A Sea Change in the US News Media

by John Eberhard
09/24/04

We have witnessed evidence of a sea change (defined by Merriam Webster online as "a marked change : TRANSFORMATION") in US news media within the last two weeks. The change itself has happened over the last 10-15 years, but we have just seen conclusive evidence of that change within the last two weeks.

The evidence I’m talking about is the Dan Rather / CBS scandal over their running a story about President Bush’s National Guard service that was based on documents that show every indication of being forged. Finally CBS and Rather admitted as much on Monday and apologized.

Liberal Media History 101

To explain this change in the media, let’s go back a few years. The US news media have been biased towards a liberal point of view since at least after World War II. See earlier articles on my web site which contain irrefutable statistics showing this consistent bias. The bias has gotten worse and more blatant in recent years. My last article covered how The New York Times shows liberal bias in all of their hard news stories, not just op-ed pages, and the rest of the major daily papers follow in their footsteps.

Inconveniently for the network news shows, their viewership has been dropping significantly since 1979.

The Rise of Conservative Media

Starting in 1990s, conservative commentary programs like the one hosted by Rush Limbaugh started gaining huge popularity. Today Rush’s 3-hours-a-day syndicated radio show has over 4 million listeners per week, higher than any other radio show.

Talk show hosts giving conservative commentary are gaining national audiences everywhere, from Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly (on both radio and TV daily) to author Tammy Bruce on the weekends. Locally in Los Angeles, Larry Elder and Al Rantel are holding down the microphone on KABC, where you can hear conservative talk from morning until night.

Then we’ve seen web sites like the Drudge Report, Newsmax, National Review, City Journal online, and Tech Central Station. On cable, Fox News now has larger viewership than all the other cable news shows combined, even rivaling that of the networks. And a steady parade of conservative books by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and others have dominated the best-seller lists.

In short, an alternative conservative media has grown up, hungrily consumed by conservatives who don’t want to be spoon-fed only the liberal propaganda line.

Liberals have largely misunderstood the phenomenon, saying that conservatives have managed to exploit the new media better than they, and thus they tried to launch their own liberal radio network to much media fanfare earlier this year. The fact that the network flopped miserably within weeks of its launch may come as a surprise to you, since the liberal media somehow forgot to report it.

What the liberals miss on this entire phenomenon, is that a) not everyone is liberal, and b) people who aren’t, don’t like to have liberal propaganda shoved down their throats 24-7. So what has really happened is that enough people have gotten quietly fed up with the liberal bias, and when alternatives have sprung up, they quickly turned elsewhere for their news.

Gatekeepers

For decades, the mainstream liberal media establishment has been used to being the gatekeepers, i.e. being able to decide which news we got to hear and which news we didn’t get to hear.

A recent column from National Review Online by Ann Morse illustrates this point. Dan Rather and CBS News ran a story in 1988 about a handful of Vietnam War veterans, all dysfunctional, miserable, suicidal, drug addicts, etc. Several reported committing atrocities themselves. But there was just one problem with the story – almost none of it was true! It turned out that several of the vets featured weren’t even in Vietnam, and the last wasn’t doing anything like what he told Rather. When the inaccuracies were brought to the attention of Rather and CBS – they just stonewalled, saying no one had convinced them that the story wasn’t true (sound familiar).

What was the result of Rather and Company running a story that turned out to be completely bogus? Nothing. They just stonewalled, and little attention was paid. They rode it out because they were the gatekeepers. Not many people even heard about the inaccuracies.

The Scandal

Now flash forward to 2004. Now we have a full-blown conservative alternative media. We have the Internet.

Within hours of the September 8th story, people posting on Internet discussion sites were analyzing the documents, back and forth across the country. Soon they found holes in the accuracy of the documents that, as California Governor Schwarzennegger might say "you could drive your Hummer through."

Soon ABC News, the Dallas Morning Times, the Associated Press, and other traditionally liberal media outlets were running stories poking yet more holes in the questionable documents. And it turns out that Rather and Company ignored evidence they had, before the story ran, pointing to the documents being forgeries.

Yet for almost two weeks, Rather and CBS News stuck to their story, until they were practically the only news outlet in the country that still claimed to believe the documents to be genuine. Rather blustered that President Bush had yet to answer the content of the story, charges that he had received preferential treatment in the Guard and refused to obey orders to have a medical exam.

I thought Rather’s bluster was truly amusing. He seemed to miss the point that without genuine documents, he HAD no story. And that pesky point in America where people are innocent until proven guilty.

But CBS and Rather have missed a larger point. They and their fellow liberal minions of the mainstream news press are no longer the gatekeepers of information. They can no longer choose to simply ignore parts of the story or even entire stories that don’t fit with their ideological agenda. They still do control the network TV news and practically all the major daily newspapers in America. But the sad fact (for them) is that they can’t just take their football and go home any more. They’re no longer the only game in town. People can get their information elsewhere – and are doing so.

The mainstream liberal news press tried for months to ignore the Swift Boat Veterans story. Virtually none of them covered the initial press conference in the spring. But that story broker through and the book Unfit for Command about Kerry’s Vietnam service is a #1 best-seller. I’ve read the book by the way and it’s a shocker. It was the alternative media and the vets running TV ads that broke that story, until the mainstream press HAD to cover it.

Yes Virginia, There Are Consequences

In a recent poll conducted on conservative web site Newsmax.com, 94% of over 100,000 visitors who voted said that Dan Rather should resign. In a similar poll on Vote.com, 78% of over 48,000 voting said Rather should step down.

Now over the last few days, it has come out that CBS producer Mary Mapes put their source of the forged documents, Bill Burkett, in touch with Joe Lockhart, senior member of the John Kerry campaign, before the CBS story aired. Burkett now claims that they discussed the documents he gave to CBS and that Lockhart asked him for them.

GOP chairman Ed Gillespie now says he believe CBS committed a crime by putting the forged documents on the air. And WNIS-AM in Norfolk has announced that it is dropping CBS News reports after 12 years.

Despite the fact that the liberal mainstream news media is doing its best to drop the scandal story, it is not going away. In fact, over the last few days it is escalating, with talk of crimes committed and calls for Rather and producer Mapes to be fired.

The gatekeeper has been dethroned.

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