A thick cloud of nostalgia hung over the set. Why couldn't politicians trust journalists like in the good old days? Why must we have a sound-bite political culture? Why don't politicians follow the agenda set by media muckety-mucks?
Such nostalgia is understandable given the culture these men grew up in. In the post-World War II era, television journalism was almost a quasi-governmental institution. There were only three networks, and their news broadcasts set the national debate and drew the nation together in a way that had never happened before. Eventually, the establishment felt entitled to this arrangement. They forgot that this system was the unintended offspring of WWII and the Cold War and the advent of television. Before TV, American journalism was more boisterous and less revered.
Today's technological glitz notwithstanding, we are returning to the norm, and the guild-mentality consensus we've "enjoyed" this last half-century is evaporating and will likely never return.
When asked to name an underreported story in '05, Brokaw suggested the downsizing of General Motors. Well, GM is a good illustration of what's happening to the elite media. One of the main reasons GM is in such trouble is that it has never won the allegiance of post-WWII consumers. The "greatest generation," as Brokaw calls them, loved their Oldsmobiles, and they've been buying GM cars for 60 years. But that generation is dying, and GM's antiquated products (and pensions) are killing it in a more competitive environment in which young consumers couldn't care less about Oldsmobile.
Young people feel the same way about those evening news broadcasts. Fewer than 10 percent of viewers of the major network news shows are under the age of 34. The average viewer is over 60. Haven't you noticed that all of the ads are for adult diapers, denture cream and Viagra? There's nothing wrong with that, but it's a sign that the old system cannot last.
Meanwhile, the one institution that has been immune to the media's prying eyes is now being scrutinized itself - not by a journalistic priesthood but by bloggers, independent media and consumers. Rather than embrace the new era, which recognizes that the elite media's power qualifies them as worthy of scrutiny, the elite media circle the wagons. As Ted Koppel asked at the end of "Meet the Press," "When are you getting to the tough questions? Come on, Tim."
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