A cowed and spineless press

Many have criticized the mainstream media in recent years for liberal bias and depending on your political proclivity, you either agree wholeheartedly with that assertion or dismiss it outright as right-wing paranoia.  However, using the recent filibuster by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and its subsequent coverage by the media as a benchmark, I was able to observe, hour by hour, the actual coverage by many different networks and news organizations.

I found that CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Roll Call, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC either didn’t highlight the event as it was unfolding or put it “below the fold,” meaning it ranked in search terms and on their web pages lower than such newsworthy events as  the “Snowquester” and a group of Arabs doing the Harlem Shake.  C-SPAN, FOX News, The Hill, Politico, and the Drudge Report carried the event front and center.

Instead of focusing on this perceived bias though, I thought I would highlight a larger issue; the general laziness and ineptitude of today’s press as a result of budget cuts in the field of journalism.  Over the past few years, the press has gotten increasingly cozy with the objects of their reporting (the White House in particular) and the questions asked have been more or less softballs.  But by sending E! News flunkies to the White House daily briefings and treating the Administration with deference, the press is not doing its job.

A free and independent press is necessary for any healthy democratic institution, as it ensures that the concerns of the citizens are brought to the fore and that those in positions of power are made to answer for their actions.  Now, I understand press and government have a symbiotic relationship.  The press needs to keep its access in order to remain employed, so they have to walk a fine line between asking important (and pointed) questions without alienating the Administration and getting booted from the press gallery.

But because of their inexperience, the press has forgotten that the government needs them too.  A free and independent press contributes to the legitimacy of any government, because any government that cannot withstand the scrutiny of open debate among its citizens is destined to collapse.  If all of the members of the press corps do their jobs and ask hard questions, they’d have strength through solidarity.  The Administration can’t kick them all out because if they did, all that would be left to report the “news” would be government employees, i.e., a propaganda ministry.
Bottom line, the past 4 years have seen a press corps that has spent more time on the First Lady’s wardrobe than they have on extra-judicial killings of American citizens and the gradual erosion of our civil liberties as a result of the “forever war” against terrorism.  President Obama would rather visit the feckless sycophants on The View than engage in a robust debate with George Will or do a 5 minute spot on Fox News.
Apparently Walter Cronkite, Seymour Hersh, Edward R. Murrow, and Helen Thomas are gone.  Well, we need them back in order to hold our leaders accountable for their decisions and challenge them at every turn to ensure they stay in touch with the concerns of the everyday American.  The press used to be the champion for the people; they need to be that again.