Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The Framers of the Constitution knew the importance of having a free, unencumbered press that seeks out truth, regardless of what that truth is. The first amendment guarantees that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Front and center, number one. Right up there with freedom of religion and assembly, is the right of free speech, led by a free press.
Some of the worst atrocities in modern history have been propagated while the press has been asleep, neglecting their duty to expose the truth. The Framers knew the danger of a government-controlled press and how it amounts to nothing more than a propaganda machine for a particular passing regime.
As someone who cares about fair and truthful reporting (and a regular reader of Get Religion), I have been shocked and grieved by the voluntary negligence on the part of the mainstream media (MSM) during this presidential election to report fairly and truthfully. A few clarifications first: The mainstream media are the major (i.e., popular) media outlets that claim to offer balanced reporting of the news (“just the facts”). This exempts deliberately liberal outlets (e.g., Salon, The New Republic, Huffington Post) and the unashamedly conservative ones (e.g., The Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary).
To begin with, I don’t think newspapers endorsing candidates is a good idea. Besides turning off about 50% of their audience when they endorse, what kind of authority do they think they have to influence elections anyway? It was actually not surprising at all when the Washington Post and the New York Times endorsed their pick for the man they wanted to see as president. In fact, it only reinforced the notion that they had already been acting as cheerleaders for their favorite candidate. Disgusting, really.
Another good, recent example: Yesterday morning, the headline on the conservative (yet oracle-like) Drudge Report broke the news that an attentive citizen (not the press) had discovered a 2001 interview where one candidate for president was discussing his support for “redistribution of wealth.” To me, this sounds like a pretty newsworthy piece, especially in light of the recent Joe-the-Plumber, “socialist” controversy. But did any of the MSM (online) outlets carry stories about it? ABC News? CBS? CNN? MSNBC? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. Not a trace. Not a word. Sure, there were lots of stories about Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, but nothing so insignificant as an issue related to a candidate’s tax philosophy. The only reason I learned of this shocking story was through the National Review’s piece, linked by RealClearPolitics. Could it be that the MSM–whose erstwhile role is to be unencumbered in their presentation of truth–are covering for their man? Shameful, really.
This is not a criticism of one candidate or another. Not at all. My indictment is against the MSM. I fear that this election cycle will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I fear that the MSM has committed collective suicide. I fear that after this election is over, regardless of who wins, they will find themselves irrelevant and without an audience. They have proven to their supporters and detractors alike that they are biased, but not just biased like The American Spectator or Slate are biased. I mean hypocritically biased–using the pretension of truth-seeking to cover for plain old propaganda. The MSM have come out of the closet, and it will be nearly impossible for them to regain the public’s trust. So after this cycle, we will most likely be left with no evenhanded, balanced journalism out there. We will be left with just a spectrum of opinion outlets, each trying to advance some particular agenda. Disappointing, really.
Michael Malone, a respected technology reporter for ABC News (not exactly known for its right-wing stance), wrote a scathing indictment of the press’s bias during this election. Even Politico admitted to media bias, but tried to explain away the problem. Maybe this is all because of the passing of Modernism into Postmodernism; maybe the notion of “truth” that can be approximated by human observation is passe. But I still believe that the American people are best served by a free, impartial, first-amendment-based press.
Yet more evidence: Michael Graham, writing for the Boston Herald, posts the obituary for objective journalism. Jay Newton-Small laments the slide in the Associated Press, a venerable institution of hard reporting. And, by the way, why is Howard Fineman of MSNBC giving free consultation to one candidate on how to win? Has he done this for the other one, too?