Instead of trampling Newsweek?the magazine made a mistake and corrected it quickly and honestly?the focus ought to be on whether the news media are predisposed to make certain kinds of mistakes and, if so, what to do about it. The disdain that so many reporters have for the military (or for police, the FBI, conservative Christians, or right-to-lifers) frames the way that errors and bogus stories tend to occur. The antimilitary mentality makes atrocity stories easier to publish, even when they are untrue. The classic example is CNN?s false 1998 story that the U.S. military knowingly dropped nerve gas on Americans during the Vietnam War. On the other hand, brutal treatment of dissenters by Fidel Castro tends to be softened or omitted in the American press because so many journalists still see him as the romanticized figure from their youth in the 1960s. Another example: It?s possible to read newspapers and newsmagazines carefully and never see anything about the liberal indoctrination now taking place at major universities. This has something to do with the fact that the universities are mostly institutions of the left and that newsrooms tend to hire from the left and from the universities in question.
I once complained to an important news executive that he ignored certain kinds of stories. He said that he would like to do them but that his staff wouldn?t let him. He admitted his staff had been assembled from one side?guess which??of the political spectrum. This conversation hardened my conviction that the biggest flaw in mainstream journalism today is the lack of diversity.
Remember the sensational New York Times report on the 380 tons of explosives missing in Iraq? It was a questionable and weekly sourced story put on page one eight days before the election in a transparent attempt to defeat George Bush. Wouldn't it have been good for journalism if a single person at the Times editorial conference had been able to muster enough "diversity" to stand up and say, 'Great newspapers don't do things like this.'
Much of what journalists turn out is very good. But when they omit or mess up stories, run badly skewed polls, or publish disgraceful front-page editorials posing as news stories, nobody seems to notice because groupthink is so strong.
Time is running out on the newsroom monoculture. The public has many options now?as well as plenty of media watchdogs, both professional and amateur. So the press takes its lumps and loses readers. In March, a report on the state of the media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said that in the past 17 years, Americans have ?come to see the press as less professional, less moral, more inaccurate, and less caring about the interests of the country.? According to the report, fewer than half of Americans think of the press as highly professional (49 percent, down from 72 percent 17 years ago). Another finding was that coverage of George Bush during the presidential campaign was three times as negative as coverage of John Kerry (36 percent to 12 percent). If the press is that much out of sync with the country, its future looks very uncertain. Something has to change.