The New York Times, for decades, was the newspaper that set the tone for American journalism. In the media world, the Times was Babe Ruth; they set the agenda for the rest of the major media outlets. Not only did many smaller newspapers run dispatches from the Times wire services, but network and cable TV news programs often went to the Times when they needed to decide on their lead stories the evening. The newspaper was referred to respectfully as "the old grey lady" because of the careful, methodical way they checked and double checked their facts before publishing a story. That nickname also came from the paper's penchant for details...columns and columns of grey newsprint with very few pictures. The times (pun intended) have changed. Nobody pays much attention to the New York Times anymore.
The way people get their news has changed. Very few people under 40 bother to read newspapers any more. Frankly, they find facts and details boring. I'd bet one of the fastest declining careers in the world is "fact checker" for newspapers. Rather than read carefully researched news stories that are continued on page 27, readers want their news short and sweet. If the story can't be told in a "twitter or a tweet" they can't be bothered to read it. As for facts, they too are not what they used to be. The New York Times would not print a story unless it could be verified by at least two independent and reliable sources. Now, it is more about being the first into print; we can always check the facts later and apologize if we absolutely have to if we're wrong. Even better, if the facts don't support our agenda, let's take a few liberties with the truth if it makes better copy.
And what stories do our readers want to know about over their morning coffee and bagel? War in Afghanistan? Floods in India? Earthquakes in Japan? No silly, they want to hear about what mentally deficient, ego-tripping athlete Kim Kardashian boinked last night. What is Brangelina up to, and who got bumped on Dancing with the Stars? What's even worse, while media outlets used to be content to report what was happening in the world, they now feel compelled to invent or distort stories to fit their own agendas, the more sensational or scandalous the distortion, the better. A classic example is the way NBC News doctored a tape to omit significant details from a supposedly verbatim 9-1-1 recording of George Zimmerman talking to the dispatcher about the Travon Martin shooting in Florida. They later apologized and characterized this gross distortion as an "error", but we all know what was going on here.
Liberal media outlets tend to be more guilty of intentional bias, but the Conservative media do it too. Opinion belongs on the Editorial Page; it should not be presented as "news" and used to inflame public reaction. This is tantamount to falsely yelling "fire" in a crowded theater; it just fans the flames of hate that are already burning too bright in this country. The apology for reporting "errors" that inevitably appears on page 19 never gets read, and the damage and misinformation created never gets corrected. Media outlets need to be held accountable for what they release. Mistakes can happen, but deliberate omissions or distortions to advance an agenda, if proven, should mean someone is going to jail.
The dumbing down of America is happening very fast. We can't afford to be without an independent press that helps inform us by reporting the news accurately and objectively without putting their own spin on it. The minute the media dances to the tune of politicians on either side, then we are no better than the oppressor countries we have always condemned. FDR may have said it best: "If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free."
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