Get This Boy A Bib. He Needs His Mama.


Yeah, that's David Broder in Sunday's Wash Post, auditioning for a lead in Grumpy Old Men III or, as this post's title suggests, going beserk like a discombobulated robot from Westworld.

The object of Broder's rage? All the arrayed forces of madness (read: profits, da Internet) that have driven real journalists (read: hacks such as Dan Rather and Howell Raines) to sucking even worse than the fake journalists they are desperately trying to imitate. Got that? if not, have another drink and read on, McDuff:

My suspicion is that it [the terrifying expulsion from the Broderian Eden of good, clean, decent people doing good, clean, decent journalism] stems from a widespread loss of confidence in both the values of journalism and the economic viability of the news business….

When the Internet opened the door to scores of "journalists" who had no allegiance at all to the skeptical and self-disciplined ethic of professional news gathering, the bars were already down in many old-line media organizations. That is how it happened that old pros such as Dan Rather and former New York Times editor Howell Raines got caught up in this fevered atmosphere and let their standards slip.

Here's a bonus Melvillean moan: "We've wandered a long way from safe ground in the news business. Sometimes I wonder if we can find our way back." "O Bartleby! O Humanity." Whole spiel here.

A few quick points: Despite the flurry of exposed journalistic fakes (a decade-long flurry, if one throws in the usual suspects, including Ruth Shalit, Stephen Glass, Mike Barnicle, blah blah blah, along with Jayson Blair, the USA Today guy, the recent Rather boo boo, etc.), there's little reason to believe that mainstream journalism is any more corrupt than it ever was. Indeed, the only thing that has probably changed is that it's easier to get caught, which should be a good thing in anybody's book.

I don't think bloggers or other "Internet" journalists are a replacement for mainstream media; rather, they function as a supplement and, often, a corrective. When Broder writes, "Journalists learn to be skeptical -- of sources and of their own biases as well. If they are any good, they are tough on themselves," he's not simply mouthing empty platitudes (Hey Dave, we called your mother and guess what, she doesn't love you). He's ignoring precisely how Web-based brats have forced "real" journalists to confront their biases. That's what happened with the Trent Lott affair. Mainstream journalists found it completely unremarkable that the Mississippi senator indulged in a Confederate counterfactual because that kind of shit goes on all the time. It wasn't beauty that killed that beast (or at least forced his resignation as Senate majority leader). It was bloggers.

Broder is also missing a major but little-understood point about media in an age of proliferation: Media doesn't simply functin as a news or info source anymore, but as an affiliative community in some ways analogous to a sports team, alumni association, or social club. This isn't new--people have always read mags like Reason, The Nation, and National Review (or consumed radio and TV channels like PBS and NPR) to participate in imagined communities of like-minded folks. What's different now is that you can do that much more easily and efficiently now on the Web--witness, Swift Boat Vets, or even more relevant, sites such as Free Republic or The point of much of that sort of activity isn't delivering or even discussing news per se; it's to create a sense of solidarity and affinity.

One final point (if it is one): Based on the number of outlets, the range of perspectives, the ease of access, you name it, this is the best damn time for journalism ever. Which isn't to say its perfect. But it is a pretty crappy time to be a well-placed columnist, or editor, or publisher desperate to dictate the news cycle, what people are reading, and what people "should" be thinking.