Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Howard Fineman has a nostalgic column moaning the end of the monopoly of the major media.
A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the "mainstream media," which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards. At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.

Now the AMMP is reeling, and not just from the humiliation of CBS News. We have a president who feels it's almost a point of honor not to hold more press conferences — he's held far fewer than any modern predecessor — and doesn't seem to agree that the media has any "right" to know what's really going in inside his administration. The AMMP, meanwhile, is regarded with ever growing suspicion by American voters, viewers and readers, who increasingly turn for information and analysis only to non-AMMP outlets that tend to reinforce the sectarian views of discrete slices of the electorate.

Sob, sob. How sad. They were so good at one point and so necessary to the well-being of the nation. Fineman traces their downfall to Walter Cronkite taking a stand on the Vietnam War and then with the meida going hammer and tongs after Nixon. He thinks that was all great stuff, but perhaps gave away the illusion of objectivity. Ya think?

What really sticks in his craw is Bush's seeming indifference to the mightiness of the press. By circumventing the media to gather money and support, Bush has shown that the Emperor, while not totally naked, is at least running around in some pretty funky skivvies.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush arrived on the national scene in the 1990s intent on dictating the terms of dealing with the AMMP — or simply ignoring it altogether. Already well-known as the son of a president, he focused on raising money and holding private chit-chats with donors and political supporters who would journey to Austin for off-the-record talks. His guru was not an image-making man (as Ailes had been for Nixon, and Deaver with Reagan) but a direct-mail expert, Karl Rove. Rove and Bush decided that most forms of "exposure" offered by the AMMP would be likely to do more harm than good. So why bother unless they could completely dictate the terms of engagement?

Bush doesn't hate the AMMP (indeed, he likes his share of reporters on a personal basis). He just refuses to care about what it's up to. The terrorist attack of 9/11, and the added security concerns it fueled, have given the White House a new reason to keep the AMMP at bay. Pools are "tighter," more and more events are "closed press," and those that are open are to be viewed at a distance, if at all.

In this situation, the last thing the AMMP needed was to aim wildly at the president — and not only miss, but be seen as having a political motivation in attacking in the first place. Were Dan Rather and Mary Mapes after the truth or victory when they broadcast their egregiously sloppy story about Bush's National Guard Service? The moment it made air it began to fall apart, and eventually was shredded by factions within the AMMP itself, conservative national outlets and by the new opposition party that is emerging: The Blogger Nation. It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility.

And, as Walter Cronkite would say, that's the way it is.

This is a new world. And like all people in a trade that is growing obsolete from blacksmiths to telephone operators, Fineman is fighting against the tide. As Dylan would say, "The times, they are a-changing." If he doesn't want to sink like a stone, he'll change his ways.