Sunday, May 10, 2009

Newspapers: The Credibility Question

By Alan Caruba

Of all the jobs I ever held, the ones I enjoyed the most were as a reporter for weekly and daily newspapers. Every day was different. You got to interview interesting people. You attended events. And then you got to write about all manner of things about which, as often as not, you had no clue.

As a rookie reporter in my early twenties, I learned “on the job” how a community was administered by a city council. I knew nothing about how businesses were run. On the subject of politics, I apparently was born a Democrat and liberal, so I didn’t question these biases. Mostly, reporting never seemed like “work.” You talked to people. You took notes. And you could even win awards on the state level because, if there is one thing the journalism community loves to do, it is to give out awards.

For example, have you ever wondered why The New York Times, Washington Post, and a handful of other dailies always seem to win Pulitzers? Occasionally some unknown reporter from some Midwest newspaper may pick up a Pulitzer, but it is almost always the same dailies. In 2008, the Washington Post won six Pulitzer Prizes out of fourteen categories, one of which didn’t give any award. The New York Times won two and the local reporting prize went to a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The trade magazine of newspapers is Editor & Publisher. In better times, it was fat with advertising. These days it is as thin as your local daily. Its writers are uniformly liberal in their outlook, but occasionally they rise from their stupor and wonder out loud why people no longer trust newspapers like they once did.

Greg Mitchell, E&P’s editor, recently noted that, “When the watchdogs are asleep, we all get robbed.” It bothered him greatly (me, too) that one in four Americans think that the “faux” news delivered by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert has replaced “real” news as viable outlets. From my occasional observations, both Comedy Channel shows offer the same liberal bias as the mainstream media.

C-Span recently aired a Writers Guild panel with several of the writers for the fake news shows and they unanimously said they regarded the shows as “entertainment” and seemed wary of the notion that anyone would consider their content as real news. This was disingenuous. They are well aware of the way they influence viewer’s perceptions of real events and personalities.

The stupidity level of too many Americans is demonstrated by the way they apparently are having difficulty differentiating between the idiocy offered by Stewart and Colbert, and what passes for news on the front and other pages of their daily newspaper. Stewart gained attention when he attacked the alleged financial pundit, Jim Cramer of CNBC, for having no idea why the nation lurched into a financial crisis.

The problem with Mitchell’s citation of Stewart is that, with few exceptions, just about the entire cadre of those assigned to cover business topics and all of those covering Congress rarely, if ever, identified the government as the chief culprit in the meltdown.

None cited the government’s interference in the housing market with laws intended to make owning a home a right that even low-income citizens could enjoy. They did not notice the rise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, owning fifty percent of all the mortgages made initially by banks and mortgage loan firms. Why was that? Because the government required them to lend billions in sub-prime loans. Then these two “government entities” took those bad loans, bundled them together, and sold them as “securitized” loans to hedge funds and others. They were essentially worthless. The banks got stuck with a lot of “toxic paper.”

Mitchell wrote that journalists essentially failed to adequately report about the Iraq War and the financial meltdown. As regards the former, I think the criticism is unfair. They reported what the government told them. They had few opportunities to determine if the intelligence being cited was accurate and we are all pretty much conditioned to believe the CIA and other government agencies. Even Colin Powell believed them enough to make the case for war in the United Nations.

As regards the financial meltdown, Mitchell is right. There were ample warnings, particularly in the financial press such as the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, as well as whole books written on the subject of the imbalances and risks inherent in the government’s role the housing market.

As Mitchell pointed out, “The media miss stories all the time, always have, always will, and there’s nothing to be ashamed about in that—you can only do so much, especially in a time of slashed newsroom staff. But to miss a story of this enormity, with consequences that will echo for decades, only adds weight to the warnings of doom for the ‘old’ media.”

Ironically, it is warnings of doom that have always dominated the “news.” To this day they still write about “global warming” despite ample evidence that the Earth has been cooling for a decade! Even the environmental groups that have foisted this hoax on us are quietly advising one another to change their terminology as the public grows wary of their lies.

The issue is credibility and the “old” media has been losing it now for years. The advent of the Internet, lively news and opinion websites, and bloggers, has released countless experts in various fields to write and be read regarding issues involving climate, immigration, national security, education, foreign affairs, politics, and countless other topics that touch our lives.

I no longer get my local daily delivered in the morning. And long before I stopped delivery, I had become painfully aware of how biased and often astonishingly uninformed or misinformed its reporting had become.

That’s particularly sad for me as I genuinely love newspapers. I will tell you this, however, after spending most of my working life as a public relations counselor, I have long since concluded that there would be no “news” if those of us providing it weren’t on the job.

In the end, the reporter’s job is not to trust us or any other source without personally verifying what we provide. As corny as it may seem, I always told clients that anything other than the truth would come back to bite them.

There’s an old newsroom piece of advice to which I still adhere. "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."


joelsk44039 said...

"The stupidity level of too many Americans is demonstrated by..."

their having elected a candidate with virtually no qualifications other than not being George W. Bush. We're all in for a "change," all right, but it's not the one we expected. Hold onto your seats, ladies and gentlemen, as the government which brought us the real estate crisis, the mortgage crisis, the banking crisis and the liquidity crisis now brings us the budget crisis and other crises not yet determined.

Brian G Valentine said...

Those problems are all Bush's fault.

Didn't you know that?

The RIGHT way to solve this financial crisis is to cap and trade tax carbon dioxide until utilities and industries go out of business and the the US government will have oodles of more dollars to hand out in welfare and to give to the Iranians to make them like us!

Alan Caruba said...

Brian, when the nice men in the white jackets show up, just go along with them. They want to take you to a place where you can have ice cream and cookies.

P.S. Is it really Bush's fault?

Brian G Valentine said...

That's what Obama says - don't you believe your President?

Necromancer said...

You guys are very funny today. Good article Alan.
Isn't there an old axiom or proverb that reads."Believe nothing of what you read;and half of what you see". Or something along those lines??

Alan Caruba said...

Yes, there is such a saying, but I don't know who said it or when. Sounds like something Mark Twain would advise.

Jesse said...

“He who controls the media controls the minds of the public” –Noam Chomsky

Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information - misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information - information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing."
-Neil PostmanThe source of Big Lie technique, from Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf:

... in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Adolf Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[1]

Brian G Valentine said...

Liberal PUKE media creates all Obama's script for him - so who's he lying to?

Obama isn't lying to the Washington Post or the New York Times

Alan Caruba said...

Obama doesn't have to lie to The New York Times or Washington Post. They have doing all the lying (and the cover up of the true facts about him)for him.

The NY Times has been a leader for decades in purveying the global warming lies.

It would be an insult to a canary to line its cage floor with either of these newspapers.

Brian G Valentine said...

Those yellow tabloids CREATED Obama.

He's mixture of Winston Churchill, FDR, Abe Lincoln of Illinois, Madame Curie, Mohandas Gandhi, John Adams, Saint Francis of Assisi, Fred Hampton, all the good parts of Hillary Clinton, and Walter Mondale.

Alan Caruba said...

Remember, Brian, Obama invented Obama with two memoirs that turned him into a national figure. If you want to read his actual biography, read Jerome Corsi's "Obama Nation."

Brian G Valentine said...

So what if he couldn't get the hang of being a playground supervisor?

Corsi is being way too harsh

Necromancer said...

Thank you Jesse. Very interesting. Alan it may have been Mark Twain not sure. I'll look it up after awhile.An insult to a canary is funny Alan. Or as Michelle Malkin has quoted a lot of times on her blog. The NYT wouldn't even make good fish wrapping paper.
Actually I get most of my info from blogs and certain web sites that I am sure all of you are familiar with and I seldom use the big sites such as cnn or fox and mostly never msnbc.Talk about biased. Wow!!!