Monday, August 27, 2007

The Decline of the Media

At The Today Show, Katie’s success was primarily engineered by another man, her whiz-kid producer Jeff Zucker, the now president of NBC. The biggest splash in her early career, the serendipitous White House interview with president George H.W. Bush, was among those orchestrated by Zucker. While conducting a live TV tour of the White House with Barbara Bush, the President joined in, probably expecting a few moments of genial chit-chat. Instead “Couric grilled him for nineteen minutes on topics from tax policy to Iran-Contra…Bush seemed frazzled.” Katie’s reputation was thereby established as someone who could handle both morning-TV fluff and more substantive journalism. What was not known at the time was the important role Zucker played; he remained outside parked in a satellite truck in the White House driveway, shouting questions in her ear piece.

This quote, written by Myrna Blyth of the National Review in a review of the new book by Joe Klein about CBS News anchor Katie Couric, has some interesting possibilities to explain the decline of the media from it's once-respected position to the point where supposed "anchors" like Couric are actually more news-readers than real journalists.

Once upon a time, reporters were true experts about the topics they covered. From world-news to sports, the beat reporters were veritable encyclopedic references on their areas of coverage. A classic example is the famous time when Ronald Reagan, bereft of his ticker-tape stats, called a baseball game sight-unseen, using only his knowledge of the players and their teams. These weere the days when a reporter quite often had a solid calssical education, so was comfortable challenging leaders who had no more than the same. But those days are gone.

Today's reporters are usually graduates in journalism- a 'discipline' that has few similarities to true academic disiplines such as engineering, Latin, computer science, or history. Journalism requires merely the abilkity to write- it does not teach students to do intensive research, nor does it teach analysis, as the classic liberal education of yesteryear did. As a result, reporters think that they can pass judgement about many areas in which they know little or nothing. A case in point is the Iraq campaign. i recall hearing the cries of the media after merely a few weeks that the campaign was a 'quagmire'. Since none of these so-called expert reporters had any training in military science, nor had they any real familiarity with historical campaigns, they were ill-equipped to pass judgement on this campaign, and they were shortly proven to be fools azs the military adjusted and crushed Iraqi forces in less than three weeks.

I remember wathcing a reporter once on a television news show. She was supposedly a technology reeporter and she was discussing a new Palm handheld, which she calimed had something made by a company called 'Bluetooth'. I worked for Palm at the tim, and I remember my colleagues and I nearly flaling out off our seats, we laughed so hard. Regrettably, this is not uncommon. Many reporters are assigned to areas that require great understanding- understanding that few reporters have, as they are simply not qualified by their majors to make any kind of analysis on those areas.

Today's reporters, like Katie Couric on that day at the WHite House, have people in trucks shouting the questions they should ask into their earpieces. But yet they expect the subjects of their reporting, who do not have the advantage of instant research, to know everything. They forget that once, they too wre restricted by what they could carry in their head. To consider Couric, or any other current anchor an expert on anything would bee a grave mistake. And becasue they have lost the individual expertise, and are merely spoon-fed it as needed, they consider them selves experts and savagely diss their subjects when said subjects cannot come up with the exact figures they are expecting.

Perhaps reporters need to lose some of their technical advantages and go back to the days when their own minds were their most important weapons. If so, they might once again learn some compassion for the people on whom they report, and they might learn objectivity. that is a tall task, but it is one that the current jet-setting, wired group of edgy, oh-so-progressive know it alls seem to have forgotten.

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