It's pretty well documented that most news people in the waning years of the 20th century personally leaned liberal. However, the evidence does not support such a leaning in their professional choices of what to cover and how to cover it. The bias, my friends, was not liberal vs. conservative, but rather pro-government vs. con- and the media clearly preferred the latter.
In the old axiom of "what is news-worthy", restating the government line already spouted in speeches and press conferences would have been old news: boring and unworthy of reporting. Public figures already got prime access to the bully pulpit; none more so than the President, so we'd already heard what they wanted us to hear. What we wanted (and I believe still do) was the counter view, the details, the ramifications, "The rest of the story".
As the most successful embodiment of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, the news media became as indispensable as any other checks and balances. While seldom as eloquent and certainly less restrained, the news media challenged government's assertions and oppressions in the same way Jefferson, Adams and other men of letters used the mighty pen to wrest these lands from the leeching clutches of a monarchy unaccountable for its excesses. Frighteningly, such advocates for "We, The People" are no more. What happened?
Any paradigm, any principle of governing, can be carried to a destructive extreme. We saw how corruption and unbridled fanaticism chipped away at communism to destroy the old Soviet Union (And good riddance to it too.) There are numerous examples throughout history of personal fanaticism and excess bringing down powerful dictatorships and monarchies. That most of these cases have resulted in more capitalistic forms replacing them; we can take great pride. While an improvement to be sure however, to conclude from it that we should abandon the mixture of capitalistic and socialistic principles that have brought us to our current state of world dominance is dangerously arrogant at best and could very well be the beginning of our own extinction. Like removing sodium from table salt (sodium chloride), ignoring the indispensable socialistic principles that have combined with capitalism to create our great democracy, would leave a poison sure to destroy us. Today's mad pursuit of pure capitalism threatens to return us to those laissez faire days of a century ago where robber-barons ruled -- getting fat raping our land, our people and our souls. Turning the news media into the entertainment business it has become is a watershed event in that slide into oblivion.
All may not be lost however. Perhaps we are witnessing (and participating in) a major shift in the way the citizenry obtains news. There is much discussion these days of the rise of blogging and its role in gathering and reporting "the news". Is blogging a "democratization" of mass communication? In a few years, will most people get their news from some sort of summarization of information supplied by dozens, hundreds, thousands of citizens via blogs and other forms?
The traditional news media have clearly violated the trust of the people and abandoned their constitutional responsibilities. How will we fill the void?
We need not a media that is liberal or conservative, commercial or non-. We need a media that is curious, critical and courageous. Where will we find it?
[Robert C. Watson on Enterprise Ethics, Mar 13, 2005 6:37 am ]