Expect to see a lot of chatter today and tomorrow over the just-released Pew study of news audience attitudes. Howie Kurtz has a rundown in today’s Washington Post, including some crowing from various network/newspaper PR flacks about the results. One of those, from CNN’s Matthew Furman, struck me in particular:
“We’re obviously pleased — once again we’ve been voted the most trusted news organization in America.”
Man, you talk about burying the lede. That’s like being ranked “the most successful professional football team in Atlanta.” According to the Pew survey, less than one-third of those “able to rate” CNN said that they believe “all or most of what they see” on the network.
Memo to Matthew Furman: When 68% of your potential audience doesn’t trust you, you don’t have any reason to brag.
Daaaaamn right, as Isaac Hayes would say.
While part of the reason for this lack of trust is that viewers and readers now have more options available to them, there’s another reason why. While Bernard Goldberg did yeoman work in Bias and Arrogance to expose many of the medias’ follies, William McGowan’s Coloring The News is in some ways more impressive. Goldberg showed the rest of the world that bias in journalism exists, something that conservatives have been railing about since the days of the “nattering nabobs of negativism” speech by Spiro Agnew (and written by Bill Safire). And for that, he should be commended.
What McGowan (a self-professed liberal like Goldberg, incidentally) did is a bit more subtle, which is why his book has gotten less attention that Goldberg’s two titles.
The title of his book is somewhat of a misnomer. While it does talk extensively of how the press covers (and in many cases avoids) racial issues, what it’s really about is how, by drinking the politically correct Kool-Aide (and gallons of it) in the late ’80s, the press took a hard left turn, and went from doing straight reporting to frequently turning routine stories into activist journalism. And this was after the majority of the country elected a conservative president, and the man who campaigned as his successor, in three blow-out victories. (And don’t forget, Bill Clinton ran as a “New Democrat”, and frequently governed as such–voting for such conservative issues as NAFTA and welfare reform, and was far more fiscally restrained–after the Hillarycare debacle of course–than most previous Democratic presidents had been.)
What the press didn’t count on was that by the late ’90s, there’d be so many choices available via the Internet and cable TV. And as the late Robert Bartley said only a couple of years ago:
“If it finds the mainstream press lacking, the public will simply find its own sources of information–as declining readership and network news ratings suggest is already happening.”
So I’m not surprised to see, as Will Collier wrote:
For all intents and purposes, more than half of the populace (everybody except partisan Democrats, and even their numbers for credibility are nothing for most of the press to brag about) has written off the vast majority of the national press. And they’re doing so because they believe that the press has written them off.
Things have gotten to the point where the President of the United States sees no reason not to ignore the networks and the New York Times. If the coin of your realm is trust, and influence is what you buy with that coin, what do today’s viewership realities say about the state of the realm?
That a lot of people have their head in sand. And it’s going to years for them to come up for air (and that doesn’t even take into consideration CNN’s own enormous credibility problem with Iraq). In the meantime, as Bernard Goldberg told me:
I’ll give you a quote from paragraph one of Arrogance:
If the media elites don’t start to listen to reasonable criticism about them, they’re going to become the journalistic equivalent of the leisure suit: harmless enough, but hopelessly out of date.
The reason why I called that book Arrogance is that these people don’t listen to anybody. They don’t listen to any criticism! If you point something out to them, they say, “this proves that you’re the one with the bias problem”.
If they continue that, they will be less relevant next year then they are this year, and less relevant two years from now than they will be next year. They’re becoming less and less relevant. And proof of this is that once upon a time, not ten thousand years ago, but just in the recent past, the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite. Does anybody, no matter what his or her politics are, does anybody think that Americans would pick one of the three network anchors as one of the most trusted men in America today? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
So they’re losing their clout, they’re losing their influence, they’re losing their relevance, and they continue to fiddle while Rome is burning. They are so arrogant that they can’t see straight, and I think it’s going to cost them.