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article imageOp-Ed: Is The Mainstream Media Reaching a Tipping Point?

By Johnny Simpson     Sep 18, 2009 in Politics
A recent PEW Research Center poll exposing an abysmally low public trust, perceived endemic political bias, non-coverage of recent major news stories and a growing backlash all beg the question: will 2009 be the MSM's Last Hurrah?
Before one can answer the question of whether the Mainstream Media as we know it is on the brink of extinction, one must first define the term. The predominant perception is of longstanding print and television news media outlets like the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC), MSNBC, CNN, FOX, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other established newspaper publishers like the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times.
Based on polling and other analyses such as UCLA's 2005 study, the established Mainstream Media is perceived by a majority of Americans to possess a distinct liberal bias, and of being fully supportive of President Obama, his administration, liberal Democrats in Congress and their political agenda.
Those negative perceptions are much higher among conservatives and Republicans than liberals and Democrats, but even the numbers among liberals and Democrats are pretty poor. In fact, according to PEW it is Democrats, not Republicans, that are most responsible for driving the overall numbers to their present 20-year lows. DJ Andrew Moran posted a news report on September 15th, referencing the PEW Research Center poll of 1,506 respondents that breaks down the horrifically low public trust numbers and perceptions of bias and inaccuracy as follows:
Overall, public trust in the mainstream media is at a 20-year low, down by half since 1985.
74% of all respondents believe the mainstream media is biased.
63% of all respondents believe news articles are mostly inaccurate and factually incorrect.
Detroit Newspaper accidentally misspells  Obama
Detroit Newspaper accidentally misspells "Obama"
File image
In addition to tanking poll numbers, what has led me to believe that the mainstream media may be in mortal danger today are a number of cumulative developments that are coalescing into a perfect storm of falling ad revenues, viewership and circulation, rampant public disaffection, widespread bewilderment at the lack of MSM coverage on recent major news stories, and an Internet-driven backlash over that non-coverage which is resulting in investigations of and searing reports on the MSM outlets that have failed to cover the stories.
Unless MSM news organizations can regain the public trust and pull themselves out of this dangerous free fall, many may yet reach a point from which there will be no returning. First and foremost, our Fourth Estate is expected by the American reading and viewing public to honestly and objectively report on major breaking and developing news stories, which they should anyway if for no other reason than to pad their own bottom lines and attract desperately needed readers and viewers.
That is just plain solid news business sense, especially regarding major political and other scandals. Scandal sells, and the hotter the scandal, the hotter the sales. Yet of the three major scandals that have broken the past three weeks involving former green jobs czar Van Jones, former NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant, and the astonishing developments and political fallout regarding the 'pimp and ho' video stings in five separate ACORN offices across the US, the mainstream media has been largely MIA.
Those MSM outlets may have declined to cover those stories out of political favoritism or bias, total disinterest or disregard, or they were just being far too slow to react. The main point is that those MSM outlets failed to keep up with major developing news stories that had long broken on the Internet and FOX News, and were attracting ever-widening national attention even to the halls of Congress.
Van Jones
Van Jones, Adviser to President Obama on "Green Jobs"
White House
Case in point. The Van Jones story broke for real on August 25th on FOX News, Drudge, and Breitbart. Many hugely popular online blogs like Michelle Malkin and the Huffington Post began covering the Van Jones story in-depth as well. Yet a Lexis-Nexis search by the Washington Examiner's Byron York at 11:30AM on Friday, September 4th, ten days into the story and just 36 hours prior to Jones' resignation as Obama's green jobs czar, revealed the following incredible search results:
Total words about the Van Jones controversy in the New York Times: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy in the Washington Post: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on NBC Nightly News: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on ABC World News: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on CBS Evening News: 0.
Twelve hours after Byron York's search, I ran a Google search of my own on "Van Jones" for that 24-hour cycle to get a rough idea of how widely the Jones story had broken. That search returned 2,620,000 hits. There were dozens of Google pages filled with blog entries referencing the story, many of which linked the controversial YouTube videos of Van Jones that went viral after FOX News and Gateway Pundit posted them on their websites. At the time of my search, only the CBS Evening News had broken from the zero column to report on the story. The New York Times didn't even cover the scandal until after Van Jones resigned.
Yet despite the fact that Jones, a high presidential appointee who controlled an $80B budget as Obama's green jobs czar, resigned from his position amid scandalous revelations of his radical Communist and 9/11 Truther past (among many others), NBC's Chuck Todd blew off his network's non-coverage of the story as it being not newsworthy in an interview with FOX News.
That same pattern of MSM non-coverage of major breaking news stories repeated itself with the Yosi Sergant/NEA and ACORN video sting scandals. On September 10th, Sergant resigned from his post at NEA over allegations that he was politicizing the agency by co-opting artists during a conference call to design art for contentious Obama policies like health care and Cap-and-Trade, an act that would have violated NEA's charter as an independent and apolitical federal agency dedicated purely to the arts.
Obama Poster
Poster craeted by Frank Shepard Fairey during the Obama campaign.
Frank Shepard Fairey
Also on September 10th, Andrew Breitbart launched his brand new website Big Government with a huge splash: the first of a series of now-infamous sting videos by James O'Keefe and partner Hannah Giles, who posed as a pimp and a prostitute seeking housing aid from the community group ACORN.
In the first released video filmed in ACORN's Baltimore office, O'Keefe and Giles kept pushing the envelope and raising the stakes during the application process. The faux Pimp and Ho couple first told the two Baltimore ACORN workers they were a pimp and prostitute, next that they hoped to establish a house of prostitution, and finally that they intended to import thirteen underage illegal alien girls from EL Salvador as part of their brothel. The ACORN workers never flinched throughout, and were disturbingly eager to assist O'Keefe and Giles with tax and housing fraud schemes to get their own house and set up the brothel, even recommending that the couple claim the underage child prostitute illegals as dependents.
Those videos have since gone viral. That first Big Government story was linked to Drudge and broadcast on FOX News the same day. Equally shocking O'Keefe/Giles videos from ACORN offices in D.C., Brooklyn, San Bernardino and now San Diego have been released on a near daily basis. All were widely reported on by FOX News, Drudge, and Breitbart, and by many major conservative and liberal blogs across the Internet.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
Photo courtesy ACORN
On September 14th, the Senate voted 83-7 to cut off all ACORN funding in the FY2010 Transportation and HUD budget bill. Yet it wasn't until the next day that the New York Times posted its first article on the story deep in the Times' editorial page, an oped by Scott Shane titled "Conservatives Draw Blood From ACORN." Yet despite all the damning video evidence, Mr. Shane minimizes the workers' egregious offenses, portrays ACORN in a sympathetic light, and paints the undercover stings as conservative vendettas against ACORN:
Conservative advocates and broadcasters were gleeful about the success of the tactics in exposing Acorn workers, who appeared to blithely encourage prostitution and tax evasion. It was, in effect, the latest scalp claimed by those on the right who have made no secret of their hope to weaken the Obama administration by attacking allies and appointees they view as leftist.
If you've seen the videos or know all the facts of the story, then read Shane's entire oped, the pro-ACORN and anti-conservative bias really jumps out at you. To his credit, ABC's Jake Tapper has been blogging the ACORN story since the beginning. Amazingly, his colleague Charlie Gibson said he hadn't even heard about the story until the 15th, a full day after the Senate voted to cut off ACORN funding. Gibson finally reported on the story the next day. When NBC finally reported the story on the morning of the 15th, Norah O'Donnell bemoaned that the stings could be considered entrapment and possibly illegal. This, from the network that routinely conducted undercover video stings on Dateline NBC and To Catch a Predator.
As with ACORN, a disturbing pattern is beginning to emerge from the MSM that strikes at the very heart of what the hard news business should be all about: reporting major breaking stories regardless of where the chips may fall, and serving the public trust by giving us all the facts so We The People can make informed decisions as to what's really going on in our government, our nation and our world.
If liberal Democrat politics were the deciding factor in major MSM news outlets not reporting on all these Obama government-related scandals, as was the case with Newsweek burying the Monica Lewinsky story back in 1998 to protect President Clinton, the MSM would be well advised to look at their abysmal public trust poll numbers and dwindling audiences, get out of the politics business and stick to news reporting.
By their recent actions (or inactions, I should say), major MSM outlets like the New York Times are fast becoming part of the scandals themselves by giving the appearance of covering up the stories to protect the President and his administration. Even Jon Stewart has been skewering the media over their non-coverage of the ACORN stories. How bad is that? On that note, let it be known for the record that the American people consider Jon Stewart the most trusted name in news, and by country miles over Charles Gibson, Brian Williams and Katie Couric, who came in at a dismal 7% public trust factor. Given the Daily Show's glowing ratings and recent poll numbers, it appears the MSM could learn a few things from the master.
Jon Stewart.
Jon Stewart.
Photo courtesy Comedy Central
If, on the other hand, the mainstream media has become too monolithic and slow to find out about and react to major developing new stories in real time, as indicated by Charles Gibson's apparent lack of awareness of a story that had even drawn Congress into action, then the lumbering oblivious mammoths of the MSM will eventually be devoured by the sleek saber-tooth tigers of the Internet like Drudge, Breitbart, Malkin and HuffPo, or driven into the tar pits by outlets like FOX News and even Jon Stewart's Daily Show.
The mainstream media in America today is at a turning point, maybe even a tipping point. Though the Big Three news programs may be safe regardless of performance, given they are only a fractional part of their networks' operations, the greatest dangers lie with the dead tree press. Ad revenues are down, circulation is down, and public perceptions of the media are at dangerous lows. The New York Times and its subsidiary, the Boston Globe, nearly went out of business this year and are on very shaky financial ground still. That trend has been epidemic within MSM print outlets for years, and as the PEW poll so clearly illustrated, it's only getting worse.
Information travels at the speed of light now. If lack of acquiring timely information is the problem, then those print and TV MSM outlets affected by it need to revise and upgrade their operations if they want to have any hope of surviving in today's lightning-fast news world. If the problem is political bias, the predominant negative perception in the PEW polls and other studies like UCLA's, then the MSM businessmen have to make a choice, and fast: either those MSM outlets guilty of it can choose to remain unofficial political campaign offices, or they can set politics aside and report the news straight up no matter where the chips may fall.
If those MSM outlets are consciously avoiding hot political scandals in order to cover up for or protect the President, members of his administration, liberal Democrats in Congress and all their pet policies and causes like ACORN, then their fate is already sealed. Just do the math. How can they possibly expect to survive in the news business in this new millennium when they won't even report on major breaking news stories that should be at the top of the header on Page One?
Front page of Washington Post
The Washington Post's lead story on Nov. 5, 2008
Photo by drewsanders
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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