From the most important anchors in the country, from PBS' Gwen Ifill to CBS' Scott Pelley, the networks heaped adulation on the Democratic convention and scorn on the Republican gathering.
"Bill Clinton gave a great speech!" exulted Pelley, who was supposed to be delivering straight news, not even bothering to cover himself by saying "commentators will view this as ." For her part, Ifill took gleeful jabs at commentator David Brooks for trying to insert some conservative remarks at the Democratic meeting.
Last week's coverage of the attacks on Americans in Egypt and Libya, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's initial reaction to them, unleashed the most naked example of journalistic herding I've ever seen.
Romney is running not only against the Democratic Party but it seems almost all of the national network and cable media and blogosphere as well, not counting right-wing Fox News and the Drudge report, of course.
Last Thursday on CNN, which is viewed by some as the most straight cable outlet, anchor Wolf Blitzer passed the baton to Jack Cafferty. He unleashed a bitter three-minute screed against Romney's comments, and then asked viewers to take part in a poll on Romney.
Romney said plainly the Obama administration's first response to the breach at the embassy was to apologize for a wildcat film, which it did. It is hazardous to paint what happened next with a broad brush, but Romney found out that electronic news is not 24/7 but 1,440 minutes times seven. But here's one sequence: Almost immediately, the left-leaning Politico blog found several Republicans to criticize Romney. They were quoted but unnamed. NBC's Andrea Mitchell suggested Romney injected "politics into a national tragedy." Another NBC reporter, Chuck Todd, said Romney's statement "looks crass and tone deaf." Then ABC's George Stephanopoulos crowed Romney reacted by softening his criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy and talked economics instead in a campaign visit to northern Virginia. By the way, there was virtually no mainstream commentary on Obama's saying Egypt is "not an ally." It would seem that TV's first string feels an imperative to react to all the calumnies and hatred leveled at Obama by hate radio and Fox commentators, particularly Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. The quandary in which voters find themselves didn't start last week.
Shows like "Crossfire," "Point/Counterpoint" and "The McLaughlin Group" brushed civility to the side by paying reporters to behave like attack dogs. The positioning of former Democratic operatives Stephanopoulos, Mark Shields and the late Tim Russert as broadcast news stars further blurred the lines between reporting and rhetoric.
Too often in the national media, success is measured by those who make the most provocative remarks and in big decibels.
The press at large has paid a price. Just before the conventions, the Pew Research Center reported, "since 2002, every news outlet's believability rating has suffered a double-digit drop, except for local daily newspapers and local TV news." Thirteen national news organizations, including Fox News, the networks, NPR and national newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have suffered huge credibility losses.
"Positive believability ratings for the New York Times have fallen by nine points since 2010, from 57 to 49 percent," Pew said.
So loss of discernment and decline in civility and professional responsibility has exacted its price on the national media as well as on Congress and the presidential campaign. That's why the presidential debates starting Oct. 3 may be the most decisive conducted since 1960.
Douglas Turner: National media lose credibility
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