Belief in a fair press long gone

An analogy from the SF Chronicle’s Tim Goodman that is spot on:

Everybody in journalism wants there to be a perception of objectiveness, but that boat has sailed.

And for television news, the downfall began when journalists participated in roundtable, issue-arguing shows that the cameras loved so much. The spiral quickened when 24-hour-cable channels were left without a disaster at hand and plenty of time to fill. In came the gasbags and pundits and spinmeisters — you have to forgive the viewing audience for not being able to parse opinion from fact on a news channel.

Somewhere in that time line, viewers lost — if they’d ever had it in the first place — that quaint notion that journalism answered to a higher purpose. And with Rather teetering on the edge of scandal and journalism itself suffering another very public black eye, it’s safe to say we have seen the last of the Walter Cronkite era.


More: The Gainesville Sun notes what University of Florida journalism professors are saying: that this debacle is a lesson to journalists and one being learned in advance by students:

The CBS News controversy gives journalism students a textbook example of why reporters need to verify their sources, University of Florida professors said Monday.

Professors at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications said the situation involving documents CBS News used to question President Bush’s Guard service, which now appear to have been falsified, are a strong lesson for their students.

“Believe none of what you hear, half of what you see and all of what you write,” professor Bridget Grogan said she preaches to her students. As an assistant news director for WUFT-TV, UF’s television station, she helps oversee the news scripts and advises students about how to make news judgments.

At 3 p.m. Monday, her students were in the studio eating lunch, editing tape and bemoaning the Gator football team’s loss over the weekend to Tennessee. When asked about CBS News’ use of the documents, the referee’s blunders in Saturday’s game seemed minor in comparison to CBS’ fumbles.

“It gives us all a bad rep,” said Morgan Vecera, 22, a senior major in telecommunications from Tampa. Vecera, a field reporter for the station’s evening news program, said events like these reinforce the public’s perception that the news media is biased.

She said Dan Rather’s apology was a good-faith effort to come clean with the mistake and move on. But added that the network’s accuracy less than two months before an election is critical to its credibility.

“Why even watch the news if you’re getting false information?” she said.

Harrison Hove, 20, a third-year double major in telecommunications and political science from Ponte Vedra, said journalists must verify sources, a golden rule that “is nailed into your head” in journalism school, Hove said.