Long before JournoList, if you’ve ever thought that the MSM functioned as a giant echo chamber, to the point where it seems like a parallel universe to reality as you know it to be true, blame the wire services and the New York Times.
In Bernard Goldberg’s 2003 book titled Arrogance, there’s a chapter titled “Root Causes”, which begins with first a TV cameraman stationed in the Persian Gulf who videotapes an oil tanker being attacked in the Iran-Iraq War, and then a CBS journalist working in Los Angeles who witnesses the massive 1971 L.A. earthquake, and describes both men calling into their network HQs in New York to tell their bosses that their networks are sitting on potential scoops if they act fast. And in both cases, the head honchos in the TV news divisions wouldn’t touch either story until the wire services reported them first, despite the opportunity of actually having breaking news to report first–which most laymen understandably assume is a prime goal of everyone in the news business, no matter what the medium they work in.
But powerful as print is in general, and as powerful as the wire services are in particular, nothing-absolutely-nothing-carries nearly as much weight in network television newsrooms as the New York Times. There are too many examples to count where television reporters appropriated (read stole) story ideas from local newspapers in their region and pitched them to their bosses, the executive producers of the network evening newscasts in New York, who turned the stories down, until…until they ran in the New York Times, the wall scratcher of record.
Mike Wallace told a producer who is a close friend of mine that he wasn’t comfortable with a certain story my producer pal was looking into. “What would make you comfortable?”, he asked Wallace. “To read it in the New York Times,” Wallace said. Nine months later-nine months after CBS News began checking the story out-the Times got around to doing it. Wallace, true to his word, suddenly was interested, and they went out and did the story for 60 Minutes. That’s what the New York Times means for television journalists, even those of Mike Wallace’s stature.
“Once the Times runs a story on page one,” that veteran cameraman told me, “We’re told to run out and do it!”
Which makes Nicholas Kristoff’s latest essay in the Gray Lady all the more ironic:
[T]here’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.
And nowhere does the echo reverberate louder than in the offices of the Times and the network news divisions that orbit around it.