Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Decline of U.S. Journalism

By Alan Caruba

I was looking forward to reading Tom Fenton’s “Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century”, a new book and part of a Fulcrum Publishing series called the “Speakers Corner”; short books on contemporary issues.

Fenton is a four-time Emmy winner from his years with CBS-TV news, but those years were during the era when Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather set the agenda and, as we now know, both were raving liberals and, in the case of Rather who was more or less forced to resign, his legal suit against CBS was recently dismissed. To learn more, read Bernie Goldberg’s book, “Bias”, that reveals how liberal the tilt to the news was when he was a CBS reporter.

All of the network news programs have suffered a loss of viewers as they flocked to Fox News Channel in search of “fair and balanced” reporting, leaving the cable news competitors, MSNBC, CNN, and others in the ratings dust.

These days Fenton, a foreign correspondent in his glory days, resides in London and is described as “a freelance commentator for the BBC and other media.”

The book arrived the same day The New York Times announced it was laying off another 150 staffers from its newsroom by year’s end. In the spring of 2008, it cut a hundred jobs, among which were 15 to 20 reporters. As the Times noted, “Nearly all papers in the metropolitan region have been cutting their news operations for years and some have fewer than half as many people in their newsrooms as they did in 2000.”

A free and independent Fourth Estate is essential to a democracy and it is typical of autocratic nations that newspapers and other media are controlled by the state. The loss of journalists means that the engines of government have fewer people to keep an eye on their machinations.

Sadly, though, Fenton uses much of his book to flay former President George W. Bush for all the ills of the world, repeating the criticisms of the decision to remove a depraved dictator, Saddam Hussein, from his rule over Iraq. Saddam had waged an eight-year war against Iran and, after that ended in a stalemate, he invaded Kuwait. Given his track record, he was a major destabilizing factor in a Middle East, as if it needs any more trouble than al Qaeda and the Taliban provide.

“Our media had lulled us into a false sense of security by feeding us a steady diet of junk news, celebrity gossip, health fads, and fluff rather than the real news we needed to keep us alert and our government on its toes,” writes Fenton and few will argue with that.

Fenton goes on to say that “the mainstream media have contributed to the public’s ignorance and disinterest in economic, government, and international news.” Most certainly, 9/11 stirred Americans from their disinterest in such matters, but eight years later, we are back to the endless silliness of celebrity news and the mindless nonsense of “reality” television.

As for the news business, Fenton calls it “sick, broken, and increasingly dysfunctional.”
For this he blames the economic stress that all news media are experiencing, but specifically cites the way, so far as television news is concerned, “News went from being the jewel in the crown to a profit center.” TV's evening news was almost entirely based on the morning’s headlines in The New York Times and Washington Post, notes Fenton.

When you consider that most of the large U.S. news organizations closed their foreign bureaus as a cost-saving measure, the news we receive from foreign nations is frequently not being generated by U.S. journalists. Do you really want to get news of the Middle East from al Jazeera?

The corruption of television news content has been well documented at this point. When Fenton sticks to the mechanics of news gathering he is on firm ground, but his book too often is a platform to lambaste the Bush administration; something he has in common with the Obama administration that has spent the last nine months blaming it for all the problems it was elected to solve.

One can only hope that the economic failures that have impacted the U.S. news media will be reversed sufficiently to allow it to hire back some of the thousands of journalists that have been laid off since 2008.

And one can only hope that the Obama administration will stop trying to distract us from its failures by attacking Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Channel.

In former times that was called censorship and in present times one has to wonder how much intimidation is involved in the failure of news organizations to investigate whether he is a natural born American, a Kenyan, or an Indonesian? Or raise serious questions about the coterie of deep-dish Leftists with whom he has surrounded himself.


Louise W said...

It's difficult to feel sympathy for the unemployed journalists if they are part and parcel of the U.S. newspapers' lack of real news reporting. If he/she was unhappy reporting only celebrity news etc. this would give the opportunity to change careers.

The newspaper industry hasn't reported "real" news in twenty years, or so it seems to me. The only newspaper I buy is the Sunday edition and that is so I can have the coupons!


Guy said...

And already, the rumblings of a call for a bailout for the media can be heard. You know what they say ... from each crisis comes great opportunity ...

The Obama administration will be all too happy to step in and "rescue" them from disaster. Letting our media fail would be terrible wouldn't it? Certainly the media is just as important to the country as our auto industry, isn't it? Letting the media fail could be a real catastrophe, couldn't it?

And, once the government bailouts begin, the game is pretty much over. We'll have the proverbial "kids running the candy store" and any hope of truthful and unbiased information will be a distant memory. The way I see it, reclaiming our media and educational systems are crucial if we have any hope of ever arresting our descent into the abyss of Socialism ...

Panamint Joe said...

I don't know what kind of people were journalists in the 1960's and earlier, but the ones who gravitated toward journalism when I was in high school in the late 1960's and early 1970's were the "C" and "D" performers, not bright enough or too lazy to try for the sciences or business. They're the crop that produced the useless newspapers and television news shows over the last 20-30 years and the same that the newsmedia are now laying off. Is it any wonder?