Earlier today, I asked a journalist friend of mine what he thought of the Fineman MSNBC piece that's being punditized all over Blogoland. Though the following email exchange was not an interview, I've presented it in that fashion for context and ease of reading (and no, the irony of a non-journalist seemingly doing "journalism" has not been lost on me):
Me: "Have you read Fineman's piece on the MSNBC site?"
J: "Nah, hadn't, but that seems a touch contrived to me. That process has been churning along for years, way before this CBS thing. Actually, I think the moment the national media (talking specifically about the big networks and national political correspondents, who Fineman's talking about but which actually constitute a pretty slim, albeit prominent, segment of the media) jumped the shark in '87 with the Gary Hart story. I think that's the moment when the national media began concentrating more on scandal-sheet shit than substance, and I don't think it's recovered since.
"And besides, not that CBS is innocent, but given the amount of disinformation and outright bullshit that passes for 'news' on FOX and MSNBC on a daily and nightly fucking basis, this 'Rathergate' nonsense is, at most, a low-grade felony. Of course, it seems a propitious time for the clever pundits to chuck clods of dirt on the Mainstream Media. But personally, I think the failure of the networks and correspondents to hold the administration's feet to the fire on the justification for war (especially given that today, the White House has finally conceded that, no, they never found any WMD in Iraq) is the REAL gobsmacking fuckup that should make all of us hang our heads in shame. I suspect that may explain, too, some of the glee with which everyone's dumping on Rather.
"'Course, that's just me. I didn't mean to vent so. I guess it just needed to come out. Believe me, on balance, I'm just as cynical about the media as anyone."
Me: "No, the venting's appreciated. My biggest beef is what Fox viewers seemed blind (or inured) to: holding the Administration's feet to the fire. They pretty much failed with Clinton, too. What I want to see much more of--and what I saw late in the presidential race--is fact-checking. Not taking the Administration's word for anything. I wish there was more of that across the board. I'm talking about national, not local, news, but I don't see what [sic] the same principle wouldn't apply there too."
J: "But here's another problem, even though I appreciated the post-debate fact-checking by the networks: They were missing perspective. There's a James Carville line in The War Room that sums it up: He's on the phone with some reporter, and he's complaining about that very thing, saying something like, "We call $1 million $1.2 million, they call $1 million $78 trillion, and you guys say, 'Well, they're both fudging numbers!' Sorry, it ain't even close. The fact-checking I saw compared, say, Kerry's claim of $200 billion (or whatever the figure is) spent in Iraq -- when that's only a projection of what might eventually be spent -- to massive Bush whopper after massive Bush whopper as if they were equivalent. That's just as misleading in its own way.
"Also, at this point, with God only knows how many FOX-watching Americans believing that propaganda designed to reinforce their own prejudices is what constitutes 'news' -- how can actual news compete? And that applies to left and right, although for my money it's way worse on the right ..."