Columbia Journalism Review this month took the first steps toward transforming the ghost stories and urban legends of America's current recession into the formalized analysis of history. In "The List," a table of 727 stories from the business media, CJR tracks the history of the recession's coverage from its first rumbles and murmurs in 2000 to the cataclysms of 2007. In the process, the publication explores whether the media did, in fact, do everything that it could to protect its readers.
In its final analysis, the answer seems to be a resounding "no."...read on
In all the navel gazing about the future of journalism, it seems to me that one of the most important is consideration of the cracking of the insider culture. The media's failures of the past decade can be at least partially explained by its insular nature and class based identification with those they cover. (As James Wolcott so pithily illustrated with his description of Judy Miller and Scooter Libby "buttering each others' toast" at the St. Regis.)
Good journalism requires something that is in short supply among many establishment journalists: a healthy skepticism toward power, money, celebrity and elite opinion. Unfortunately, all too many elite journalists swim in the same social and professional pool as the people they cover. I thought it was bad in politics, but when you watch the financial media it's almost dizzyingly cozy and self-reinforcing.
Writing is hard, and nobody has more respect for good journalism than I do. And there are many, many good reporters out there doing great work, some of them at the biggest and best papers and news networks. But the fact is that American journalism is in crisis. They can pretend it's all about the financial model and parasite bloggers or whatever other excuse they can come up with. But one of the reasons is a catastrophic loss of credibility because they are consistently either missing the most important stories of our time or helping the powerful manipulate them. And one of the reasons for that is because they are part of the same elite system they are covering.
Update: The NY Times public editor thinks Elizabeth Bumiller should have used more skepticism with her shoddy reporting on the Pentagon "terrorist recidivist" story. Same old story. Cheney's minions give a story to the NY Times (Bumiller says she had to fight for this one, which makes it all the sweeter) and then Cheney goes on TV and quotes the NY Times as the authority.