And of course this affects the work product. Consider two stories in the New York Times last month. On March 8, the Times ran a long story about a woman from Biloxi, Miss., and her problems getting aid from the government after Hurricane Katrina. Turned out she wasn't from Biloxi, was not a Katrina victim and had been fraudulently obtaining government aid.
"For its profile, the Times did not conduct adequate interviews or public record checks to verify Ms. Fenton's account," the Times admitted in a correction on March 23.
On March 11, the Times ran a story about an Iraqi identified as the man in a famous photograph of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Turned out he wasn't the man in the photo. On March 18, the Times ran another correction: "The Times should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military."
Both of these too-good-to-check stories of course reflected badly on the Bush administration, which seems to be a requirement for getting your story in the Times these days. The relentlessly negative coverage of Iraq in most news outlets falls in the same category. Stories about American heroes, stories about soldiers building schools and water systems, stories about the successes of Iraqis -- you have to look awfully hard to find them in most news media today. What you do see is a determination to make Vietnam and Watergate happen again.
All of which brings to mind an old politician's comment on an idealistic young colleague: "He actually thinks this place is on the level." The good news is that many Americans have caught on. Newspaper circulation is down, and so is viewership of broadcast TV network news. New media offering a different point of view -- talk radio, Fox News, the blogosphere -- are thriving. We can't design the news media from scratch, but we can scratch some of the news media we have.