Flickr Photo by Ann Althouse
For those of us who have criticized the U.S. mainstream media for failing to resist right-wing pressure over the past three decades, there is a sad sense of vindication watching the downward spiral of so many once-venerable newspapers. But this trend carries with it a new threat to American democracy.
The core problem is this: as flawed as the MSM has been – as complicit as the New York Times and the Washington Post were in many of George W. Bush’s war crimes, for instance – journalists for mainstream news outlets provide most of the factual information that the rest of us rely on.
No Internet-based news outlet, including our own Consortiumnews.com, can claim that it has the capability to do the daily news reporting that is now done by the mainstream news media.
And the serious threat to American democracy is that as the MSM is reduced to a shadow of its former self, the influence of the well-funded right-wing media will grow disproportionately.
The Right has followed a three-decade strategy of building and maintaining its own media infrastructure – and though some right-wing outlets might stumble, most of them are sure to survive with hefty subsidies from wealthy right-wing foundations and business interests.
By contrast, the American Left largely has stayed on the sidelines of what the Right calls “the war of ideas.” The Left has invested far less money in media institutions and think tanks than the Right has.
In essence, liberals and progressives have counted on mainstream journalists to somehow soldier on for the truth even as right-wing anti-journalism groups have targeted those same journalists. (I know this because I was one of those mainstream journalists in the 1980s and 1990s.)
Over the years, there has been a profound short-sightedness in the Left’s media strategy. But even today, there is little indication that the liberals and progressives have learned any lessons. Instead, there remains a lot of wishful thinking that somehow a few independent Web sites will manage to counter the right-wing media behemoth.
One of the ironies in this contrast between the media strategies of the Right and the Left is that the supposed rugged individualists on the Right have constructed what amounts to a cradle-to-grave home for right-wing “journalists” who are groomed from their college days to become authors and TV personalities and can grow old as editors and producers as long as they toe the Right’s line.
Meanwhile, the supposed collectivists on the Left expect independent or progressive journalists to somehow carve out their own media niche and survive with minimal outside support.
It should be no surprise then why so many MSM journalists look at this media environment and do whatever they can to avoid sustained attacks from the powerful Right, for fear of ending up out on the street.
To understand how this dangerous dynamic took shape requires looking back to the 1970s when the Right felt aggrieved because mainstream journalists exposed many of the lies about the Vietnam War and unearthed Richard Nixon’s Watergate criminality.
(Some of the Right’s grievances can be traced back even further, to the civil rights days when Southern segregationists blamed Northern reporters for highlighting injustices toward African-Americans.)