Vital Signs

Bad News

Oh, the tedium. We are confronted, yet again, with the spectacle of the establishment media suffering one of their spasms of professional angst, as they ask each other, with fake drama, what their audience, in genuine anger, frequently asks them: Why do you get so much so wrong so often? For those who have witnessed previous media exhibitions in which self-absorption is paraded as self-analysis, the climax of this current thrash-about is easy to predict: a two-hour PBS roundtable and a one-hour Nightline special during which the most elite members of the elite media conclude, with the preening modesty that's all their own, that while they "aren't perfect," they do, no kidding, have a really tough job, and when all is said and done, well, heck, they're pretty darn good at it. Then, with a collective sigh of relief (another bullet dodged!) and backslaps all around (who says we're not tough on ourselves?), they will rest assured that the nasty episode has passed.

The latest outbreak of journalistic anxiety was generated by the combined effect of two events: media performance during the investigation of Richard Jewell, one-time suspect in the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, and media response to Paula Jones's charge of sexual harassment against President Clinton. In their initial coverage of both stories, mainstream journalists accepted conventional wisdom (which they also helped create), failed...

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