It was perhaps appropriate that Dan Rather received the prestigious Peabody award in journalism at the same time when Newsweek magazine was finally backing away from its false story about Americans flushing the Koran down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison.
At least Dan Rather’s forged documents didn’t get anybody killed, as the phony Newsweek story did. What is even more revealing — and appalling — about the mainstream media is that they are now circling the wagons around Newsweek, to protect it from criticism, just as they circled the wagons around Dan Rather last year, and now give him an award this year to put the frosting on the cake.
If the forged documents at CBS and the phony story at Newsweek were just isolated mistakes, that would be one thing. But media liberals have made themselves accessories after the fact, by springing to the defense of such indefensible misconduct.
In a sense, that is good. It makes it easier for the public to see that the forged documents and the fake story were not just odd things that happened to a couple of people but were symptomatic of a mindset among many others who sprang to their defense.
Someone referred to the story about George Bush’s National Guard service as “too good to check.” In other words, it fit their vision so well, and scored a point that they wanted to score against President Bush, that it hardly seemed worthwhile to check out the facts.
That is almost certainly what happened with the story about Americans flushing the Koran down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison. It seems unlikely that Newsweek simply made up the story out of whole cloth. But, once they heard it, it was “too good to check.”
All this goes back to a more fundamental problem with the mainstream media. Too many journalists see their work as an opportunity to promote their own pet political notions, rather than a responsibility to inform the public and let their readers and viewers decide for themselves.
It is not a question of being “fair” to this or that side but of being honest with their readers and viewers.
Columnists and editorial writers are expected to offer opinions but reporters are expected to report facts. However, that distinction is increasingly blurred, with the front page of the New York Times often providing classic examples of editorials disguised as news.
What happened to Dan Rather last year and to Newsweek this year is that the disguise fell off when the “news” that they were trying to sell turned out to be fake and all that was left exposed was their animosity toward the Bush administration.
The Peabody award to Dan Rather drives home the point that the mainstream media have learned nothing and are thumbing their noses at their critics — and ultimately at those readers and viewers who are looking for enlightenment, rather than spin.
Abraham Lincoln said that you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The steady erosion of the audience that watches CBS, ABC, and NBC television news, and the declining circulation of the leading newspapers, all indicate that more and more people are unwilling to be fooled.
The swift rise of talk radio, Fox News, and the bloggers all reinforce the conclusion of a growing disillusionment with the mainstream media that once had a monopoly and abused it.
A reader recently suggested this formula: Monopoly plus discretion minus accountability equals corruption. That kind of corruption can be found not only in the mainstream media but also in two of our most important institutions, the public schools and the federal courts.
Both the schools and the courts flatter themselves that their job is to change society. So does much of the media. But what qualifies these people to be world-changers? They are usually poorly informed about science, uninformed about history, and misinformed about economics.
And who elected them to change the world while pretending to be doing something else and betraying readers' trust?
Thomas Sowell is a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. He has published dozens of books on economics, education, race, and other topics. His most recent book is a revised and expanded edition of Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy.