I was always a bit cynical about the major media news organs, thanks to twenty years in military public affairs, and the related field of military broadcasting. That is, I didn’t expect much of the poor darlings when it came around to dealing with matters military. The military and all its works and all its strange ways were terra incognita to all but a handful of mainstream media personalities and reporters, all during the 1970s, the 1980s and into the 1990s. Stories of media misconduct were fairly common among us; attempted checkbook journalism, howling misstatements of fact, generalized anti-military bigotry, pre-existing biases just looking for a whisper of confirmation … all that and more were the stuff of military public affairs legend. I expect that most media reporters and editors just naturally expected military personnel, pace Platoon and other Vietnam-era movies, to be drug-addled, barely competent, marginally criminal, knuckle-dragging morons. The air of pleasurable surprise and relief almost universally displayed by various deployed reporters during the First Gulf War, upon discovering this was not so – that in fact, most members of the military were articulate, polite, competent professionals – was one that I noted at the time, and found to be bitterly amusing.
So the usual mainstream civilian media tool didn’t know bupkis about the military: this was not a shock to me. Most other dedicated civilians didn’t know all that much, either. As Arthur Hadley noted, it was a whole parallel world, what he called the “Other America of Defense.” It did come as a bit of a disheartening surprise, discovering that the mainstream media didn’t actually know much about anything else, either — and that over the last decade or so, they’ve been frittering away the credibility and respect accumulated since the middle of last century. It shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise – but it did. Especially to one raised in the baby-boom generation, with the high standards of Edward Morrow always before me, who grew up reading the LA Times when that paper was at the very top of it’s form, journalistically speaking, who had subscriptions to practically every news and commentary magazine going, from Time and Newsweek, to Mother Jones and the Village Voice, Utne Reader, US News and World Report, Brill’s Content, Spy, Harper’s and Atlantic … even the Guardian, courtesy of an English friend. I had a local newspaper subscription, and raised heck if it wasn’t delivered promoptly. I loved NPR and even watched the Today Show – well, that was part of my job, then. I once thought well of the mainstream media. There, I said it. The Fourth Estate, essential in a democracy to keep the public well-informed regarding important issues, our last defense against political malfeasance and corporate shenanigans … all of that inclined me to hold the media in moderate regard. That they might have a particular editorial slant, politically one way or the other, that reporters might be mistaken, or flat-out misinformed by their sources … that I accepted. Like many another news consumer, I rather expected that eventually, the truth would out.
And then … the shark was jumped. Or actually, double jumped, with a half-gainer in between, and I’ve been hardly viewed established news media outlets with favor ever since. More than that – I’ve no subscriptions to any of the above listed publications, some of them because they’re no longer available, but mostly because they’ve dwindled in importance and credibility. They have nothing much to say that I can’t get from various news aggregate websites or special-interest blogs … or because something in a story, or in an editorial pissed me off beyond forgiveness.
Rathergate: that was the first shark-leap, and the audacity of it just about took my breath away, once I considered the implications; a bare-faced attempt by a supposedly reputable news organization, to throw a presidential election, barely days before the polls opened, using a story based upon a faked document with a deeply suspicious provenance. That someone like Dan Rather would rush to broadcast that story meant something sinister was afoot in media-land. Once that of worms was opened, and doubts began to multiply, there was no going back for me. The well was poisoned.
The second was what I began calling the Affair of the Danish Cartoons, or the Mo’Toons O’Doom; when the fearless guardians of the American public’s right to know … caved like a soggy macaroon when given the opportunity to print or post a dozen fairly innocuous cartoons satirizing the fear of … publishing drawings of Mohammed. Well, yeah – there would be threats from the perennially offended adherents of the Religion of Peace, but I had halfway expected our fearless members of the Fourth Estate to display evidence of having a pair. Instead, craven retreat, following a sprinkle of excuses.
And it’s been straight downhill, ever since: Journolist, the Global Warmening Scam, serving as the Obama Administrations’ public affairs arm, sliming the Tea Parties and lauding OWS – the list goes on. And this week, there was a poor schmuck going door to door, trying to sell newspaper subscriptions for the Sunday San Antonio Express News. It was most sad, actually: his main pitch was the many valuable grocery coupons in the Sunday paper. I wish I had thought to tell him that we don’t use coupons much, but if they ever went to printing the paper on soft absorbent tissue, then at least we would have some use for it all.
(Cross posted at The Daily Brief)