Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pitiful and Helpless Anyhow

Professional journalists, especially of the video tribe, denounce the bloggers for their careless fact checking; but anybody who keeps score knows that getting the story right is a minor concern on the networks. The delay between the discovery of something interesting and important and its appearance on the news is often protracted, but not because the reporters want to make sure of their facts. The normal debate is about whether or not it benefits the corporation. Absent economic and political angles, fact checking is irrelevant, as in the recent mine disaster where the irresistible allure of an apparent miracle instantly overruled any scruples the professionals supposedly acquired at journalism school. On the other hand, where telling the plain truth can land the company in hot water, no amount of caution is too much. Thus the New York Times knew for 14 months that the administration had been conducting illegal wiretaps, but only broke the story because James Risen was going to publish it in a book in any case.

One usually bewails ownership of the media by six or seven corporations on the Madisonian theory that concentration of power in the hands of a few is dangerous to a Republican form of government, but it is the weakness rather than the strength of the corporations that causes the worst problems. What’s hurting us most isn’t the programmatic semi-fascism of Fox but the premeditated cowardice of CNN. The sheer size of the media giants makes them enormous targets. With so much to lose from the hostility of the government, the big papers, magazines, and T.V. networks cannot afford to act honorably. It wouldn’t be fair to the stockholders. Monopolies are bound to be risk adverse since the bigger they get, the less the prospect for further growth and greater the abyss below. They are inevitably timid, like everything else in the Universe with more to fear than to hope.

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