I often cannot make my argument as strong as I would like. In this particular case, instead of rewriting my entire old entry [add link later], I would like to add an extension. What I wrote is still valid, it just needs reinforcement. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t call this “Part II”, but whatever.
And now, for something completely different… just kidding:
Let’s consider the case of the faked Bush Guard memos. I wrote this back in 2004, “When the errors were pointed out so quickly online, you have to wonder how much they really looked into the authenticity of these documents…”
Back then, I wrote it really caustically, implying that it was perhaps done with more vicious motives. I now have a different outlook. I tend to agree with this line from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we supose.” Thus, I question the validity of my previous implied allegations.
Still, the line does raise a valid point, if you ignore the tone. How much did they really look into the authenticity of those documents? Of course, the answer is “not very much,” otherwise, they would’ve figured out that they were fakes and never aired them in the first place. Well, this does leave two possibilities. Either they intentionally aired fake memos, or they did it unintentionally.
Humor me for a second if you believe the former, as this is important information and may still be valid even if they did post fake memos on purpose. The next logical question to ask, if you believe it was unintentional, is “How could they have done this?” Well, this Dan Rather trusted the producer, the producer trusted the lower-downs (as opposed to higher-ups), etc, etc, random people tossed in here and there, another etc. I guess the real question is, “Why didn’t anyone question this?”
If you believe it was unintentional, the only explanation is media bias. For the people of CBS, this memo confirmed what they thought had to be true about Bush. They believed he hadn’t finished his Guard service and that there was a cover-up. The problem in this memo scandal is that they didn’t even think to question the validity of these documents.
Therein lies the problem of media bias, even if you think Rather did it on purpose or even if you think Karl Rove planted the memos. The problem is a cocooning effect. Certain assumptions are made and never questioned. It seems like it should be true, so they post it. The problem runs to the left and the right: Koranic abuse, well, it fits the pattern with Abu Ghraib, let’s post the news story based on one anonymous source at the Pentagon speculating about what may be in a future report; Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda, yeah, let’s air it.
The issue of media bias is important for the long-term viability of news organizations. 60 Minutes II went off the air due to ratings issues. There’s no doubt in my mind that these ratings issues can be partly attributed to the memo scandal. With bias, it’s more likely that someone will slip-up, and bam, there’s goes the trust, and bam, there goes your audience. Guess what? People aren’t trusting the media as much as they used to. It’s not some hypothetical scenario… it’s already happening.
And so, the reasoning behind a more balanced hiring scheme is revealed. I can now better explain my last paragraph of the previous entry. The hiring of liberals and conservatives will create a culture of skepticism that would not exist otherwise. The risk of another memo scandal is reduced. Certain things trigger alarm bells in some people’s heads, like those headlines in my case. A culture of skepticism reduces the risk of this. The people working for you will have alarm bells go off in their heads, and things can be fixed.
Certainly, some things will slip through the cracks. But that’s no excuse to leave things the way they are. When it’s more balanced, things will slip through left cracks and right cracks. The allegations of systematic bias will be less sticky because they’re less true. Less alarm bells will go off in weblogger’s minds. The meme of media bias will begin to die out in the blogosphere. Trust goes up. Sales won’t slump as much. And you can go back to writing your sensational headlines without me complaining about them.
[Note: add in links to previous entries]