This piece by David Broder of the Washington Post, “The Media, Losing Their Way,” couldn’t be more clueless if Richard Cohen had written it. Broder starts off on solid ground. He observes that “the American news media have been clobbered” in this election cycle, and he admits his “shame and embarrassment at our performance.” It is when he tries to analyze why the media has became such an embarrassment that Broder quickly loses the plot.
Broder thinks that the main culprits are (I kid you not) cable news networks, bloggers, and the influx of “political stars” into traditional television news organizations. With so much sensationalized information being doled out by people lacking credentials in journalism, it is no wonder that “old pros such as Dan Rather and former New York Times editor Howell Raines got caught up in this fevered atmosphere and let their standards slip.” It never occurs to Broder that bias may have played at least a bit part in the MSM’s self-destructive conduct. Or that the rise of cable news networks and serious blogs (none of whom seems to have up screwed up the way Rather did) is the effect of the MSM’s lack of responsibility, rather than its cause. Yet these are easily the most plausible explanations for the phenomena Broder decries. Consider this passage:
“Time was when any outfit such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that came around peddling an ad with implausible charges would have run into a hard-nosed reporter whose first questions — before he or she ran with the story — would have been, ‘Who the hell are you guys? What’s your angle? What’s your proof?’ Any Texan with a grudge against George Bush and the National Guard who suddenly produced a purported photocopy of an explosive 30-year-old order signed by a dead man would have been treated with the deep distrust he deserved by the reporters to whom he offered his wares. And no professional journalist would have made a call to the Kerry campaign encouraging a flack to contact this dubious source.”
But the reason why no hard-nosed reporter challenged the Swiftvets was not the existence of cable news or bloggers. If the old media were really under great pressure to compete with these sources, their representatives would have been all over the Swiftvets. No, the reason why the MSM didn’t jump on this story (as we predicted they wouldn’t) is because they thought it was in John Kerry’s interest to let the story die. Only when it became clear that this wouldn’t happen did the Washington Post make a run at discrediting the Swiftvets allegations. The reason why the Post and others didn’t get further in this endeavor is because most of the allegations have held up.
Broder’s discussion of the CBS story also contains its own refutation of his broader thesis. Broder is horrified that the network called the Kerry campaign to encourage it to contact Rather’s source. This clearly is not the fault of cable news organizations and bloggers. Nor does Broder provide any reason to believe that it had to do with the presence of “political stars” at CBS. How can Broder overlook the most obvious explanation for CBS’s contact with the Kerry campaign — that the two share a common objective?
Broder is an honest journalist — one of the “adults” of the MSM. But when the adults are this clueless, they cannot serve their adult function. That’s one of the reasons why school has been out at institutions like the Washington Post for years.
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