Decline of American News Media
A brief view of the most pressing problems relating to the decline in quality with American news sources.
Usually when we see a headline referring to the decline of American news media, we expect to see yet another bemoaning of the loss of print journalism in the face of pressure from internet and cable news sources. That loss may be real enough, but I would maintain that the decline of news media here is more pervasive and has as its root cause a decline in quality. Reporters and newsmen in general rarely seem to bother with checking their sources for credibility. Most recently, a State Department cable claiming that Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” was banned in Cuba was leaked (by wikileaks, of course) and both conservative and “liberal” news outlets carried it as fact without checking the reliability of the cable. This turns out to have been a mistake since it turns out the film played extensively in Cuba and was even aired on national Cuban television. This is just one example of failure on the part of American news outlets – lets take a look at a few others.
Coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has trickled down to an occasional blurb when the President or another administration or military figure makes claims of great progress in the war effort. Little is said about the increasing levels of violence, rising casualty rates to US troops and the decline in Afghani support for the American occupation. What reporting does come from the war is almost exclusively from “embedded” reporters who rely on the unit they are assigned to for all of their needs, particularly safety. It is very difficult to report problems with the American occupation forces when those same forces are seeing to your every need. Embedding reporters has been very successful – for the military which has used the technique to effectively control and censor all news coming out of war zones. The censorship is done by the reporters themselves who know which side they rely on for their needs.
Internet access has been a great boon to the general public for searching the latest information on a given topic. Unfortunately, it has had the opposite effect in the realm of news coverage. It was once the standard to verify details given on stories, as well as the stories themselves. The prevalence of “echo chambers” on the internet has made it easy for a reporter to check two or three sources of a story and the write it up as reliable. It is a little more difficult to find out if each of these sources is merely cutting and pasting from the same original bad source for the story.
The greatest problem with American news may be this whole “he said, she said” method of reporting which purports to retain objectivity. The problem with objectivity in reporting is that sometimes one side is just plain wrong and should be described as such. When conservatives opposed Health Care Reform, one of the more ridiculous claims made was that it would include “death panels” that would decide Grandma’s life or death based on a formula of some kind. First, no such provision existed in the package, and second the insurance companies which are the alternative already do that very thing. Rather than reporting this, the news coverage focused on the competing claims. If I claim that 1+1=2 and someone else claims it equals 52, should the headline really be “Disagreement over basic arithmetic among experts”? No – sometimes there is a right answer and it should be reported as such.
This same “objectivity” leads to problems when values are at stake. When reporting on poverty, the public would be better served by reporters who are unafraid of reflecting how immoral it seems that some starve while others live in luxury a stone’s throw away. The concern that a reporter must be neutral and objective is out of place, and is not practiced to the same extent in much of the rest of the world’s media. I have begun to search sources such as the BBC, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian to find out what is actually going on in America, and what intelligent people are saying about it.
Cover of Sicko (Special Edition)