Thursday, January 13, 2005

Peggy Noonan on Rathergate and its effects

In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan surveys the damage done by the Rathergate scandal and celebrates the new media revolution.

All this has been said before but this can't be said enough: The biggest improvement in the flow of information in America in our lifetimes is that no single group controls the news anymore.

You can complain now, and your complaints can both register and have an impact on the story, as happened with bloggers and Rathergate. You can be a part of the story if you find and uncover new information. You can create the story, as bloggers did in the Trent Lott scandal. American journalism is no longer a castle, and you are no longer the serf who cannot breach its walls. The castle doors have been forced open. Other voices have access. Bloggers for instance don't just walk in and out, they have offices in the castle walls.

Is there a difference between the bloggers and the MSM journalists? Yes. But it is not that they are untrained eccentrics home in their pajamas. (Half the writers for the Sunday New York Times are eccentrics home in their pajamas.) It is that they are independent and allowed to think their own thoughts. It is that they have autonomy and can assign themselves stories, and determine on their own the length and placement of stories. And it is that they are by and large as individuals more interesting than most MSM reporters.

. . .

Only 20 years ago, when you were enraged at what you felt was the unfairness of a story, or a bias on the part of the storyteller, you could do this about it: nothing. You could write a letter.

When I worked at CBS a generation ago I used to receive those letters. Sometimes we read them, and sometimes we answered them, but not always. Now if you see such a report and are enraged you can do something about it: You can argue in public on a blog or on TV, you can put forth information that counters the information in the report. You can have a voice. You can change the story. You can bring down a news division. Is this improvement? Oh yes it is.

A couple weeks ago I wrote that with blogs we're not limited to choosing between a handful of news sources. Instead we have thousands of sources just a mouse-click away. The trusted sources will become the successful sources.

Noonan also comes close to suggesting something that Hugh Hewitt suggested (and which I gently criticized) about a sort of "full disclosure" of the MSM's biases.

Meantime the MSM will not disappear. But it will evolve. Some media organs -- Newsweek, Time, the New York Times -- will likely use the changing environment as license to be what they are: liberal, only more so. Interestingly they have begun to use Fox News Channel as their rationale. We used to be unbiased but then Fox came along with its conservative propaganda so now just to be fair and compete we're going liberal.

I don't see why anyone should mind this. A world where National Review is defined as conservative and Newsweek defined as liberal would be a better world, for it would be a more truthful one. Everyone gets labeled, tagged and defined, no one hides an agenda, the audience gets to listen, consider, weigh and allow for biases. A journalistic world where people declare where they stand is a better one.

I've been paying attention to most of what Peggy Noonan has said about Rathergate, not only because she used to work at CBS News, but because she said some nice things about Dan Rather in her book What I Saw at the Revolution.

If you're looking for Noonan to slam Dan Rather in this piece, though, you won't find it. Noonan may be too classy for that. In fact, she dosn't see an end for the MSM at all.

The days when they could sell a one-party point of view is over. No one is buying now because no one is forced to buy. But everyone will buy the networks when they sell what they're really good at, which is covering real news as it happens. Tsunamis, speeches, trials--events. Real and actual news. They are really good at that. And there is a market for it. And that market isn't over.


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