Partisan to its core

Peggy Noonan on the MSM:

More and more and day by day the MSM is showing us that its response to the popularity of conservative media and the rise of alternative news sources is to become less carefully liberal. What in the past had to be hidden is now announced. . . .Fine with me, except that as a consumer of news I think they’re making a mistake. In a time of endless opinion, fact is king. Fact is rarer, harder to come by, more valuable. If only the MSM understood what money and power there are to be had from being famously nonideological, from being a famously reliable pursuer and presenter of fact. Wouldn’t it be great if that were the next new thing?

I’ve made the same point in speeches and to a skeptical George Stephanopoulos when he interviewed me for an ABC documentary. Business consultants say that when an enterprise is struggling, the best strategy usually is to return to the core — in fact, the business probably struggles precisely because it has neglected its core. The core of the news business (at least in theory) is objective, neutral reporting. Moreover, as Noonan suggests, this is the one thing that new media, especially blogs, can’t seem to supply. The blogosphere can provide almost everything the MSM does, but blogs aren’t neutral because blogging is an activity for passionate partisans. Nearly all major blogs are staunchly liberal or conservative. Those that seem to be in the center are centrist only in the sense that they are ardently left of center on some issues and ardently right of center on others (think of Andrew Sullivan).

The MSM can’t top new media when it comes to partisanship, so why not react to the competitive threat by becoming less partisan? The MSM could still scratch its partisan itch through on-line opinion sections, blogs, and so forth. The future media paradigm is likely to involve a core on-line publication surrounded by satellites. The MSM’s best move would to make the core publication neutral and do whatever with the satellites.

But I don’t think that’s how the MSM will play it. Why? Because the people who run and produce it are passionate partisans to almost the same degree as bloggers.


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