Does news still matter?

10 Dec

There was a time when Walter Cronkite was the most trusted person in America.  That he was a news anchor made him a perfect candidate for that position.  But these days the news business is becoming a less influential part of people’s lives.  Is Oprah the new Cronkite?  Does the evening news even matter anymore?

How do people know what other people think? The sad truth is that it doesn’t come from talking to one another; it comes from the media. And the media, for reasons ranging from mercantile to ideological to laziness, frame every issue, including the Iraq war, as (at best) a battle between two plausible sides, or (at worst) as a crusade of the Right against the Wrong.

That’s why no journalist can today occupy the place that Walter Cronkite did when, at the end of a CBS documentary about the 1968 Tet offensive, he said the U.S. was in a stalemate in Vietnam and should get out. That moment, it’s said, caused LBJ to tell an aide, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” But today there’s no MSM journalist who channels Middles America. Whatever their other virtues are, the ABC, CBS and NBC anchors are paid their multimillions not to tell the truth, but to sell the truth-has-two-sides story, which is also how you maximize audiences. (Drop a coupla zeroes from the salaries and viewerships, and it’s true of PBS, too.) Bill Moyers, Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert actually do tell the truth, and they mercilessly deconstruct the biases of “fair and balanced” faux news and fatuous “narrative” narratives, but their audience sizes limit their impact, and their matter is more than matched by Republican media anti-matter.

Walter Cronkite, Where Are You?

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