Why Fox News is a menace... and why we need more of it
What bugs me about Fox News is not its bias per se. Frankly our republic was stronger back in the days when we had a blatantly partisan press that openly took sides. But toward the middle of the last century, journalism became a "profession," and the "professionals" thought it important to maintain a pretense of objectivity. That was a far cry from H.L. Mencken's ideal of a vigorous press that serves as a "chronic opposition to the reigning quacks." By early this century, professional journalism had devolved to a point that when someone in Washington declared the sky is green, and someone else declared the sky is blue, reporters dutifully transcribed both statements for their stories, without ever stepping outside to look up at the sky for themselves — heaven forfend, that wouldn't be "objective." This mindset, more than any neocon scheming, is the ultimate reason we're stuck in Iraq.
So in this sense, Fox is refreshing in that it does blatantly take sides. Alas it takes sides in favor of "the reigning quacks," and there's precious little elsewhere to balance it out, save for an hour of Olbermann on MSNBC. What we need is more of the Fox approach, from pracitioners all over the ideological spectrum.
But if that's not to be found in much quantity on the tube or in print, it's certainly there online — and it's a crucial reason the Internet is doing so much damage to establishment media. Online, the vigorous partisan press is coming into its full glory again. I can check in with Drudge to see what's important to red-state America, and then I balance it out with Raw Story to see what's important to blue-state America. Often as not, they link to establishment media stories, but the mere selection of stories on those two sites tells me more about what's going on than by going directly to the home page of the New York Times or CNN.
And my outlook has just been reinforced by one of the grand practitioners of old media, a professional journalist who nonetheless has made a career out of opposing the reigning quacks — Seymour Hersh. From a recent interview:
There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually — and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post — we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.
I've been working for The New Yorker recently since '93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn't care less now. It doesn't matter, because I'll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it's online, we just get flooded.
So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.
Of course, it's Drudge and Raw and many of the other sites driving traffic to Hersh's stories. They spawn an instantaneous, virtual word-of-mouth whenever he has a new article.
It's become something of a cliche to say the Internet is transforming mass media into niche media. The more significant development is that much of this media is driven by a strong ideological agenda. And that's a good thing. It'll force reporters to report again, digging up dirt from deep within our institutions instead of hanging out at cocktail parties with the people who run those institutions in hopes of cultivating "access." There might be hope for the republic yet!
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