Mark the calendar. August 2004 is the first time that the major mainline media — CBSNBCABCNEWYORKTIMESWASHINGTONPOST
PRESSETC. — ignored a news story that nonetheless became known by two-thirds of the country within two weeks of it being mentioned by the “marginal” press.
It was only after a CBS poll showed that Kerry had lost a net 14 percent of the veteran’s vote to Bush — without aid of major media coverage or substantial national advertising — that the major media outlets began to lumber, resentfully, in the vague direction of the story. And even then, they hardly engaged themselves in the spirit of objective journalism.
According to Editor and Publisher, the respected voice of official big-time journalism: “Chicago Tribune managing editor James O’Shea tells Joe Strupp the Swift Boat controversy may be an instance of a growing problem for newspapers in the expanding media world — being forced to follow a questionable story because non-print outlets have made it an issue. “There are too many places for people to get information,” says O’Shea. “I don’t think newspapers can be gatekeepers anymore — to say this is wrong, and we will ignore it. Now we have to say this is wrong, and here is why.”
Now, there are two revealing statements there. First, it is odd to see Mr. O’Shea, an official, credentialed seeker of truth, complaining about “too many places for people to get information.” He sounds like a resentful old apparatchik glaring at a Xerox machine in the dying days of the Soviet Union.
The second noteworthy statement is the hilarious complaint that they can no longer merely think a story is wrong and ignore it: “Now we have to say this is wrong, and here is why.” It apparently escaped his thought process that if he hadn’t yet investigated the story, it might not be “wrong.” A seeker of truth in a competitive environment might have phrased the sentence: “Now we will have to report it to determine if it is right or wrong.”
So far, the only media figure to directly ask Kerry about Cambodia in light of the Swift Boat Vets’ ads has been Jon Stewart–a comedian!–and even he got a non-answer. It’s obvious to anyone watching the media are not, to use Blankley’s phrase “seekers of truth”, but are as James O’Shea of the Trib noted, unwittingly, but quite accurately, gatekeepers.
Kerry may still win, but so far the media have been enormous losers in this election year. As James Lileks recently wrote, “The 2004 election may be the last presidential contest in which the mainstream media sets the agenda.”
Update: “Slow, biased, and stupid is no way to go through life“.
Another Update: Hugh Hewitt writes, “The only difference between professional and amateur journalists is that the former get paid to practice their trade. As with athletes, the purer effort comes with the amateurs, though some of the pros keep their ideals front and center.”