Ed Driscoll

Dispatches From The Ministry Of Truth

James Bowman spots a bit of — shocker! — doublethink in the legacy media as they ponder their bleak future:

Frank Rich in his Times column the week before last wrote that, “If you wanted to pick the moment when the American news business went on suicide watch, it was almost exactly three years ago. That’s when Stephen Colbert, appearing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, delivered a monologue accusing his hosts of being stenographers who had, in essence, let the Bush White House get away with murder (or at least the war in Iraq).” In other words, all those people who don’t bother with the Times and the rest of the print media anymore are abandoning them because they believe them to have been such suck-ups to the late Bush administration! What world are these people living in?

Bowman links to Melik Kaylan of Forbes, who explores “How The Media Did Itself In”:

Let me present those examples starkly in bullet points so they can be virally transmitted à la Colbert. They are not mere journalistic mistakes or minor oversights. They suggest huge systemic flaws. The media did not foresee:

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall
  • The 9/11 attacks
  • The 2008 Wall Street meltdown

There is another collapse that the news media did not foresee–its own. [GTMA–Ed] Also easily enough predicted, you might think, considering the sorry record above. But predictably, it didn’t foresee that either. As far as one can tell, nobody in the industry has a plausible sense of how or why or when the slow fade began. Why would they? Insularity and collegial ignorance are the wares they peddled in the thoroughfares. They believed in their product.

To understand the process–all these debacles had a long history–one must go back to the era of President Ronald Reagan. The entire news media opposed him on his tough stance toward the Soviet Union, on his deployment of missile defense in the U.K., his hard-nosed treatment of Gorbachev and the like. The country, though, supported him. And when he proved right in the long term, news consumers concluded that the “real news” they’d been getting had contained a great deal of opinion all along, a bias in short. It didn’t take long for the public to seek out sources of pure opinion to straighten out the slant of the news.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, one heard no grand industry mea culpa over getting it wrong (as one later heard noisily over Iraq and the WMDs). Instead, throughout the Clinton era, the news media turned to lifestyle, gossip, health, news-you-can-use and, above all, celebrity. The outside world intruded annoyingly with the Balkan wars, Somalia and the like, but only as a distraction. So when 9/11 happened, the public again felt uninformed and cheated by its own media. Some print and TV news organs had to send fashion editors to cover Afghanistan because they had let go of their foreign news staff.

The Reagan years also ushered in the distrust of the Eastern-seaboard intellectual elites. President Reagan understood and exploited the great divide between the heartland and the custodians of news, who were chiefly in New York. The two sides saw two different Americas. Journalists and the institutions that formed their ideas saw a country composed largely of wronged minorities with fascinating grievances. Much of the country saw itself as a unified coherent nation with its traditions under siege from insular power blocs who were back-scratching each other all the way up and down the seaboards. Out of that disconnect grew the success of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Fox News, the blogosphere and the great decentralizing force of the alternative media.

The decline of old media is as much about “flyover” America finding its voice–against the insularity of New York and environs–as it is about the Internet.

Read the whole thing.

Related: Roger Kimball notes a “Spoke In The News Cycle.”