Monday, August 08, 2005

More on the MSM

In a great pair of articles, Slate editor Jack Shafer rips into Richard Posner's take on the "crisis" in media and talks about the credibility of media consumers being at an all-time low.

I think this is brilliant stuff. He explodes some of the things that people take for granted--for example, he asserts that since only 31 percent of the [surveyed] public is aware of the Jayson Blair debacle over at the NYT, it can't be playing much of a role in the new skepticism. Another refutation:

"How could blogs have played any role in eroding public trust by 2002 when almost nobody in the mainstream had heard of them? The press loves to seize on new trends, especially techno-trends, but the word "blogs" doesn't appear in a Nexis search of all U.S. newspaper and wire stories until 2000, when it was mentioned in 22 stories. In 2001, the word appeared in 67 stories. In 2002, the concluding year of the survey cited by Posner, it appeared in 359 stories. That's too few by a factor of about 100,000 to have had an impact on the public's view of the press."

Here's his bottom line:

"The mainstream American press is better than it's ever been. If you don't believe me, visit your local library and roll through a couple of miles of microfilm of the papers you're currently familiar with. By any comparison, today's press is more accurate, ethical, reliable, independent, transparent, and trustworthy than ever. Skepticism is a healthy disposition in life. I wouldn't be a press critic if I regarded the press as hunky-dory. But mindless skepticism is mainly an excuse for ignorance."

Agreement? Disagreement?


At 1:48 PM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

"By any comparison, today's press is more accurate, ethical, reliable, independent, transparent, and trustworthy than ever."

That may be true, but that doesn't mean that they are as good as they should be in any of those categories. Comparing yourself to the past can show progress, but only by comparing yourself to the requirements or ideal can you show if you are actually anywhere close to staisfactory. One could make the argument that they are doing much better in school, for example, by getting a 56% average test score rather than the 40% they got before. By only comparing progress they are indeed doing better, but they're still failing and it's still not acceptable. I'm not saying the MSM is necessarily failing in all categories, I'm just saying that positive progress is not necessarily an indicator that we should be satisfied with their performance. Furthermore, I do find some things unacceptable, like the burying or ignoring of positive stories from Iraq compared to the headline broadcasting of the negative. You can find positive stories by independent journalists on blogs almost daily, but rarely in the MSM, and I think that is a failure in accuracy, ethics, reliablitily, and trustworthiness. But I suppose that is just my opinion.

Heres one example of an independent journalist's blog in Iraq. He talks about the good and the bad, but you end up hearing way more positive than I ever have from MSM:

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

I think standingoutinthecold has a good point there and it can be applied also to the claims made by Posner of sensationalism and the rebuttal of Shafer by saying, "Well, it isn't any more sensational than it used to be." Whether it is or it isn't, it could still be better.

However, I believe that [network] news is more oriented toward flash and sensationalism because of the nature of their medium and the competition for a dwindling pool of people who rely on it. TV necessitates that the information is displayed more visually and that leads to some anchor (chosen for physical attractiveness) saying "live from Iraq" while merely showing some flashy explosions of the shock and awe campaign. Do you think that there would have been days and days of coverage on a missing high schooler in Bermuda in the thirties when they were unable to show how freaking hot she was?

At 10:40 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...


1) I think you are conflating cable news and network news.

2) You don’t think that independent media (including blogs) are sensationalist?

3) I didn’t think she was that hot.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...


I think you are absolutely right that historical comparison doesn’t help with absolute judgment about the quality of news. I also think, however, that “today's press is more accurate, ethical, reliable, independent, transparent, and trustworthy” than the alternatives we have available to us right now, including independent (especially blog) media. That doesn’t mean that we should exclusively consume MSM, it just means that it is consistently the best inadequate news source. Thoughts?

At 10:56 AM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

It may well be that today's MSM is the best source for news. I certainly get most of my news from them -- mostly from I don't think that there is any dispute at this point that it is the most accurate, comprehensive coverage around. Unless you find a blog of a first-hand account they're probably just re-wording an MSM story anyway. The problem is that to truly understand a story you need to read several sources with different biases so that you can piece together a fairly objective whole. And the average person doesn't bother checking one source, let alone several. So we are far from the ideal where the average person can be well informed in spite of themselves by having comprehensive and totally accurate news all in one place. But then again, it wouldn't be as much fun to read the news then, either. Can you imagine a world where everyone was informed and made intelligent opinions about things? Not that better news alone is going to solve that problem, but at least it can help.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Most news stories aren't about issues where bias matters much to people, like the disappearance of said girl of questionable attractiveness in Bermuda. So probably 90% of the time the media is reporting about things where only the facts matter, and no one's skeptical. In these instances, the claim that the press is more accurate etc. is easy to back up.

Furthermore, that "no one in the mainstream" had heard of blogs in 2002 doesn't prove anything. Who's mainstream? MSM? Maybe that's the point - they hadn't heard of it because they're out of touch. And Jason Blair? Just because the public doesn't know the specifics of his case doesn't mean events like his scandal aren't directly involved in shaping public opinion. Person A might only distrust the media because Person B told him to, but if Person B distrusts it because he knows about Blair and co., they're responsible.

It's a good article - don't get me wrong. I think he honestly and accurately sticks it to the press and readers alike, and he doesn't think the media is "hunky-dory." Still, I think some of his reasoning is a little off.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

I'd argue that substantial amounts of physical attractiveness are present- in fact, in quantities large enough for me to actually consider caring about her disappearence.

Sorry for the interruption... continue with the real debate.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

redhurt: good point that people didn't have to know Jayson Blair by name for his flame-out to have played a causal role in their lives. I agree with you.

I've jumped on the reifying-the-MSM bandwagon myself with all of my blog posts about it, but if we stepped back for a second, what specific criticisms do you all have of specific media purveyors? I'd like to know. I still think the New York Times is by far the best, most coherent, objective, and fair newspaper out there, for example. I don't think CNN or Fox are even worth watching--I'd rather get my "news" from the New York Times,, the WSJ, and the Washington Post, and then commentary from Slate,, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Weekly Standard, and the National Review.

charlespeirce: so, where do you guys think that the media is biased?
redhurt: tom brokaw.
cp: tom brokaw?
rh: tom brokaw. he's so biased it's ridiculous.
cp: but he's not even an anchor anymore...
rh: ah, but he continues to run the MSM from behind the scenes!
cp: sure he does.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

I think all news shows are a ridiculous waste of time. You can get all the same information online hours before it makes it to the evening news, and you don't have to listen to the 'cute' comments and inane conversation between the anchors. Pretty much the same can be said of print, except for editorials -- why wait until the next morning when you can read the news online as its happening? And more and more papers are offering online copies meaning that there is no reason to ever get a paper or watch the news on TV unless you really like big, oily ink stains on your hands or you have no friends and need to watch news anchors to have some semblance of human interaction.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Specifically, I take issue with whichever CNN shows and headlines are repeatedly on while I'm working out, CBS in general, and Tom Brokaw, who continues with Dan Rather to to vie for power as supreme dictator of the liberal shadow realm now that they've offed Jennings, who was the third part of their unholy alliance (cancer my ass.)

I don't really have anything new to say criticizing MSM, so I won't. I don't watch it anymore, I rarely did before, so if it's not bad, then that's just wonderful, and I"ll keep getting my news online or from NPR's radio show, which, despite being total MSM and reaping hoardes of criticism for it, is usually far too short to be very biased. How does one "reap a hoarde" anyway?

I more feel bad for our news anchors. I see the commercials during evening TV every now and then for the next days headlines. They go like this:

Ernie: "Tomorrow, we'll have an indepth look into the secret world of teens. They're using lingo you can't understand in the secret world of instant messaging, and we'll talk about that."

Paula: "Also coming up tomorrow morning, something librarians across the country are getting very upset about. Tune in for all the details tomorrow morning at nine."

And I'm not even making that up. It's pathetic, and I feel really bad for the anchor who day after day has to act like his stories are worth reporting.

Jackscolon: I love you man, but don't you think it's a little crude that keep talking about the hottness of some girl who was kidnapped and murdered and most probably raped along the way? That's someone's sister/daughter/best friend, and she's dead now. Show a little respect?


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