The Pew Research Center's latest survey on people and the press reveals a yawning gap between news credibility and its favorability, as growing numbers question the accuracy of the news they read, listen to and watch. These sentiments are echoed in the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual report, "The State of the News Media."
"Credibility ratings for most major news outlets had reached a low ebb," the Pew reported in June 2004 (see News Audiences Increasingly Politicized). The latest survey adds to the decline and concludes that there is "a startling rise in the politicization of opinions on several measures" in the United States. The State of the News Media Report found that, from 1985 to 2002, the number of Americans who thought news organizations were highly professional declined from 72% to 49%.
Left in the lurch of media's downward turn is the hard-hitting news and investigative journalism that Americans need to shake up the powerful and challenge the status quo.
In a society where corporate and government priorities combine to control the political agenda, a forthright media is meant to serve as provocateur -- advocating for truth, speaking on behalf of disenfranchised, and using facts to shake undeserving elites from their higher perch.
Journalists who work on behalf of the public good, and against the blindly pro-corporate and government agenda of mainstream media, are being dragged down by a media system that has sold out good journalism to serve its bottom line.
Tom Fenton, in his 2005 book Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News and the Danger to Us All, reports that the news industry – and in particular the networks – were once thought of as a public service.
Commercial news media have been commandeered by their corporate parents as a cash cow, argues Fenton. “None of the networks is talking about providing more international news, more context, or serving the American public better,” he writes. “Their vision is focused as always on the bottom line.”
Pew's report confirms the resulting public cynicism.
Karl Rove is chalking up another victory in the concerted campaign to dismantle and discredit dissenting views. The key to our response is to be both critical of the corporate news industry -- which has become a convenient if not undeserving target in the failure of public trust -- while fostering an empowered and independent news system to flush out Rove and his fellow rats, once and for all.