I am not telling you anything new when I say newspapers are dying. The evidence is all around you. But you might not realize that “the news” itself is becoming extinct. Thinking back to the days of Walter Cronkite and before, I recall “the news” as a collection of reports that had been verified and weighed to ensure as much as possible that the way in which events were described would not be misleading.
Today, there seems to be no such “gatekeeping.” We live in an age when freedom of the press has reached a hysterical level. Fact and fiction flow unimpeded from “news” sources. Some of it is honestly mistaken; some is embellished to enhance its entertainment value; some is deliberately “spun” for propaganda purposes.
I suppose there always was manipulation of news reports to influence public opinion, but reporters of my generation did not participate in it. Not that I knew of, anyway. We had rules to follow and – for the most part – we did our best to follow them.
Watching the cable channels “report” on the Boston bombing, I could detect no evidence of those old rules. Apparently, nothing was verified before it was broadcast. Apparently, nothing was double-checked.
Attribution to anonymous “officials” was rampant and viewers were lucky if the “news” they were getting was even “single-sourced” – a cardinal sin in my day. Often it was sheer speculation. Sometimes it seemed to be the product of someone’s overheated imagination.
But that’s just television, you might say. And TV news is just entertainment. What about the more reliable print media?
Sad to say, what’s left of the print media didn’t do much better.
The New York Post went ballistic with reports of “12 dead,” for example. And it was among the host of media falsely fingering an injured Saudi national as being implicated in the terror attack.
Of course, the Post is a tabloid and tabloids march to the beat of a different drum: They actually make stuff up.
Especially when they belong to Rupert Murdoch.
Which brings us to the ownership of the media. Today, nearly all media outlets are owned by large corporations and are influenced by the best interests of the corporate elite. They can’t help transitioning into propaganda vehicles.
It’s a growing trend. I understand that the infamous Koch brothers, who have devoted billions to propaganda and political activism designed to inflict their radically right-wing views on America, are eyeing the Tribune newspapers, including the The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and The Orlando Sentinel. They might also be exploring the possibility of buying Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the United States.
So where will the America of the future get its news? From the Internet?
Saints preserve us!