Among the products of war are a few misconceptions, one of which is the widespread belief that the media are The Media -a monolithic creature of one mind and singular purpose. Well, two minds, if you divide the media into liberal and conservative, which many do.
There seems to be little sense of a middle ground these days. It's an either-or world, a condition that may be blamed in part on President Bush's "you're either with us or against us" mantra following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
If you write in support of Bush policies, such as the war on Iraq, for example, those who disagree infer that you're either on the Haliburton payroll or jockeying for a job with the Bush administration.
I assume that those who write against the war get similar mail suggesting that they're either Clinton apologists, or communists, or teen-raping, pot-smoking, baby-aborting Hollywood agitators. What were once differences of opinion among gentlefolk have become vast ideological divides between fanatics and zealots.
My e-mail since the start of the war has cast a light on the apparently growing misconception that we in journalism operate as obedient soldiers marching lockstep in a sinister army directed by greedy corporate czars.
Don't get me wrong. I think the words "greedy" and "czar" fit nicely with "corporate." The media merger mania of recent years may be good for business but bad for journalism. And there are plenty of horror stories to justify some of the contempt out there, though perhaps not the degree of paranoia I keep noticing.
Famously, for example, Times Mirror Corp. (which merged with my boss, the Tribune Co., in 2000) hired General Mills cereal executive Mark Willes in 1995 to improve company profits. Willes, nicknamed "Cap'n Crunch" and the "Cereal Killer," ultimately tripled the stock price within four years in part by killing the New York edition of Newsday and putting the final nail in the Baltimore Evening Sun.
Within journalism circles, however, he's best known for tearing down the wall between business and editorial, which many correctly feared would compromise journalistic independence. Willes left after five years with a multimillion-dollar severance package, which, need I say, does not inspire the sort of corporate loyalty among union-wage journalists that the conspiracy minders imagine.
No one hates the homogenization of newsrooms more than I, or the corporate bureaucracy that has snuffed out the soul of journalism since I began 25 years ago. Where once there were giants, now there are bureaucratic midgets and bow-tied bean counters obsessing about tidy desks.
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