I'm reading Michael Hastings' blog post on media support of the war. The points he makes should be no surprise to readers here on dkos: that it was a wise career move to support the war, and that there were no consequences for getting the war wrong. I do want to argue one point, however: I think there was a consequence for getting the war wrong. But it's not falling on the specific commentators or reporters who got the war wrong, instead it is falling on the industry as a whole: people just stopped reading newspapers.
I am an excellent example, I think, of exactly what is going wrong with the newspapers, and why they're bleeding readership. The house I grew up in never subscribed to less than two newspapers (generally the Quad City Times and Des Moines Register) and at least one news magazine (generally Newsweek)- and both of my parents grew up in homes that did the same thing. The nightly news- both national and local- was watched religiously- and, when it became available, CNN was a staple. I myself am heavily literate and very interested in news and politics.
And yet, unlike my parents and grandparents before me, I don't subscribe to a single newspaper. Not one. Nor do I watch TV news- neither the evening news shows nor the various news channels. What went wrong?
The short answer is that the media lost my trust. And I don't think I'm alone in this.
The first thing to realize was that the media didn't suddenly fail in the run up to the Iraq war- the media had been failing, and in a suspiciously consistent pattern, for years or decades. In addition to grossly failing the war reporting,
and more or less simultaneously with that, they were failing to report accurately and timely on the Dean campaign (I swear to god, if Howard Dean had said "I often beat my wife at chess", they'd have reported that he said "I often beat my wife" followed by days of breathless speculation about how often spousal abuse happens in the Dean campaign. If you don't believe me, check out the "confederate flags on their pickup trucks" statement- both what was reported and the full sentence he actually said), warrant-less wiretapping (why was the story held back until after the 2004 election?), and the housing bubble/financial crisis. Going back in time, you failures to report in a timely and accurate manner on the 2000 campaign (where Al Gore was a serial liar and Bush was fundamentally honest- talk about blowing a call), the internet bubble, the serial Clinton scandals of the Clinton years peaking with Monica Lewinsky, even Jimmy Carter's killer rabbit.
The point I'm making here is that there wasn't just one missed call- it was missed call after missed call, decade after decade.
Trust is the most important quality and media site can have- including a blog. But especially a media outlet that charges for it's content, like newspapers. If I don't trust that the media is giving both accurate news and in a timely fashion, why am I paying for it? TV news has kept it's audience, I think, primarily because it's free (once you pay for basic cable, which I don't). Even if I don't trust the media, I might watch it or read it anyways if it's free, simply for the lack of anything better to do. But if I'm paying for the content up front, I need to trust that the content will, in fact, be of value to me.
Consumers don't get a vote on who is on the editorial pages, and what qualifies as news or not, in the newspapers and magazines. They only have one choice: buy, or not buy. That's it. When Michael Hastings said that there were no consequences to getting the war wrong, what he meant was that the editors and owners of those newspapers and magazines did not impose a consequence. Instead, the consequence is being enforced by their readership making the one decision that can make, and simply not buying anymore.
This harms good reporting as well as bad reporting, I know. But if there is no consequence for the repeated and large failures of reporting we've seen, then the bad reporting will continue to increasingly crowd out the good reporting. Good reporting is dying in either case. It is not we, the people who are no longer buying the newspapers and news magazines, who are killing good reporting- rather, it is the editors and owners of these companies who are killing it, by promoting bad reporting at the expense of good. Who is killing the newspapers? The newspapers themselves.