Credibility Falls

How the mighty are fallen from earlier glory: in the 1990ies, CNN was the scrappy, creative underdog in the TV news business. No name anchors and reporters, bare-bones no-frills sets, go anywhere, cover anything reporters and camera crews. In the first Gulf War, they were Johnny-on-the spot and the news source to watch for war developments, if my memory serves. And now, some knowledgeable commenters and bloggers wonder openly if the only reason that CNN’s viewership isn’t crashing more steeply than has been reported is because of the channels’ ubiquity at airports and other public venues. Once upon a golden time, it seemed only logical for the owners/managers of airports and the like to have contracts with CNN, and no one objected much because it was CNN, a responsible and political neutral source of news.

Up until about a year ago, CNN was the channel of choice on the TV monitors in all the waiting areas in the military clinic and hospital where I partake of my retiree medical benefits. I couldn’t help thinking that CNN’s decidedly anti-Trump bias must have been an acute embarrassment to the military managers of those places, being that DJT was the commander in chief. Over the last year or so, CNN was replaced by the Home & Garden Channel, or an in-house military health information video feed in the public waiting areas. Having a round-the-clock cable diss of the commander in chief on TV in a military hospital … the dissonance must have been epic for the various military commanders of those activities.
Not just CNN has been shedding viewers like a deciduous tree sheds leaves in the fall – other media outlets are feeling the same pinch, according to this report. How many viewers are cutting the cable, in which CNN and ESPN are a prominent element of a cable package bundle, and how many are just not tuning in, or dropping a print subscription? A lot, one may be certain. A once-powerful weekly news roundup print magazine like Newsweek is famously priced at $1, and I am mildly surprised to see that their once-equally influential rival, Time, still exists in print. Internet news, and individual bloggers doing local or specific-interest reporting augmented those publications who had the foresight to set up on-line versions – but even some of the on-line-only publications are taking hits in the personnel department.

It is my estimation that over the last decade (and maybe for a decade before that) many consumers of news have now come to see the mainstream news media, of which CNN is an element, not as an honest broker of information, but as virulently partisan. We began to suspect that was the case, and developments like Rathergate confirmed it. How many times, we began to wonder, in comment threads and on blogs, and through alternate media, had we been either lied to, straight up, or had essential facts deliberately omitted from coverage of issues. This kind of doubt of the media used to be the territory of cranks and eccentrics; the kind of people who were convinced that the X-Files was a documentary. But now media distrust has gone mainstream. We know that they have been deliberately shaping the news, coordinating coverage and the editorial line, omitting coverage of stories judged to be counter to the established narrative. The most recent example has been Denver STEM high school shooting, which vanished from the mainstream media coverage almost as soon as it was realized that the shooters were a gay teen and a transgender with a violently-inclined illegal alien parent, that the students involved resisted at once … and resisted again when anti-gun crusaders attempted to use them as the centerpiece for a public pity party. That story is gone, gone, gone from the national media; and this when a previous school shooting in Broward County, Florida, rang all the establishment media’s preferred bells and coverage went on for days and days.

Discuss as you wish; how our national news media has descended into Pravda and Izvestia territory, how much farther can they sink, will they ever recover credibility, and which sources still maintain credibility.

21 thoughts on “Credibility Falls”

  1. Had some break work done recently. The TV in the waiting room at the Meineke was tuned to HGTV. In Austin, no less. It was very pleasant. We were able to sit there and make fun of the homes and their buyers and their sellers. Much better than CNN. When you’ve lost the waiting room at Meineke….

    The waiting room at my cardiologist was showing MeTV the last time I was there. They were showing an old Gabby Hayes movie which was really quite entertaining. Everyone in the waiting room was keeping an eye on Gabby. No CNN, probably because Gabby Hayes doesn’t tend to spark arguments in the waiting room.

    The Baylor Scott & White waiting rooms have repeating health tips. No CNN.

    Our favorite Mexican eatery shows soccer or telenovelas, so we’re good there. Mainly soccer. Like “Star Trek”, there’s a soccer game being televised at any time at any place in the world. No CNN. Sometimes Univision news, or whatever they call it, which is okay since the anchors are typically drop-dead gorgeous, even when I can’t understand what they’re saying.

    I was in the ER at a hospital in Southwest Austin and they had the Sci-Fi Channel. I was able to rewatch one of the best vintage Trek episodes ever; “The Doomsday Machine”. Even with a kidney stone it was still better than CNN.

  2. It’s still hard to believe how they destroyed ESPN. Sportscenter was once one of the great TV cable programs with its endless coverage of the day’s sports highlights. Turning it into an outlet for the anti-Trump resistance was one of the all time biggest media miscalculations.

    I saw a few weeks ago the announcment ESPN: The Magazine is being shut down. Apparently, it hasn’t turned a profit lately, and I’m not sure if it ever did. As a monthly competitor to Sports Illustrated, it was a confused, postmodern version of Life Magazine for sports. One weird feature they had was the ‘Body Issue”. It was their answer to the SI swim suit issue. Only problem was it featured both men and women athletes in various dynamic positions instead of the typical models on the beach. It came across as vaguely homoerotic/Hellenistic artsy. It was just bad, let’s put it that way.

  3. Most of the traditional media would have had a serious problem due to technological changes, even *absent* the runaway politicization. The politicization has made it much worst.

    I really do think there is an issue of fiduciary responsibility here. CNN is not somebody’s private hobby corporation, it is owned by AT&T.

  4. I read somewhere (here?) some months ago that for all the airport saturation, CNN pays them to keep their channel.

    My idea of purgatory is to be in God’s waiting room with CNN droning for an eternity.

  5. Except perhaps for a short time last century, the newspapers have always been virulently partisan–so much that to have half an idea what was going on you had to take two newspapers. Or you just took the one for your party, and learned all sorts of horrible things about the other guys.
    The great difference now is the lopsidedness of the media–it is hard to find different “newspapers” when they’re weighted 5:1 leftist. You need the net to find the rest of the story, and we take news-on-the-net so much for granted we forget most people don’t use it that way. I know people who sometimes read 1 book a year–they’re not likely to read Victor David Hanson online. If it isn’t on cable, or the clickbait pages, or maybe Facebook, it isn’t there.

  6. James….maybe the extreme bias could be justified from a business standpoint, using that precedent, if the network were doing well in viewership/financial terms…but it isn’t.

  7. Someone said that the most powerful force in human nature is self-justification, and I think second is status. If the money can’t buy you the status you crave, do you tell your fellow tribesmen where to get off, or forego some of the money in favor of having everybody applaud you? And its even harder to give up the applause if you have to admit you were wrong about something.

    It is also possible that the habits of mind demanded by denying reality in favor of your pet narratives eventually deprive you of the ability to think about those things at all. I don’t have solid evidence for that proposition, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. It seems analogous to alcoholic denial.

  8. I find that I can’t imagine ever again sitting for even a few minutes to listen to a “news cast”. This goes for Fox, CNN, and especially the big three networks. I’ll follow links to text but hardly ever watch or listen to media streams for information. As for text, if you haven’t drawn me in in the first 50 or so words, told me something that I believe, am interested in and didn’t already know, CNTRL W. The last local TV news I watched was in between the meteorologist showing how close a tornado was coming at me. On the other hand, not being aware of some developments for hours or even days after they happen doesn’t seem to have harmed either me or the world at large.

    I’ve said before that I’m probably flattering myself in believing that I can find the few kernels of fact in the flood of BS. The alternative would be work and watching machine tool videos.

    I found that I could no longer enjoy Clancy novels after 9-11. They were just too neat and pat when there was constant evidence that putting the world to rights was going to cost more than we imagined and, now, maybe more than we have.

    Newspapers go back only to the early 17th century with newspapers in England appearing only after the end of the Star Chamber in mid century. I doubt they’ll survive another 20 years and it looks like any sort of broadcast news isn’t in better shape. The time line of “objective” journalism starts much later and probably ended around 1990, maybe 50-60 years. The question is what will replace it? If all of us are only seeing what we explicitly choose, how will we know when to duck?

    Journalists thought they owned the truth and that they could pick and choose what parts of it to show the rest of us. In fact all they ever had was their credibility. Too many of us have seen behind the curtain. Politicians desperately want a handle to suppress “false news”. The existing media see an opening where they again become the trusted source of “real” news. They’ll gladly sell what’s left of their soul for a license to tell the rest of us what to think.

    The only way this can work is if they either build a wall that lets them control the information that their citizens see or convince everyone to go along. Google was accused of working to build a search engine that the Chinese government could easily control. What evidence is there that they were only going to deploy it in China? Surely, it would save them a lot of work guiding us here as well.

  9. Great column. I’m always amazed – and creeped out – by the uniformity and power of the MSM. They all march in lockstep – except for Fox somewhat – and all show the same stories from the same point of view. They have the power to pick out any incident in the USA, and decide whether its NEWS or not. And how long it stays NEWS.

    So, we all know about Ferguson and Trayvon Martin and Mr. Hogg of South Florida and Russia Collusion, etc. Things that the MSM doesn’t care about get Buried or have a short shelf life. Now, we’ve gotten to the point the WHO is committing the crime and WHO is the victim seems to be the most important thing. If you don’t fit “The Narrative” – well, your murder or rape or robbery just doesn’t matter that much. But if you’re the “right sort” of victim, you’ll be front page news.

    Look at that manufactured nonsense at Charlottsville. Or the Russia-Collusion Hoax. CNN is STILL headlining the Mueller investigation and General Flynn!

  10. “Newspapers go back only to the early 17th century with newspapers in England appearing only after the end of the Star Chamber in mid century. I doubt they’ll survive another 20 years and it looks like any sort of broadcast news isn’t in better shape.”

    The glory years of the newspapers were driven by a convergence of technologies: the high-speed printing press and the telegraph/teletype, supercharged by the linotype machine and the wirephoto process…plus near-universal literacy.

    The glory years of the TV networks were driven by the introduction of television technology (obviously) coupled with the high bandwidth requirements and the consequent limit on the number of channels, plus the very expensive coaxial cable and microwave networks required for national distribution of programs.

  11. FWIW, I am currently in Alaska after flights through the Austin, Seattle, and Anchorage airports. No ubiquitous CNN in any of them on the way up.

    Before the bias in the media was quite so apparent, there was the loss of actual NEWS. I canceled my subscription to the local paper a long time ago not because of the bias, but because they had basically quit covering local news. Everything in the main section of the paper was wire service material about national and international events that I’d already read online the day before. Metro (local) section was a handful of features, obits, and ads. The local alt-weekly did a far better job of covering local news, especially politics, albeit from a far-left perspective. But at least they were up front about their bias.

    Now a decade or so down the road, the major media has gone the same direction. Not only are they biased, but they don’t really report anything. They repackage press releases and show up at organized news conferences, but they don’t do any real reporting.

  12. At least the local Tucson paper covers local news and the weather. It is pretty left wing in editorial slant but that is to be expected in a college town.

  13. Watergate changed everything, no? If newspapers can be a tool to destroy your political opponent, that’s way more valuable than the “news”. I laugh when conservatives say that the MSM should burn sources who lie to them. Why do we pretend they care about accuracy? That’s not why the MSM exists. We should be actively helping to destroy the image they still use–for their own political purposes!–that they are “neutral”.

    As a business, once CNN got passed by Fox they should have gone full lefty, before MSNBC beat them to it. Their only reason to exist now is as a pretend neutral influencer of debate. Ratings aren’t what they’re going for now, nor is money actually. Influence is. Ditto for the other big national players. Bezos wanted to be a national player, not to get rich, when he bought the Washington Post.

  14. T-Mig, I quit my local newspaper for pretty much the same reason: everything they had aside from the strictly local was material I had already read, several days before. So … why? The slant of the editorial page was pretty leftish, with the exception of TH Fehrenbach, and he had mostly retired by then – and he died a few years later.
    I do miss the paper sometimes, though. Like when I have to spray paint something, and need to protect the surface that I am working on from extraneous paint.

  15. One thing that has really hurt the traditional newspapers is the rise of the ‘alternative’, hippie, newspapers. They generally cover the local entertainment scene, and also some local political coverage in a way that appeals to a certain substantial niche.

    And the rise of Craig’s List has been an absolute killer blow to classified advertising.

  16. All the little formerly local newspapers here in somewhat rural Illinoisy were bought up[ by the same left wing leaning chain and ruined. Each one prints the same editorials with a slight sprinkling of local news and sports. One reporter/photographer supposedly covers each village.

  17. James the lesser Says (@May 17th, 2019 at 6:25 pm):

    Except perhaps for a short time last century, the newspapers have always been virulently partisan…

    Newspapers were explicitly partisan from the Founding well into the 1900s. I had a high school history textbook, which had as one illustration a facsimile of the front page of the Chicago Times reporting some historic event which I don’t remember. What I do remember is this line on the masthead: “Loyal to the Democratic Party in victory and defeat!”

    I have no problem with that. What I object to is partisanship cloaked as “high-minded virtue” and “pragmatism”.

  18. When I was young there was only radio and newspapers. Everyone new which newspaper slanted which way. In most cities there were morning and evening editions, sometimes rivals in their politics. We had CBS, NBC ABC and a couple of others I don’t remember, but we did have choices.

    Now we know many of those old timers were manipulating the news too, but we did have manipulators on both sides of the aisle. Fox news is turning out to be a little more left leaning than before with Chris Wallace, Shepard Smith, and probably some others I don’t know of because I don’t watch but a few of their offerings.

    I watch c-span, read and follow links to videos that can show me what was really said, what the context was and what was going on when it was said. Was it a question answered? Was it a spontaneous or written speech? To get the truth we have to be diligent to look for it, it is probably not going to be freely given to us.

    It’s true there is no credibility in the news media.

    BTW, I think you could write a book about the town of Credibility Falls, it’s a nice title.

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