WASHINGTON (gorewon2000.net) January 26, 2001 -- Remember the good old days, when issues were probed, positions debated, and controversies explored? What happened to the Fourth Estate?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, the deterioration of American journalism. I am old enough (35 to be exact) to remember Phil Donohue's daytime talk show. While it was lampooned as "trash" in its day, and it did have its fair share of dick-dancers and neo-Nazi nutcases, it also had incredibly hard-hitting subject matter -- from foreign investigations and domestic policy debates, to consumer advocacy and scientific roundtables.NEXT: "RESISTANCE-WARE" THE BBBR MALL
I also remember Michael Kinsley. He was the co-host of Crossfire way back when the person "from the left" was a person from the left. Kinsley was brilliant in that chair, sitting across from headcases like Pat Buchanan, and arguing the liberal point of view eloquently and unapologetically. There wasn't a subject on earth (except maybe "Dangerous Toys") that Michael didn't seem to know inside-out, upside-down, and backwards-forwards.
I learned an awful lot from watching journalists like Kinsley and Donohue -- things like how easy it is for "common sense" to be wrong, and how important it is to question everything, every assumption -- although I doubt they were even considered journalists in the pure sense of the word back then, a term reserved for investigative journalists and not talking heads.
After that period, America seemed to cycle down into "soundbite journalism." Ten- to thirty-second soundbites were the order of the day, with the resultant hue-and-cry that this heralded the death of journalism. I didn't like that development, but smart public figures seemed to be able to get their point across fairly well in that telescoped journalistic atmosphere. Thirty seconds is a good chunk of time. (Go ahead, time it. Talk for thirty seconds, and you will see what I mean.)
But right around that same time, I also started to see "dueling adversaries," sans fact-checking. This was the journalistic development that alarmed me the most. Two spokespersons would be on the air, saying exactly opposite things about matters of fact (not opinion), and the reporter/referee stayed neutral. Completely neutral. Now, the factual claims being made were mutually exclusive, so one of those spokespersons had to be lying. But the media seemed to have made a decision that all statements are equal, and that lies deserve as much reverence and respect as the truth. The media became PR spin outlets, and that was the death of my respect for them.
And today? Well, today the only passion the media seems to have is for financial markets reporting, which has become their new "sports" reporting. (I never could understand how sports merited the same status as weather when it came to the news, by the way.) It is as though the entire media establishment has been taken over by compulsive gamblers, who just can't get enough of the roller-coaster wheeling-and-dealing on Wall Street. They cover e-mail scams to pump up stock offerings with more diligence than they pursue the Florida debacle. Politics, on the other hand, has become just another game for them to cover, complete with "color men" who call the play-by-play, and pollsters who keep the score. No one really talks about public policy, or the underpinnings of policy debates. No one.
Soundbite journalism, which I never thought I would miss, has been replaced with Sports Center journalism. It's all about the game, the contest, the personalities, the players. Nobody's eyes are on the ball: the American people and their way of life. We've gotten lost in the shuffle, and so has any meaningful discussion of our nation's foundation and direction. You can call it a "dumbing-down." I call it the death of journalism. (See www.fair.org)