Van Gordon Sauter, the president of CBS News in the 1980s, has an opinion piece in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal that’s getting a great deal of attention and that’s very good news. He’s calling his own to professional accountability. It is not that they should stop being so thoroughly leftist in their reporting. He believes it is far too late for such a change. Their liberalism has soaked down into the marrow of their bones. It’s who they are. He readily recognizes how badly it has gotten, “The news media is catching up with the liberalism of the professoriate, the entertainment industry, upscale magazines and the literary world.”
And it is likely to get even worse. Sauter asks his readers to consider, “If Mr. Trump prevails in November, what’s the next act, if any, for journalists and the resistance?” He is precisely right to ask, “how will a large segment of the public ever put stock in journalism it considers hostile to the country’s best interests?” It’s likely that they cannot and will not. That most Americans have grave distrust of most of the mainstream media is not new news. It is not a good sign for journalism when major papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times promise to “fact check” some political story and are received by majorities across the country with one dramatic eyeroll.
Sauter admits his peers are all in on their partisanship and not looking back, “The media likes what it is doing. Admires it. Celebrates it. Ultimately, the media finds the “deplorables” deplorable.” His call is for them to at least come clean about it.
It would be delightful if a publisher, an editor, a reporter, would just say: Yes, I am left of center! I’m proud of it. I think our reporting is accurate. It best serves the public. And the credibility of the media. So there! [emphasis in original]
Sauter is not alone. He cites Dan Abrams, ABC News’ chief legal-affairs anchor and founder of the website Mediaite, who calls his media peers to try something quite novel: sheer candor. Sauter explains that at a major news writers’ conference earlier this year, Abrams said “I think the first thing that would help is to admit . . . that the people in the media are left of center.”
Sauter contends that in our current media market – pushed along by the partisan liveliness of social media and blogs of every stripe – no outlet could survive without intentionally playing to one side or another. People have become used to having their outlet of choice confirm their assumptions and personal biases. They wouldn’t know what to do with a news source that doesn’t have an angle. Perhaps that is true. Maybe we don’t just want the news anymore. We need it to pack a punch, to wallop our opponent and affirm what we already believe. News has become entertainment as much as it is information. As such it needs to have a spin.
If this is so, there’s a reason that one television news network consistently has significantly higher ratings than all the others. In fact, this network just celebrated its best month in viewership in the company’s history, a 54% jump in April over last year. No other network is even close. Take a guess at what that network is. I bet you get it right.
There is a reason Fox News is drawing bulging audiences with their particular angle on the news. More people find it the most informative and helpful over MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC.
Sauter’s Wall Street Journal piece is worth reading and is found here.