Saturday, November 27, 2004

If Your Mother Says She Loves You,
Check It Out

Fox News tells us:
Veteran newsman Dan Rather announced Tuesday that he would step down as anchor of "CBS Evening News" in March, the 24th anniversary of his taking over the job from Walter Cronkite.

The move comes just months after Rather, 73, was taken to task for going to air with a controversial "60 Minutes II" story that questioned President Bush's service in the National Guard, a piece that turned out to be based on allegedly forged documents.

Since Memogate was the last absurd straw for me, soon after which I joined the pajamahadeen, this is an interesting moment. For some quoted in the article, Rather did nothing wrong, and indeed had no control over Memogate. He was a great journalist. For others it was good riddance.

Regardless of whether Rather had any control over it, the real question for me is not whether there was an attempt to influence the presidential election with blatant lies, but rather how long have they been getting away with it? A decade? Two? Three? How much of what I think and believe about the world has come from fake documents, from reporters, editors or sources "shaping" news - leaving this out, adding that in, twisting it up a bit... How much of what I "know" about the world has been spin, or error?

Yes, honest mistakes are made. And the blame for spin and error doesn't necessarily fall mainly on reporters and editors - news sources such as experts, think tanks, politicians, businesses, diplomats, etc., are well aware of the influence they can have in a story and how to use it. We also know that breaking news sells, and the consumer is willing to forgive a few mistakes for getting the juicy story first. In short, everyone is working the system one way or another, including the consumer.

In my judgment, right now, the "liberal" media is most likely to produce biased stories. But all stripes, conservatives, anarchists, socialists, libertarians, capitalists, all of them have agendas. So where has your media, the media you trust, had its agenda in the last few years and decades? Has it been gun control, international relations, liberals, homosexuality, religion, abortion, health care, race, economics, gender, taxes, business, war, Bush, what? And where will it be tomorrow? Whatever your beliefs are about these topics, have you questioned your sources enough?

Dan Rather used to be a widely respected journalist.

Who will we say that about tomorrow? What will he or she have written that we believe today?

I still remember the words of the professor in my first news reporting class, way back when. She would be lecturing about how a particular mistake was made in a story, her eyes would narrow, her voice become conspiratorial, and she'd repeat our class mantra:

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.


For more on this:

Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine consistently has some of the best media commentary I've found. Here's Jarvis on:
The death of anchors = the end of one-way news (and what to do about it)
How to explode TV news in four easy steps

Three other voices:


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