So the question is, how exactly 'free' is our so-called 'free press'?
It's a good question -- a darned good question.
Let me try to answer it, not as a media critic, but as a news professional who has spent most of my adult life running daily newspapers in major markets.
There are a couple of institutional problems at play.
When we say "the media", these days,what we're really talking about is a very small group of newspapers and one -- count 'em, one -- wire service that controls nearly the entire flow of mainstream news. That's it. What Americans know from the establishment press is based on the decisions and the reporting of a handful of people.
There are very few establishment news organizations that are actually doing any serious investigative or enterprising reporting. When they do they count on it being recycled by the Associated Press, which really holds a monopoly nowadays as the major wire service. If it doesn’t get on AP, it don't happen. And it doesn’t get on AP unless it is written by one of their small coterie of national reporters or if it appears first in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune or another of those elite 'serious' national papers.
Think of how the Danny Williams (a young boy whose prostitute mother claims that Bill Clinton is his father) story broke -- as a result of enterprising reporting by a ‘trashy tabloid’ magazine and hyped by the dreaded Internet. If there is one entity more despised by the media elitists than the tabloid industry, it's the fledgling independent Internet news business. Don't you think it bugs journalists that Matt Drudge and his laptop have more influence than 99% of the daily newspapers in this country? Don't you think it bugs the elite old media, as they battle trends of declining circulation and ratings, that WorldNetDaily, after 19 months of internet publishing, got more than 1 million hits on Monday of this week.
The other institutional problem is that the news media has truly lost its way, its moorings, its sense of purpose, its mission.
I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating. The central role of a free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government. From Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Fathers understood this. The American press instinctively understood it and lived by that code for nearly two centuries.
Sometime in the last 30 years or so, the press drifted in another direction. Ask most reporters and editors today what the central role of a free press in a free society is and you're likely to get a blank stare. That was not the case a generation ago, or even when I entered the business during the Watergate era.
Nailing government officials for fraud, waste, corruption and abuse were always the hallmarks of good reporting. Pulitzer Prizes were awarded for holding government officials accountable for their words and deeds. Not anymore.
In the 1990's, the U.S. press establishment crawled into bed with the government. Reporting on government today means rewriting press releases, transcribing the words of official spokesmen, standing in front of the Capitol with the videocam on and repeating what you just read in the New York Times. Today, the government-media complex is more scary than the military-industrial complex.
And that's how a story like the Danny Williams story can go virtually unreported in the establishment press -- even though the whole nation is talking about it. It's just one more example of how the "mainstream press" is digging its own grave. And it's why the independent news media, which actually performs the mission the old media were created to perform, are experiencing such unprecedented growth.
Joseph Farrah www.worldnetdaily.com
Last updated 09/07/2004