and therefore, did not even attempt to investigate who forged the documents.

    Don’t we all want to know who forged the documents? Why would they forge the documents? What did they think they would accomplish by the forged documents? Who knew about the forged documents before they made it to CBS? Isn’t anybody curious here?

    I am. Deeply curious. Time for a good lawsuit so that some subpoenas can force testimony and document production. Terry McAuliffe needs to be interviewed as does Max Cleland, and it should be done under oath. Wonder how much evidence has been deep sixed by now.

  7. Jim Holman says:

    Missourian writes: “Bias can take crude forms . . . Or bias can take a subtle form.”

    In my view the answer to bias is better reporting.

    Missourian: “When a small group of people are able to claim exclusive right to use the broadcast media and to run the major newspapers, we have a monopoly and public discourse is in danger of being distorted by the biases of the people doing the writing and editing.”

    As I mentioned earlier, there was a considerable influx of conservative commentators, many of whom are active today, in the 1970s in response to accusations of “liberal bias.” Also, remember the “fairness doctrine” that used to exist for radio and TV broadcasts?

    “The policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission that became known as the “Fairness Doctrine” is an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. The FCC took the view, in 1949, that station licensees were “public trustees,” and as such had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues. With the deregulation sweep of the Reagan Administration during the 1980s, the Commission dissolved the fairness doctrine.”
    http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/F/htmlF/fairnessdoct/fairnessdoct.htm

    Today conservative pundits throughout all media are continually on the search for liberal bias, even when it takes a magnifying glass to find it, even as they dominate vast expanses of media, even as they themselves strangled the fairness doctrine, even as they have entire TV networks and hundreds of radio stations broadcasting the daily conservative message, sometimes even coordinated with the Republican party.

    It is clear to me that this will never end. Double, triple, quadruple the hours and pages of conservative commentary and still there would be liberal bias, the perpetual fly in the ointment, the hydra of liberal bias growing two heads for every one that is cut off.

    Missourian: “My position remains that journalism is not a true profession and that it shouldn’t be treated as one. A true profession such as medicine involves acquiring a high level of specialized knowledge, such a high level of knowlege that society cannot expect the average person to attain that level of knowledge. The licensing of doctors, therefore, is necessary to protect a public that cannot protect itself.”

    You have an extremely limited view of professionalism. There are literally hundreds of occupations that involve specialized training and the observance of professional standards.

    Missourian: “Journalism can be practiced by anyone with a good mind, decent communication skills and access to some means of publication.”

    It doesn’t take a journalism degree to be a journalist, but there are standards that govern the activity of journalism. The observance of those standards is what makes one a journalist rather than a propagandist.

  8. Jim Holman says:

    Missourian writes: “As I have frequently noted, there is nothing stopping the 60 minutes crew from taking an in depth look at Rush Limbaugh and demonstrating any distortions in Rush’s broadcasts. This is the idea of public fact checking and logic testing.”

    There have been similar programs, maybe not on 60 Minutes but elsewhere. But it’s not the job of the rest of the media to spend all their time cataloging all of Rush’s errors. Also, there literally aren’t enough hours in the day to keep track of everything that Rush and his buddies say.

    I’m not sure if this is where you’re coming from, but I think there’s a mistaken notion that the mainstream and right-wing media somehow serve as counterweights to each other — and that the battle between the two somehow accomplishes a kind of objectivity. It doesn’t.

    For years the mainstream media have been targeted by the right-wing. This whole thing about “liberal” media bias is a right-wing POLITICAL STRATEGY. That’s not to say that there isn’t bias in the mainstream media. Rather, it means that the actual bias is blown out of all proportion, and that the continual, 24/7 trumpting of “liberal bias” is a ploy intended to sell the conservative message.

    This has gone on in various forms for decades. It started in the 60s with the determination of the John Birch Society to expose the media as having been subverted by communists. It continued with the complaints of some conservatives of Barry Goldwater’s treatment by the media in the election of 1964. It continued the with George Wallace’s condemnation of the media as promoting a “segregationist agenda.” It continued on with Edith Efron’s book _The News Twisters_. In the early 70s there was Lewis Powell’s strategy to overcome what he thought was an anti-business bias in the media. Foreshadowing the current situation, his plan called for subsidized writers and commentators pushing for “equal time.” It continued in the late 70s with William Simon’s plan to fund pro-business pseudo-research. (Don’t like what the scientists are saying about the environment? Buy your own scientists.)

    Again, the complaint about liberal media bias has nothing to do with actual bias. It is a strategy for political domination. It works.

  9. Perhaps one of the greatest critics of mainstream media and its bias has been Noam Chomsky. The events of Rathergate seem to expose what he’s been saying all along.

    Q&A with Noam Chomsky, winter 1990 http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/19900907.htm

    QUESTION: You’ve frequently stated that the Western media constitute the most awesome propaganda system that has ever existed in world history. But at the same time, the press tries to cultivate a mythology or popular image of itself as tireless, fearless seekers after the truth. You have them taking on the politicians, such as Dan Rather challenging George Bush on the air, or even toppling them from office, as Woodward and Bernstein allegedly did with Nixon. That’s the public image of the media, and I think many people are going to be surprised to hear that they are being fed a line of propaganda.

    CHOMSKY: Well, I doubt that many people would. Most polls indicate that the majority of the population regards the media as too subservient to power. But it’s quite true that for educated people it would come as a surprise. And that’s because they are the ones most subject to propaganda. They also participate in the indoctrination, so therefore they’re the most committed to the system. You mentioned that the media cultivate an image of a tribune of the people fighting power. Well, that’s natural. How would a reasonable propaganda institution depict itself? But in order to determine the truth of the matter, you have to look at the particular cases. I think it is one of the best established conclusions in the social sciences that the media serve what we may call a propaganda function — that is, that they shape perceptions, select the events, offer interpretations, and so on, in conformity with the needs of the power centers in society, which are basically the state and the corporate world.

  10. If anyone would be familiar with propaganda it would be Noam Chomsky, a man who never met a Communist tyrant he couldn’t love.

    Historian Anders Lewis describes Chomsky as an unrepentent Stalinist:

    “Noam Chomsky was among those on the Left who traveled to Hanoi. In his At War With Asia (1970), the linguist-turned-activist fondly recounted how he found a country that was “unified, strong though poor, and determined to withstand the attack launched against [it] by the great superpower of the Western world.” Everywhere he went, Chomsky found people “healthy, well-fed, and adequately clothed.” Indeed, he saw great promise in Vietnamese Communism. “My personal guess is that, unhindered by imperialist intervention, the Vietnamese would develop a modern industrial society with much popular participation” and “direct democracy.” While in Hanoi, Chomsky broadcasted a speech of solidarity on behalf of the Communists. He declared that their heroism revealed “the capabilities of the human spirit and human will.” “Your cause,” he continued, “is the cause of humanity as it moves forward toward liberty and justice, toward the socialist society in which free, creative men control their own destiny.” Chomsky was so moved by his journey that, at one point, he proudly “sang songs, patriotic and sentimental, and declaimed poems” with his hosts. He admitted that some Western observers, those too encumbered by bourgeois prejudice, might find his actions distasteful. He was not concerned. “Let the reader think what he may,” Chomsky wrote. “The fact is,” the whole experience was “intensely moving.”[2]

    “[2] Noam Chomsky, At War With Asia (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), pp.259-287. … In personal correspondence with me, Chomsky stated he “can’t either confirm or deny” that he gave it. The speech is, however, entirely consistent with what he wrote in At War With Asia, and with his general stance towards the war. Chomksy also sought to deny what he wrote. When I confronted him with the fact that he “sang songs, patriotic and sentimental, and declaimed poems,” with the Communists, he wrote back: “I’ll be interested to see where I produced the ‘words’ that you have just invented and attributed to me. … I realize that you feel it is your right to fabricate arbitrary slanders, but don’t you think that this is going a little too far?” It was a stunning response. Chomsky’s efforts, as well as the efforts of all the other activists who traveled to Hanoi, were warmly welcomed by the North Vietnamese. “Visits to Hanoi…” by American antiwar activists, one North Vietnamese Communist has commented, “gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses.” Quoted in Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (New York: Anchor, 2001), p.416.”

  11. Fr. Hans,

    You made an interesting quote in note 45 which I’ll reprint:

    “In fact, I would argue that the belief in the knowability of truth, the conviction that truth exists even if hidden or not exhaustively comprehensible, is one of the stark differences between liberalism and conservativism.”

    The thing about Chomsky which I find interesting is that his discourse is pervasive with the notion that truth does exist. Whether or not he actually gets it right all the time, his writings about American foreign policy and media distortion are consumed with the idea that the truth is out there. This is not a relativist approach. Furthermore, his writings on American foreign policy and media distortion always have a strong moral tone (presumably born out of his Jewish tradtion). Chomsky believes in moral absolutes.

    It is true that Chomsky is often embraced by the left, but I think this is more because he has produced voluminous criticism of the right. Perhaps it is downplayed, but he has produced much criticism of the left as well. Anders Lewis’ labeling of Chomsky as an “unrepentant Stalinist” strikes me as laughable because of Chomsky’s well-documented contempt for Stalin’s ideologies (http://www.chomsky.info/books/reader01.htm). It does not necessarily surprise me that Lewis would come to this conclusion based on her evidence, but it seems that Lewis rushes to pigeonhole Chomsky without really understanding where he is coming from.

    On the other hand, Stefan Kepfan’s criticism of Chomsky seems primarily an ad hominem attack. He seems to say that we shouldn’t listen to Chomsky because he is not actually an “expert” in geopolitics and because he is anti-American and anti-Zionist. The thing here is that Chomsky has never proclaimed himself to be an expert in geopolitics and he actually considers himself to be a Zionist and pro-America. True, Chomsky is an outspoken critic of the policies of the American government, but this doesn’t make him any more anti-American than the “pro-life” movement is. Further, Chomsky refers to himself as a Zionist in the sense that he adamantly supports an ethnic Jewish homeland in Palestine. As a youth he was involved in Zionist activism. However, he is against the notion that there should be a Jewish state of Israel, and this is where he has raised the fury of modern-day Zionists who have labeled him as anti-Zionist. I get the sense from Kepfan’s article that it is actually this latter point which bothers him the most about Chomsky.

  12. Whoops…Kanfer, Stefan Kanfer…not Kepfan.

  13. Chomsky may be one of those people who can’t shake of the certainty of his upbringing even though the positions he holds undermines the moral precepts that contribute to that certainty. You see this in Jewish intellectuals especially. They reason as if God exists, or at least within an assumption that order exists, while not believing in God at all. When you look at their history, you see they were raised in devout Jewish homes. I think too that someone who came of age before the 1960’s finds this easier to maintain as well.

    Chomsky can hardly be considered a harmless leftist though. He does have a history of apologizing for tyranny (like so many on the left unfortunately), incuding Pol Pot who he hailed as an enlightener of Cambodia.