The news media’s romance with the fringe may be a stark reflection of how the business has changed in just the past few years. Before there was an Internet, before the explosion of sources of news and commentary, mainstream news organizations could maintain something like a gatekeeper role, downplaying or ignoring stories they deemed unfit for public consumption. Such a paternalistic media culture wasn’t all for the better, of course; who knows how many legitimate stories never surfaced because a few media elites decided not to pay attention? In any event, such restraint seems almost impossible now, given the hypercompetitive environment and a minute-to-minute news cycle.
“The mainstream media are alert to, perhaps even fearful about, Web [stories] on issues they have ignored or downplayed,” says A.J. “Herb” Linnen, a retired Associated Press reporter who covered the 1960 presidential campaign. “There are people and vested interests who use the Web to disseminate material they know won’t get used elsewhere.”
The whole story is a morass of fail, conflating the birthers with the 9/11 truth people, as if they’ve been treated equally in the media, and congratulating the press on successfully and quickly exonerating John Kerry after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made all sorts of obviously spurious comments about his military record. I don’t know which election Paul Farhi was at in 2004, but I don’t think it was ours.There’s the usual “both sides do it” paragraph, designed to keep angry conservatives from calling AJR, which probably won’t work because Orly Taitz is the lead and she’s like catnip to these creatures.
The emphasis above is what I’d like to focus on, because it’s … I mean, you guys know this by now, right? Mighty traditional journalism, brought so low by the filthy Internet that its practitioners have NO CHOICE but to follow along with whatever whacked-out nonsense is on the front page of TMZ today.
Such restraint may “seem impossible” now but it actually isn’t. It isn’t impossible. You just have to say, in news meeting or whatever the TV equivalent, that you aren’t doing a story about this crap, and people know where TMZ is if they want to find it. You have to open your mouth and let words come out. Pardon me for not equating “choosing to ignore the Interwebs” to Shackleton at the Pole. It’s not that hard. I ignore the Internet all the time andI work here.
What Farhi really means is that there’s enormous peer pressure to do the same stories everybody else is doing, and that most editors and news directors are just too chickenassed to say what we teach some seven-year-old on the playground to say when his eight-year-old friend offers him a cigarette: No, thank you. Ooh, but our readers might think we no longer have our pulse on the information superhighway phenomenon thing! Which ishow you get this:
I mean, really.