May 1, 2008

Elizabeth Edwards Critiques News Media

Frugal Ben believes that poor press coverage of business and financial news is a serious betrayal of responsibility on the part of the media. Elizabeth Edwards piles example on top of example of how poor press coverage of political news represents another betrayal of responsibility:
The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

It is not a new phenomenon. In 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings — an important if painful part of our history — were televised, but by only one network, ABC. NBC and CBS covered a few minutes, snippets on the evening news, but continued to broadcast soap operas in order, I suspect, not to invite complaints from those whose days centered on the drama of “The Guiding Light.”

The problem today unfortunately is that voters who take their responsibility to be informed seriously enough to search out information about the candidates are finding it harder and harder to do so, particularly if they do not have access to the Internet.

She finishes her op-ed piece by pleading with existing news agencies to do a better job of covering what is important. Frugal Ben Asks: Are we making a big mistake by assuming that the press as an institution is the same thing as the corporations who currently publish newspapers, magazines and television news?
  • The free press is a relatively recent human invention - it starts somewhere in the 18th century.
  • America had a free press long before news publication was dominated by corporations.
  • If all the businesses that publish news stories were to fail and go out of existence, why should we believe that the vacuum created by their failure would not be filled by other forms of journalism that would meet social needs more effectively?
Ms. Edwards is correct in describing coverage of the presidential primaries as lame, but her pleas for better coverage from these businesses might be misguided. Perhaps she should be calling for customers to boycott these businesses until they deliver what they promised to deliver or they go under. Right now we have businesses that take their social responsibilities lightly. Clearing the playing field of such businesses is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the press as an institution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was recently reading an editorial in the WSJ where the author was lamenting the government's pursuit of a former CEO for backdating options. This was an issue first made public o n the front page of the WSJ, but the editorial writer was actually defending the greedy actions of the executive. With this set of beliefs operating on the editorial board, is it any surprise that we see little in the way of active investigative reporting?