The decline of the mainstream media can be traced back to the 1980s with the failure to report on the death squads in El Salvador. I learned about the death squads from several different sources, including two doctors who worked for Doctors without Borders; both doctors had spent a summer in El Salvador. I wasn't looking for trouble. I just kept meeting people who had been to El Salvador and I asked questions and was puzzled by the answers. I figured the new star system at various news outlets was sorting itself out and would eventually catch up. The mainstream media in many ways never did fully catch up to a rapidly changing world. For one thing, there was too much profit in covering things like the O.J. Simpson affair.
In the 1990s, things only got worse and the decline of the mainstream media began to accelerate. It was embarrassing to watch people imitate Rush Limbaugh. I kept reading different newspapers and magazines doing my best to piece together what was going on; though, towards the late nineties, I stopped paying much attention to Newsweek or Time whose groupthink was drifting to the right.
After 9/11, the mainstream media began to embarrass itself further by spending too many hours of the day swallowing line, hook and sinker everything that came out of the White House. There were a handful of exceptions scattered around all the major outlets but, like many people, I began to get news hungry because it wasn't hard to notice a lot of holes in the news stories and various contradictions. In the wake of 9/11, Iran, having nothing to do with al Qaida, offered its sympathies and several commentators who apparently missed the groupthink memo believed there was an opportunity after 9/11 to make a fresh start in several areas of diplomacy including Iran. But, by the time of Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, Iran had returned, in the administration's eyes, to being a member of the axis of evil (history is not going to have kind words for that speech and the two addresses that followed; the factual errors alone will always haunt Bush's record).
For the last year, there have been signs that journalists, particularly reporters that do all the hard work of developing sources and information, are finally paying more attention. But there are still plenty of bad days, and even on good days there are things being said that should have been said four years ago. Thomas Friedman has finally come out and said that Bush isn't particularly competent and not particularly honest which is a theme I have been pushing in my small way for more than three years, long before I started this blog. I've had lots of good company but it wasn't enough to get through to the American people until the last year or so.
I still find it hard some days to read magazines like Newsweek. But here's an article by Eleanor Clift of Newsweek
that says some useful things but I don't feel obliged to include the pargraphs that aren't particularly useful:
President Bush’s call for a “rational middle ground” on immigration injects a welcome note of sanity into the debate. But that’s not what Bush’s conservative base is looking for. They want red meat, and they won’t be placated by mostly symbolic moves like Bush’s proposal to dispatch the National Guard to the Mexican border and Senate votes to build a partial fence and limit the number of guest workers.
After five and a half years of governing from the irrational exuberant right, Bush’s ability to lead the country on a middle path has been lost. He may have stumbled onto the right message, but he’s the wrong messenger. It’s like his call to break our addiction to oil, which was a line in his State of the Union Message. From a former oilman who as president championed tax breaks for more drilling, it was a brazen left-hand turn, and it went mostly unheeded.
Bush is flailing around trying to find the wedge issue that will win back his base, which makes him vulnerable to Buchanan’s nativist ranting. The irony is that Bush’s approach on immigration is a glimpse into what could have been, centrist politics with broad appeal, but it’s too late for that. He spent his entire presidency courting his conservative base, and they won’t put up with this betrayal. “This is the most deeply divisive issue in the party since his father raised taxes,” says Marshall Wittmann, who advised John McCain before joining the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Over at Third Way, another centrist group, there’s an office pool on how low Bush can go in the polls (entries range from 27 percent down to 21 percent). Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners, "I can't think of any single issue, in the 18 years I have been on the air, which has Republicans more up in arms than this one."
Bush is down in the polls because of his policies, not because he’s hit a patch of bad luck. These are self-inflicted wounds. Republicans held out as long as they could, but they’ve had enough, too, of a war that’s taking lives and draining resources and government spending that’s out of control. Just two months after Congress increased the debt ceiling, another hike is needed—the fifth since Bush took office—bringing the amount owed to almost $10 trillion dollars. Bush has built up more foreign-held debt in five years than all previous presidents together accumulated over 224 years. The rebellion over immigration has become the touchstone for conservative anger at Bush over a range of disappointments. “This is where they’re venting,” says Wittmann.
Yes, some useful things are said, but the Newsweek article spends too much time on Buchanan whose record has never been particularly illuminating or productive. The irony is that Pat Buchanan once held an alternate Republican mini-convention in Escondido, California, the stomping grounds of Randy 'Duke' Cunningham. Associating Buchanan with Cunningham may seem unfair but in the years before that convention was held, seminars were being held in the area for right wingers from all over the country with one theme dominating the discussions: how to take 25% of the voters and create a majority in Congress. All I will say is that the discussions were not tame and were not exactly in the Christian spirit.
The media has to accept some responsibility for offering legitimacy to various voices who have been proven wrong over and over. As an example, why are Richard Perle and Bill Kristol still given air time given all the things these two neoconservatives have said that have turned out to be absolute nonsense? Even President Reagan, of all people, made more sense. There is still a long ways to go before reality returns and hits a lot of people in the face. The next president needs to be someone who can look at the facts squarely, not with resentment, firings and fear-mongering, but with courage and a great deal of honest hard work.