The declining fortunes of the mainstream mass media
Let us address the declining fortunes of today’s mainstream mass media.
(Yes, I can hear your pained screams of “Nooooo … we don’t want to!” We really must, however, because it’s not about them, but us — about our ability to be at least quasi-informed about who’s-doing-what-to-whom-and-why, in order for us to be a self-governing people. So buckle-up, here we go.)
The honchos of America’s establishment mass media are quick to blame such external causes as the Internet for their problems. But if they looked internally, they might notice that they’re damn near eaten-up with a bad case of conventional wisdomitis. The problem with conventional wisdom is that more often than not it’s nothing more than the contrived “wisdom” of the corporate powers.
Ironically, this narrow perspective not only afflicts their delivery of the news, but also their business model. For example, with newspaper readership declining, the accepted industry response by owners and publishers has been to fire beat reporters, shrink the news hole, reduce reporting to rewriting of wire service articles — and then run hokey PR campaigns hyping the shriveled product as “Real News.”
But here’s a bit of real news that very few newspapers have mentioned: The new owners of the Orange County Register are blazing a contrarian path toward their paper’s revival and prosperity. They’re expanding the Register’s news staff, its coverage and the paper’s size, doubling the editorial page and adding more sections. Editor Ken Brusic notes that offering less to subscribers and charging more not only is a rip-off and an insult to readers, but a sure path to failure. “So,” he says, “we’re now offering more.”
Gosh — hire real watchdog reporters, dig out real news and actually try to make the paper real to local readers — what a novel notion for a news business! Unsurprisingly, the mass media conventional wisdomites are sneering at the Register’s nonconformist effort. “It’s not what most people are doing,” said one analyst of the media business.
Exactly! And that’s why it’s so promising!
Of course, getting in the face of power and defying the conventional wisdom can be a poor career move. You can quickly begin feeling like B. B. King, when he sings, “No one loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’, too.”
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein now know that lonely feeling. This teamed-up pair of political partisan observers have long been esteemed peers of the Washington punditry class. Cautious, middle-of-the-road, think-tank conservatives, they were popular on the insider talk-show circuit as reliable voices of conventional thinking. Until they went rogue.
In assessing the 2012 election, Mann and Ornstein have charged that the elite media deliberately failed to cover the biggest story of all — namely that the Republican Party and its nominees were flagrantly running a campaign of lies.
The duo was surprisingly blunt, noting that the GOP was not just practicing politics as usual, with a fib here and a prevarication there, but an orchestrated strategy of dumping bald-faced fabrications wholesale on the voting public.
“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” said Ornstein.
While the Democrats, too, tossed out some falsehoods, there was no comparison between them and the Republicans’ intentional, ideologically extreme perversion “of facts, evidence and science.” Yet reporters and their bosses in the mass media, so fearful of being accused of taking sides, failed to make a distinction — which, after all, is their job.
“They’re so timid,” Mann said — and a timid press is a weak one. “You’re failing in your fundamental responsibility,” Ornstein said of them, asking the obvious question: “What are you there for? Your obvious job is to report the truth.”
For daring to tell the truth about the media’s abject failure, Mann and Ornstein have been blackballed. They’re no longer invited to talk on the inside-politics shows, nor have those shows even mentioned the mass media’s pusillanimous role in abetting the Big Lies of 2012.