Monday, January 16, 2006

Fetishizing the Media's 'Golden Age'

Something leapt out at me in a recent post about a 'fake' NYT photo on the conservative blog The American Thinker—seems Joseph Epstein's not the only right-winger lamenting the deterioration of this country's news quality:
It appears that the Times, once-upon-a-time regarded as the last word in reliability when it comes to checking before publishing (which makes them so much better than blogs, of course), has run a fake photo on the home page of its website. The photo has since been removed from the home page, but still can be seen here.

. . .

So the formerly authoritative New York Times has published a picture distributed around the world on the home page of its website, using a prop which must have been artfully placed to create a false dramatic impression of cruel incompetence on the part of US forces.
I'm a fairly young man (25 this past December), so I might be forgiven for not recalling in detail this Golden Age of News Media, when the stories were all 100% error-free and the journalists carried no agenda other than keeping the public as objectively informed as possible. That's one explanation; another is that the recent proliferation of online media police has merely increased the number of errors and inconsistencies the public hears about. Still, a comprehensive study to answer the question of whether the overall number of newspaper story errors has risen in recent years might help explain why the media's credibility has sustained such damage lately. My own guess would be that for various reasons, people are now more motivated than ever to find fault with the news, and that the memory of a mythically vigilant and universally trusted press is nothing more than the misbegotten offspring of imagination and nostalgia.