What do conservatives and progressives have in common? Besides the fact that both belong to the human race, they both hold the main-stream media in utter contempt. Of course for conservatives, their contempt is based on a belief that the main-stream media are a bunch of liberal-leaning elitist apologists for Obama and the Democratic Party; for progressives, the contempt is just the opposite. In their view, the main-stream media, in a feeble attempt to appear non-partisan, have not done a good enough job at, well, doing their jobs, i.e., digging for the truth.
Case in point, on today’s Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory was interviewing Republican candidate for president Newt Gingrich. When asked how he would balance the budget without at least considering the idea of raising taxes, Gingrich said under no circumstances would he consider that as an option. He then pointed to his successes in the ‘90s when they were able to balance the budget. At that precise moment, Gregory had an opportunity to ask the follow up question of the year, by bringing up the fact that one of the keys to that balanced budget was the fact that the top marginal tax rate back then was 39.6%. Gregory punted.
I’ve been seeing this a lot over the last few years – and not just Gregory (Can somebody please tell me what John King does for a living?) – and I’ve come to one unalterable and inescapable conclusion: The entire industry is just inept. In fact, I’m not even sure if inept adequately nails it. Fact is I could run out of adjectives to describe the decline in broadcast journalism, that’s how much it has fallen off over the last decade or so. With a few notable exceptions (most of them on PBS) what passes for journalistic integrity these days would make the likes of Cronkite, Sevareid and Murrow spin in their graves. The irony is that if you want to see truly excellent broadcast journalism these days, you needn’t bother tuning into CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN or MSNBC. Just set your dial to the Comedy Channel and watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In 30 minutes you’ll get more probative questions and thought-provoking topics than all the previous channels combined would bring you in 24 hours. And you’ll laugh your ass off to boot. Not content with just 30 minutes? Keep your dial right where it is and The Colbert Report will fill your tank the rest of the way.
That has to be the saddest commentary on an industry that only a few decades ago was the envy of the world. A lot has changed since the days when Cronkite and Sevareid dominated the airwaves. The internet, cable news channels, all have played a part in the watering down of this industry. But if you want my honest opinion, I think a lot of this comes down to dollars and cents. In the pioneering days, the networks knew full well that their news divisions were money losers. The profit end was left to the entertainment divisions. The integrity of news was considered sacrosanct, untouchable, a public service and trust. Ever since the ‘80s that mindset has flown the coop, replaced by a carnivorous, cut-throat mentality. News directors suddenly found themselves needing to compete, ratings wise, within their own network's entertainment divisions. The CBS Evening News had to at least hold its own against the Cosby Show. Once cable news took hold, it was off to the races. The cancer fully metastasized by the ‘90s.
Today what we are left with is a mere shell of what was once a proud and noble profession. The world has turned completely on its head and we have gotten exactly what we’ve paid for. News is now entertainment, made of profit and for profit. Ironic isn’t it. Time was when we’d turn on the news to learn about the world we live in, and then watch the comedy shows to allow us to escape from it. Now comedians, who are supposed to make us laugh, end up making us think and journalists, who are supposed to make us think, end up making us laugh … and cry.
For now, I'll leave you with the farewell broadcast of Eric Sevareid. His wisdom and grace knew no equal. Oh how the mighty have fallen!