The 'Media Party' is over

  1. The 'Media Party' is over
    CBS' downfall is just the tip of the iceberg
    By Howard Fineman
    MSNBC contributor
    Updated: 5:12 p.m. ET Jan. 11, 2005

    WASHINGTON - A political party is dying before our eyes-and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the "mainstream media," which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards. At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.

    Now the AMMP is reeling, and not just from the humiliation of CBS News. We have a president who feels it's almost a point of honor not to hold more press conferences-he's held far fewer than any modern predecessor-and doesn't seem to agree that the media has any "right" to know what's really going in inside his administration. The AMMP, meanwhile, is regarded with ever growing suspicion by American voters, viewers and readers, who increasingly turn for information and analysis only to non-AMMP outlets that tend to reinforce the sectarian views of discrete slices of the electorate.

    Yes, I know: A purely objective viewpoint does not exist in the cosmos or in politics. Yes, I know: Today's media foodfights are mild compared with the viciousness of pamphleteers and partisan newspapers of old, from colonial times forward. Yes, I know: The notion of a neutral "mainstream" national media gained a dominant following only in World War II and in its aftermath, when what turned out to be a temporary moderate consensus came to govern the country.

    Still, the notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto. Now it's pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things. The seeds of its demise were sown with the best of intentions in the late 1960s, when the AMMP was founded in good measure (and ironically enough) by CBS. Old folks may remember the moment: Walter Cronkite stepped from behind the podium of presumed objectivity to become an outright foe of the war in Vietnam. Later, he and CBS's star White House reporter, Dan Rather, went to painstaking lengths to make Watergate understandable to viewers, which helped seal Richard Nixon's fate as the first president to resign.

    Good crusades at the time
    The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans. The problem was that, once the AMMP declared its existence by taking sides, there was no going back. A party was born.

    It was not accident that the birth coincided with an identity crisis in the Democratic Party. The ideological energy of the New Deal had faded; Vietnam and various social revolutions of the '60s were tearing it apart. Into the vacuum came the AMMP, which became the new forum for choosing Democratic candidates. A "reform" movement opened up the nominating process, taking it out of the smoke-filled backrooms and onto television and into the newsrooms. The key to winning the nomination and, occasionally, the presidency, became expertise at riding the media wave. McGovern did it, Gary Hart almost did (until he fell off his surfboard); Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton rode it all the way.

    Republicans always have been less dependent on, or concerned about, the AMMP's role in their internal politics. Richard Nixon hated the AMMP, with good reason, and learned just enough to keep it at bay-until, as president, he put its leaders on various enemies lists. Ronald Reagan, using his own actor's craft and the stage management of Mike Deaver, realized that he could co-opt the AMMP with the irresistible power of pretty, inspirational pictures. Conservative activists, tapping their own pocketbooks or those of sympathetic corporate tycoons, learned to work around the AMMP with mailing lists, grassroots politics and direct-mail, first through the Postal Service, then the Internet.

    Some Republicans learned how to manipulate the AMMP, especially its growing obsession with personalities-and its desire to be regarded as even-handed. The objective wasn't to win the AMMP's approval, but to isolate it by uncoupling its longterm relationship with the Democrats. At least that's what happened in the Monica Lewinsky Years: The party that had nominated him in 1992 had eventually impeached him, thanks in good part to information supplied by GOP investigators.

    Bush turns a blind eye
    Texas Gov. George W. Bush arrived on the national scene in the 1990s intent on dictating the terms of dealing with the AMMP-or simply ignoring it altogether. Already well-known as the son of a president, he focused on raising money and holding private chit-chats with donors and political supporters who would journey to Austin for off-the-record talks. His guru was not an image-making man (as Ailes had been for Nixon, and Deaver with Reagan) but a direct-mail expert, Karl Rove. Rove and Bush decided that most forms of "exposure" offered by the AMMP would be likely to do more harm than good. So why bother unless they could completely dictate the terms of engagement?

    Bush doesn't hate the AMMP (indeed, he likes his share of reporters on a personal basis). He just refuses to care about what it's up to. The terrorist attack of 9/11, and the added security concerns it fueled, have given the White House a new reason to keep the AMMP at bay. Pools are "tighter," more and more events are "closed press," and those that are open are to be viewed at a distance, if at all.

    In this situation, the last thing the AMMP needed was to aim wildly at the president-and not only miss, but be seen as having a political motivation in attacking in the first place. Were Dan Rather and Mary Mapes after the truth or victory when they broadcast their egregiously sloppy story about Bush's National Guard Service? The moment it made air it began to fall apart, and eventually was shredded by factions within the AMMP itself, conservative national outlets and by the new opposition party that is emerging: The Blogger Nation. It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility.

    And, as Walter Cronkite would say, that's the way it is.

  2. 9 Comments

  3. by   VickyRN
    Thanks for this article--very interesting. I think in this age of Internet, the predominance of the AMMP is over.
  4. by   Mkue
    wow, awesome article BeachNurse, well worth the time to read it. I'm glad to see that someone else also thinks the mainstream media is dying, I'm not sad to see it go.
  5. by   mattsmom81
    Quote from Tigerlily
    wow, awesome article BeachNurse, well worth the time to read it. I'm glad to see that someone else also thinks the mainstream media is dying, I'm not sad to see it go.
    Me neither. I hope other networks are watching. I tire of a biased press spinning and waging their own agenda.
  6. by   SmilingBluEyes
    I am tired of biased press too. On both sides. But you will never get "fair and balanced" no matter WHAT Fox says. It's up to the intelligent individual to decide.
    Last edit by SmilingBluEyes on Jan 13, '05
  7. by   pickledpepperRN
    Is MSNBC mainstream?

    If the President doesn't think the media has a right to know what is going on in OUR government, does he think CITIZENS have a right to know?

    AMY GOODMAN: We're joined by Steve Rendall, who is Senior Analyst at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Welcome, Steve.

    STEVE RENDALL: Great to be here, Amy.

    AMY GOODMAN: Let's start with this report and what has been the fallout.

    STEVE RENDALL: Well, certainly, FAIR has no problem with the fact that CBS is going to discipline some of its reporters and producers over this story. It's fairly clear that they didn't sufficiently authenticate these documents, even though as you just stated, the documents were not found by this committee to have been forgeries, necessarily. They didn't properly practice journalism. They didn't authenticate these documents, and when they were called to account, they stonewalled. They insisted that their sources were unimpeachable. These are journalistic transgressions. They're problems with professional journalism, and that people were disciplined there, we don't have a problem with. I'm not -- I don't want to go into the details of who should or shouldn't have been fired. I have not read the entire 274-page report that came out of this.

    AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting that CBS president and Dan Rather were not forced out, and it's also interesting, Mary Mapes' statement, who very much clearly stands behind her story, and makes the point that it's noteworthy that the panel does not conclude that the documents are false. She says, "I'm shocked by the vitriolic scapegoating in Les Moonves's statement. I'm concerned that his actions are motivated by corporate and political considerations, ratings rather than journalism." And she goes on to say that "much has been made about the fact that the documents are photocopies and therefore cannot be trusted," but says that "decades of investigative reporting have relied on just such copies of memos, documents and notes. In vetting these documents, we did not have ink to analyze, original signatures to compare or paper to date. We did have context and corroboration and believed as many journalists have before and after our story, that authenticity is not limited to original documents. Photocopies are often a basis for verified stories."

    STEVE RENDALL: I think Mary Mapes, the producer on the story --

    AMY GOODMAN: As wells at one on Abu Ghraib. --

    STEVE RENDELL: That's right. That's right. They said she was bulletproof because of her reporting on Abu Ghraib, that she could get away with anything, and apparently she couldn't. I think her comments are somewhat self-serving. At the same time, CBS had an important story here. They way oversold it. If they had gone to Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian's secretary to begin with, remember, she came forth and said, these documents didn't look like document she had typed, but they had the exact same content as she recalled things happening in real time back in the early 1970's.

    AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of that. Saying that she -- while she didn't think she had typed these they were what Killian believed, and what was that?

    STEVE RENDALL: Well, that he was pressured to sugar coat -- that was his term, sugar coat George Bush's record in the Air National Guard. They had several other -- they did have other sources, to be fair to the CBS story, they had other sources quoted in the story, that did not reflect well on George Bush's National Guard record. But I think that the most important thing here is to look at the big media picture and see how the relatively -- I think -- let me go back to one point, and that is whether or not Andrew Heyward and Dan Rather should have been disciplined further. I think that that's -- that's a question that's worth asking. And is there some scapegoating here of the relatively lower level employees? One of the employees that lost their job was a vice president of CBS news, Betsy West, and another was the executive producer of "60 Minutes Wednesday." So, these were not low-level employees.

    But I think the important thing here to do is to step back and look at the discipline that was administered here at CBS, compared to some other comparable stories. I mean, certainly a much more important story was the way that the U.S. media sold the weapons of mass destruction story, particularly the New York Times and particularly at the New York Times' Judith Miller.

    The Times came forth, ran an editor's note that said that they had been insufficiently skeptical, they hadn't sufficiently scrutinized the claims made by the administration about weapons of mass destruction. However, in that editor's note, nobody was named, nobody was disciplined. This was a much more important story. Now, what's the difference between these two stories?

    Well, the CBS story was critical of the government. For one, Judith Miller's journalistic transgressions favored the government's story.

    Also another point here to bear in mind, is that the CBS story fits the media script. We hear over and over again in the media echo chamber that our media is liberal. Therefore, even though this commission found that there was no evidence of liberal bias, it fit the perception that the media's constantly haranguing us with that the media's liberal, so this fit that script. The story was another example, at least in many people's minds, of liberal bias.

    AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. When we come back, we're going to continue talking about the state of corporate media. We'll talk about what happened with Armstrong Williams, what's happening at CNN and overall, corporate media, not to be confused with state media, though sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
  8. by   Mkue
    Personally I would like to see news outlets, journalists, broadcasters and reporters just report the FACTS and stop the bias.. Americans are now wise to political agendas..just give us the FACTS please.
  9. by   URO-RN
    Quote from Tigerlily
    Personally I would like to see news outlets, journalists, broadcasters and reporters just report the FACTS and stop the bias.. Americans are now wise to political agendas..just give us the FACTS please.
    I agree.

    On the far left you have the socialist, communist and on the far right you have the racist, anarchists.....
  10. by   Mkue
    I recall a poll taken before the last election of journalists/reporters..more than 3/4 were liberal/Democrats.
  11. by   Mkue
    Quote from Jo Anne
    I agree.

    On the far left you have the socialist, communist and on the far right you have the racist, anarchists.....
    Cute avatar Jo Anne I like it