The Gruber videos and the future of journalism

Many people are familiar with the devastating financial effects the Internet is having on newspapers and other legacy news outlets — the loss of advertising revenue, downsizing of staff and the shrinking newshole — but very few people (outside of those who wish them ill) have commented on the lack of substantial, and politically evenhanded, reporting by the mainstream media.

Perhaps out of fear of being labeled in some egregious way, or of losing access to senior administration officials, most of the White House press corps has been reduced, during the Obama years, to a gaggle of superficial chroniclers of whatever spin the White House puts on policy issues and national affairs generally.

Nor is the conduct of the White House press corps the only evidence of the journalistic failings of the mainstream media.

{mosads}The Jonathan Gruber videos, in which he brags of his cleverness in deceiving the public and Congress about crucial aspects of the Affordable Care Act, provide another example. Some of the Gruber videos date back to 2010, so why are they only now coming to light? More importantly by far, why didn’t the press fully examine and expose what we now know to be the many adverse effects of the ACA before its passage? It isn’t as though no one had seen them coming. Indeed, many GOP legislators, and conservative think tank experts, warned of precisely such effects.

So why weren’t those warnings fully vetted by the press? If you ask conservatives that question, they will immediately answer that it’s because of the media’s liberal bias. And whatever one’s view of that criticism, one would think that the very fact that perhaps half the people in the country feel that way might have occasioned a course correction by the media. Remarkably, it has not.

So going forward, it’s likely that the past will be prologue, and that those who think of journalism as democracy’s guarantor, or even just as an enterprise that provides thorough and objective coverage of the daily news, will be disappointed.

This, because after looking at current trends, the future figures to be marked by the journalism of a mainstream media that is in retreat and that practices, as now, superficial and “horse race” coverage of even the most complex policy issues, while the so-called “conservative media” grow to critical mass.

Indeed, one wonders if the conservative media — meaning talk radio, FOX News, Drudge Report and scores of online outlets of news and opinion — aren’t politically dominant right now.

From guerilla documentarian James O’Keefe to the Breitbart combine, and such established outlets as National Review, Commentary, and The Weekly Standard, to the journals published by conservative and libertarian think tanks, many of which are frequently linked to by Drudge and RealClearPolitics, it is the right-of-center media that appear to be the most aggressive in acting as a check on government.

Liberals, and reporters with the legacy media, often dismiss conservative exposes as being ideologically driven, and no doubt they are. But for the mainstream media to surrender to conservatives investigative pieces that question the rationale and efficacy of government programs is to surrender not only their journalistic patrimony but a big part of their reason for being. And at a time, according to polls, when a staggering number of people don’t trust government, it is also a recipe for further growth of the conservative media.

A better approach for all of the media, legacy and newer entrants, would be to strive for comprehensive and objective journalism. Now, more than ever, the country truly needs it.

Maines is president of the Media Institute, a nonprofit organization supported by major media and telecommunications companies. The institute promotes free speech, sound communications policy and journalistic excellence. The opinions expressed are those of Maines alone.

Tags Alternative media Jonathan Gruber Mainstream media Media bias

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