On Monday I was part of a Chris Matthews’ moderated panel at the National Association of Broadcasters convention which included Joe Trippi, Jeff Jarvis and NBC News president Steve Capus, Mike Turk, Angie Kucharski and Jordan Hoffner. Trippi, Karvis and I said what we always say at such gatherings, which is that the old information networks simply do not grasp what is going on, and the representatives from the old networks, on stage and in the questions afterward, assert that there will always be a need for professional journalists because, as Capus put it in a comment I heard but which may have been lost as Matthews was moving to a new question, “people want news from organizations they can trust.” It would have been impolite to bring up Katie Couric’s problem from last week.
I had begun my remarks by telling the audience that I felt a little bit like the guy who turned up in Atlanta to tell the residents there the news that Sherman was headed their way. After a couple of sparks flew between Capus and me over the quality of Katrina coverage –I am scornful of the idea put forward by Kapus that coverage of the storm’s aftermath was one of broadcasting’s finest hours when in fact it left uncorrected the hysterical stories of gun fights and suicides in the Superdome and bodies stacked up in the meat locker at the Convention center– I repeated the metaphor: Sherman is coming. What is surpassingly odd for an industry built on research is that it seems unaware of the deep contempt in which it is held by vast vast numbers of viewers, even viewers who regularly take in their product when obliged to, such as in the aftermath of the murders at Virginia Tech. I am certain that viewership skyrocketed for all the cable channels yesterday and Monday, but it doesn’t tell you anything other than the infrastructure of information relay when it comes to video feed is still in the hands of the networks and when people want to watch, they will turn to the networks.
But they won’t trust the networks to explain what happened or to advise them on how to proceed going forward because the networks aren’t trusted. As Trippi pointed out a couple of times, peers are trusted, and peers shape other peers understanding of truth and falsity. The networks can put out whatever they want, but the product isn’t and won’t be trusted unless and until peer networks or –Triipi didn’t mention this– credible analysts interpret the pictures, sounds and background facts. The center right has a growing roster of trusted analysts both on the air and on the blogs. The reach of those interpreters is vast. Places like Townhall –now the leading conservative site on the web in terms of traffic– collect the work of those interpreters and the readers absorb it and send it on. Rush and the other talkers are doing the same thing, as is Powerline, Instapundit etc. Meanwhile at the NAB the disbelieving grumble about the barbarians at the gate, and the left struggles to produce its own set of analysts but they either fail, as with Air America, or produce the broadcasting world’s equivalent of Bizarro World from the old DC Superman Comics —Keith O and Rosie.
The analogy to Sherman’s approach has another aspect: The Manhattan-Beltway media elite are very similar to the lords of the Confederacy in terms of reverence for a code of honor they simply refuse to believe has enormous flaws in it, flaws which are glaring and obvious to outsiders but which are at best unspoken of in politce company and at worst so deeply inculcated in MSM-lifers that they cannot begin to imagine the absurdity of their claims to such things as objectivity. It goes without saying that the self-esteem that journalist feel for themselves has nothing of the moral depravity that slavery burdened the South’s aristocracy with, but when the audience clapped for Capus’ defense of Katrina coverage when it was at best parasitical and at worst a hysteria-inducing mini-series that left almost wholly unexamined its own pre-storm failures in reporting on the lack of preparation of the local, state and federal governments as well as the excesses of the coverage, the obviousness of their obliviousness to the rapidly accelerating eclipse of their authority was keen.
MSM is a lot like mass transit in urban centers. Sometimes you just have to use it, even though its deficiencies are many and its efficiency and reliability suspect. It will get you there. But ridership is declining as alternatives open up.
And the MSM’s elite? Well, just call them Beauregards.