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March 14, 2005
Lipscomb: No Trust For MSM Until They Police Themselves

Thomas Lipscomb delivers a scolding to the mainstream media (or, as I've begun to think of them in the BCRA era, the Exempt Media) for its inability to hold each other accountable for the egregious failures, let alone the more minor errors. Editor and Publisher runs his latest column, which sounds the same themes as his debate this weekend with Alex Jones on James Goodale's PBS show, and it certainly belongs there where his colleagues will read it.

Lipscomb gives competent, if necessarily brief, reviews of the Memogate debacle at CBS and CNN's reaction to Eason Jordan's remarks. In the case of both, Lipscomb eschews the controversies themselves and focuses on the reaction from both news organizations. In both cases, he finds them less interested in the truth than in engaging in cover-ups:

When CBS took a corporate look at the disaster, it hired a law firm. Why? Not to determine the truth or falsehood of the reporting, but to rather to evaluate the procedures by which it was carried out, as lead attorney Michael J. Missal, at the Kirkpatrick and Lockhart firm, recently clarified for me. But the Tiffany Network didnt even trust its own news division sufficiently to let it dig out the story. ...

Not only was there a tape, but CNN admits it never asked for it, as CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney has revealed to me. There was no problem with getting a copy of the notorious off the record tape from the World Economic Forum. When I asked WEFs Klaus Schwab whether he would have made a tape available, cut to just Eason Jordans remarks, and give it to Jordan and CNN, he replied: Of course. And they could make any distribution of it they wished.

CNN had the power and the obligation to release the tape as a news organization. That responsibility was its bond to the public trust. If the head of its news department had gone off his head, firing him and getting back to basics would help to keep that trust intact. Why wouldnt CNN, like Dan Rather, want to break that story?

As he told Jones and Goodale, this wagon-circling and stonewalling goes completely against the traditional mission of the media -- to find and publish the truth. That mission got corrupted forty or so years ago, when reporters and editors decided that their mission had changed to "making the world a better place", using the value systems they took from college and j-schools. The popularity of the late, lamented Hunter S. Thompson had an influence on this, too. Instead of sticking with the 5 Ws, reporters started performing analysis and inserting opinion on news pieces, and editors allowed that to flourish.

The same reporters who started these trends now run the media organizations that perpetuate them. CBS producers and executives just believe that George Bush cheated his way in and out of the National Guard, all evidence to the contrary, and wind up being saps when obviously and demonstrably fraudulent documents surface supporting their pre-existing biases. CNN's top man just believes that Western militaries are evil and want to kill journalists and starts spouting off in foreign venues without providing an ounce of substantiation, or even having his news organization try reporting it. And when these fall apart, the impulse to find the truth has so long since atrophied in the newsrooms that the only action contemplated by the editors and executives is to circle wagons and start firing people.

Now we in the blogosphere have begun to make the news business a conversation instead of a broadcast, and the media find themselves in the uncomfortable position of accountability to their readers. Understandably, the change has disconcerted them, but as Lipscomb writes, the wake-up call is their last chance to salvage what's left of their credibility and return to real reporting:

If it takes salivating morons to get major news organizations to clean up their acts and remember Journalism 101, may they slobber on -- before the American people stop paying any attention to big media at all. In the end, as The Washington Posts Howard Kurtz points out, Jordan only resigned following a relentless campaign by online critics but scant coverage in the mainstream press. Those of us in mainstream media had better ask why we didnt do a better job ourselves.

If that is to happen, news organizations need to recommit to reporting objectively at all levels and quit playing social-engineering games with the news. A commitment to truth would have resulted in much different responses from CBS and CNN to the scandals they provoked, and would have resulted in repaired relations with their customers.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 14, 2005 5:22 PM

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