A report released Thursday by British judge Brian Leveson regarding the phone hacking scandal at London’s now-defunct News of the World has shed light on some unflattering parts of the media business, including a call for an industry-created regulator of the news media to prevent future occurences. While the report was the result of an investigation into the British press, one damning statement made could also be leveled at their American counterparts.
“At the time the Inquiry was set up, the Leaders of all three main UK political parties were saying that politicians in recent years had become ‘too close’ to the press.”
During the 2012 presidential election, the American journalistic world allowed its own notions to become visible in many ways, shapes and forms. Following the election, ill-thought comments and statements on both sides of the ideological line finally rose to the surface. Though this sort of post-election impetuousness from the news industry is not unheard of, the degree of invective coming from both sides was quite disturbing.
“Men of property, join together. Defend the wagon train against the onslaught of the others!” – MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Nov. 26, speaking to his own theories on GOP challenger Mitt Romney’s thought processes.
“And, whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority.” – Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Nov. 6, commenting on how the electorate has changed well beyond what was once considered traditional America.
What used to be respectful, spirited debate in the media has devolved into the sort of pandering and mudslinging one would see on the campaign trail. Programs such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Late Night with David Letterman are expected to poke fun at politicians and have a slant of some sort. Though O’Reilly and Matthews are both regarded as pundits by the many in the media, they style themselves as objective journalists, which lends to their opinions carrying more weight than more. However, it’s when individual anchors who also do actual field journalism, such as NBC’s Brian Williams, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, allow their opinions and politics to seep out in their broadcasts, that the faith in the American media erodes.
The most guilty of all, however, may actually be the “alternative media,” which styles itself as the vanguard, the last bastion, of true journalistic integrity. Websites such as Worldnetdaily, Newsmax, Huffington Post, and DailyKos all package themselves as news and information sites, but many of their articles appear to be little more than “neener-neener” pieces written by politically-slanted apparatchiks with an axe to grind. Even Breitbart and Drudge, in the heat of the political moment, lose all pretense of objectivity and go for the political jugular. For all his flaws, at least conspiracy theorist Alex Jones makes no bones about his website, Infowars.com.
There is a distinct dearth of truly objective reporting and analysis in the media world, a fact which most Americans should lament, not cheer. It fortunate that Americans, as a whole, are generally wise enough to separate fact from opinion and flights-of-fancy. It is these very calls for more opinions and “gotcha”-style investigative reporting, which threatens the hallmark of American society – a free and independent press which holds the powerful on both sides accountable for their actions. We must remember this if we are to never let our political rivalries rise to the level where we feel the need for a regulator of the news media, be it government or industry-imposed.
Britons may now believe such regulation is needed for their media, but that is why we have a First Amendment, and they don’t.