Too Much Information
During the 2008 election, I constantly harped on the St. Petersburg Times for what I considered to be their rather one-sided coverage. Naturally, I had expected the editorial page to take up the Obama mantle–but as the months went on, to see even the pretense of objectivity disappear from the news pages was disheartening to say the least. It wasn’t so much the leftist bias that bothered me, though. It was more the idea that the press, an institution considered so important by the Founding Fathers that they enshrined its rights in our Constitution, was so completely willing to toss away their freedoms in order to shill for their chosen candidate. That was the kind of thing that happened in banana republics, not the United States of America. Surely, reporters felt some obligation to the truth, right?
Well, that shows you how much I knew. Still, the whole business did a good job of unmasking the news media for what they really are: less of a watchdog and more of a lapdog, cheerleading for big government instead of holding it accountable. Recent developments have borne that out even further, particularly the Daily Caller articles exposing the glitterati at the Journolist for the brazenly partisan hacks that they are. That there was a coordinated effort among pundits, reporters and editors to downplay Barack Obama’s baggage shouldn’t come as any surprise, of course. I found it difficult to even work up a token outrage over the matter. Journalists are creatures of the left, after all; one might as well get angry at a dead fish for stinking. Again, what saddened me was the wholesale disregard for the truth, and the utter lack of concern over the dangers of a press carrying water for a political party.
Now juxtapose that with this recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Lee Bollinger–the president of Columbia University, no less–argues that in an era of increased competition from New Media, newspapers in America cannot survive unless they are subsidized by the government. Moreover, he views this as an essential public service, because only newspapers can provide the kind of thoughtful, in-depth coverage that people need in order to make fully informed decisions.
Set aside the concern over newspapers getting money from the very institutions they’re supposed to cover. In order to buy Bollinger’s thesis, you have to accept two things: 1) that the New Media is so filled with “noise” that it’s impossible for ordinary folks to obtain a firm grasp of events there; and 2) that newspapers are inherently superior because they’re staffed with professionals who can sort through all the chaff, check all the facts and give you an accurate presentation of the news. Now even if you accept the first proposition (and I’m not at all certain I do), the revelations from the Journolist obviously shoot down the second. Writers from mainstream news publications have already admitted their willingness–even eagerness–to spew propaganda in an attempt to shape public opinion. So what good are these professional news gatherers if what they provide us is a skewed and manipulative view of the facts?
I’d venture that the real problem with the Old Media lies with their product. In a nation where most of the population is center-right politically, most newspapers serve up a daily dish palatable mainly to those on the left. Put simply, they’re ignoring their audience, writing instead for insiders who share their monolithic views–and there aren’t enough of them to keep the business end viable. Giving newspapers tax dollars will only guarantee more of the same. That’s always what happens when you subsidize a product that nobody wants.
A more sound move would be to take a look at the newspapers that are turning a profit (the aforementioned Wall Street Journal being a prime example) and emulating their business models. And if that’s too complicated, they could try hiring editors who are more concerned about accuracy that advancing some political agenda. These editors should then send a clear message to their reporters: If you’re here to write about the news objectively, you’re welcome to stay. If you’re here to “make a difference” or “change the world,” get out. It’s really that simple.