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Monday, November 01, 2010

Criticism of the Media is More than Fair

Here's a surprise: the media doesn't like Jon Stewart's criticism of the media all that much.

David Carr, New York Times:

Distrust of the media was laid down throughout the rally by video montages of ranting broadcast bobble heads. Even with the vast gulf between their faux respective beliefs, Mr. Stewart and his co-host, Stephen Colbert, found common ground in the failings of the press. Mr. Colbert awarded some media outlets a medal for helping keep fear alive; Mr. Stewart gave out his awards to average Americans who go about their business every day in lives built on compromise and comity.

“We work together to get things done every damn day! The only place we don’t is here,” he said, gesturing toward the Capitol, “or on cable TV.”

Carr's column is titled, "Rally to Shift the Blame." See, it's just unfair to criticize cable news media because no one watches it.

Yet polling shows that the average voter doesn't know they got a tax cut and doesn't know basic economic facts. If the media -- TV or not -- were worth a damn, this wouldn't be the case. When people are so poorly informed, you've kind of got to suspect that there's something wrong with an industry whose job is to inform people. This doesn't strike me as extremely unreasonable.

And, while I agree that cable news doesn't get nearly the viewers everyone pretends they do, network news isn't any better. And print media is deeply flawed as well. Part of the problem is that, because of fear of charges of bias, American media exists in a largely fact-free bubble where everything -- even well-documented facts -- are treated as a matter of opinion. If one candidate or pundit says one and one are two, while another says the equations works out to three, the media approaches it as "some say it's two, some say it's three: we'll look at the controversy." Liars and lunatics are presented as being just as credible as the people with the facts. And, as a result, you've got an electorate left in ignorance. So they choose which "facts" they're most comfortable believing. Reporting facts is left to partisans, so it appears to be spin.

To say that criticism of this approach to journalism is "shifting the blame" is ridiculous. This argument needs to die and be buried with a stake through its heart.

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