Monday, May 17, 2004

Mass Confusion
It's only a mild exaggeration to say that Walter Cronkite helped raise me--we had supper on the farm every night at 5:00, and at 5:30 damn near every night, we had Cronkite for dessert. After he retired, I tried to make do with Peter Jennings, but it just wasn't the same.

Cronkite's retirement and the nearly simultaneous rise of CNN signaled the end of an era in broadcast journalism. During the 1980s, the economics of broadcasting required news operations both network and local to make money, thus opening the door for what was soon labeled "infotainment." But it always seemed to me that even though news outlets were reporting more fluff, at least it was factual fluff. That era ended in 1996 when Fox News Channel went on the air.

The Fox difference, of course, is the utter confusion of news with propaganda, and a corresponding failure on the part of Fox's audience to be able to tell the difference. What Fox does looks like journalism, but it isn't, really. John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, discussed Fox and the responsibilities real journalists feel to the audience in a lecture he gave at the University of Oregon a couple of weeks ago. One responsibility he discusses is to correct mistakes. The Times, he says, printed 2,759 corrections in 2003. Like the rest of us, he's still waiting for the first one from Fox. Like the one about Saddam not being responsible for 9/11 after all, or that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Recommended reading: Blogs purporting to be written from inside Iraq always inspire skepticism. After all, on the Internet you can say you're anywhere and anybody, and who's to say otherwise? (I have always told you I'm a fortysomething writer in Wisconsin and you most likely assume I'm a guy, but how do you know I'm not a 52-year-old lesbian who runs an organic car-repair service in Jamaica?) Many people suspected that Salam Pax, who became internationally famous through his blog "Where is Raed?" in the early days of the war, wasn't really who he said he was (although it turned out he was). And so there's some skepticism on the web about Riverbend, who writes a blog called Baghdad Burning. My guess is that she's real--and she's worth reading.

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