David Broder said it well: “Once upon a time, the media knew better. The first sign of wavering confidence came when news organizations began offering their most prestigious and visible jobs not to people deeply imbued with the culture and values of newsrooms, but to stars imported from the political world.”
In the wake of the Dan Rather/CBS/National Guard memo scandal, one wonders with Broder, in effect, how CBS would have conducted their due diligence on the story or responded to the egregious error in judgment in the age of Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle, et al? We can speculate, but unfortunately there are fewer and fewer of us around who remember when the major news organizations were staffed by people who had been tested on city hall and local police beats under severe scrutiny from experienced and skeptical editors. More importantly, these were people who primarily came from the American experience themselves, before the proliferation of schools of journalism and public affairs where they are more likely to be advised that their mission is to change the world, not report it, and, in too many instances, that loyalty to their profession and to “history” trump loyalty to their country.
More than anything else, the CBS story is one of the terminal arrogance of the old 20th century institution of mass communication that is in steep decline and of the liberal/left dominance of that institution. And as Bernard Goldberg has so well described in his two recent books on the subject, big media leadership is completely oblivious to its own bias and arrogance. I believe this blindness lies in a condition deeply embedded in the pathology of the left that allows and condones a duplicity and double standard in the processing of reporting and the shaping of messages in the public square that they don’t even recognize because they are so seldom exposed to voices of introspection from their peers. This is, I think, primarily based on the presumed sanctity of their good intentions and is manifest in any number of examples wherein the service of well-intentioned ends justifies almost any means (think of the Al Sharpton/Tawana Brawley case, Clinton’s lies about “personal matters”, Michael Moore’s “documentary” film, and the characterization of George Bush as a “divider” on “wedge issues”, among many others).
The triumph of the underground media, the bloggers, the talk shows, the small opinion journals, and, generally, the “counter-establishment” media in this instance has been heralded as a watershed, a revolution in news, a “big cultural moment”, as the Wall Street Journal described it. But Alvin Toffler predicted it over twenty years ago in his book, The Third Wave, wherein he describes for us the inevitable loss of influence of mass media in what he called the “de-massification” of information, beginning with the decline of the major newspapers, mass market magazines, and even the major television networks in favor of niche publications and other delivery systems aimed at special interest, regional, and local markets. And this was before CNN, the explosion of cable TV, talk radio, and certainly the Internet! Most importantly, what all this means for the big media elites is that they can no longer manage images, shape content and presentation, and control opinion with impunity, which is a refreshing and long overdue development.