George Stephanopoulos expressed surprise when he and the ABC crew came under fire for their conduct of the recent presidential debate. But his being caught off guard by the barrage of criticism epitomizes the sad state of the traditional media these days. They are out of touch, unable to adjust to the realities of our society and the media landscape.
As the media grapples with how best to adjust to the online world, broadcast news in particular is facing its demise. These media companies continue to parade pundits onto our screens, telling us what is supposed to be important. But it isn’t resonating with the general public, which has bigger concerns than lapel flag pins. Just as the beltway insiders were shocked by the denunciation of the recent debate, so too are broadcasters at their growing irrelevance.
Frustration with media inconsistencies has been a significant factor in the rise of the political blogosphere. As media conglomerates gobble up more entities, the focus has been the bottom line rather than the public good.
At the same time, though, the importance of journalism in our democracy is just as important than ever. While talking heads, commentators, pundits and experts are undermining the impact of broadcast news, the actual reporters are often doing excellent work that is crucial to our society.
The New York Times expose on television’s military analysts underscores both the mockery of broadcast news and the significance of quality reporting. The networks perpetually feature former generals as experts on military matters, but the sage commentary is far from objective. The Times story shows that these military analysts were actually puppets of the Bush administration, endorsing the march to and conduct of the war, and offering little criticism, even as public support for the war has waned. Furthermore, most of these experts had a financial interest in currying favor with the Pentagon and beating the war drums; they work for defense and other contractors who benefit from being friendly with the neocons.
The networks hiring these military experts never questioned the quality of the analysis or held them to ethical standards. They just ran them out there to perpetuate propaganda.
But thanks to dogged investigative reporting by the New York Times, the public learned of this abuse of trust. This type of journalism is what our country still requires, and it will always be valuable, even in the digital era. The so-called experts that have given broadcasting a black eye, though, will see their prominence continue to shrink.
And big surprise… the Times story about broadcasters being manipulated by the White House has barely registered a blip on television and radio. I guess they don’t think it’s important.