I wrote a book last year called “Stop the Presses! The Inside Story of the New Media Revolution.”
In it, I took some shots at what I refer to alternatively as “the establishment media,” “the downstream media” and “the Big Media.” What I will never call them is “the mainstream media.” That gives them far too much credit.
But, anyway, I digress.
My contempt until recently was mostly for “the Big Media.” I somehow liked to think that smaller newspapers and news organizations around the country might not have been infected with the virus of bias and inaccuracy. I had hoped that, in smaller markets, news people might actually be more responsive to the truth and the people they cover. I was under the illusion that arrogance and unprofessional ethics was perhaps less characteristic of small towns and in small media outlets.
You’ve no doubt figured out by now I was wrong. I’ve had an epiphany. The situation is worse than I ever thought. There is no safe harbor from the terminal illness of damnable media lies – even in middle America.
Let me tell you about a recent personal experience that brought this home for me.
One week ago today, I’m minding my own business, reading my e-mails, when someone brings the following to my attention. It is a letter to the editor in some rag called the Pittsburg Morning Sun. But, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, understand this is not Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; this is Pittsburg, Kansas. Heretofore, I didn’t know there was a Pittsburg, Kansas.
Here’s the gist of this cantankerously illiterate, uninformed and ridiculous letter, written by someone identifying himself as John Robb, complete with typos and untruths, and referencing an earlier letter published in the Morning Sun – proving one thing: Someone reads the paper: “A major problem today in our culture is undocumented news stories. They create further problems when perpetuated. The letter referred to Republican Congressman Steve King’s (Iowa 5th) comments that illegal aliens commit crimes. King is on the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration and border security. He calls himself an evangelical Christian and sides with the radical right on other issues. King got his information from a posting on the World Net Daily dated 11/28/06. Which, curiously, did not cite any sources. The WDN if published by Joseph Farah. He is a Lebanese-American who has written for many neo-con leaders, including Rush Limbaugh; hardly unbiased and certainly undocumented.”
Suffice it to say the premise Rep. King got his information from WND is a lie. In fact, WND’s 2006 report on this matter – not that illegals commit crimes, but that they kill 12 Americans a day – was clearly attributed to him as the source. But notice the gratuitous introduction of ethnicity into this little screed. Somehow it is relevant I am a “Lebanese-American.” That some nutjob would write this doesn’t surprise me. I get hate-filled, insulting, baseless e-mails like this every day. However, I don’t publish them.
I was hopeful the editor-publisher of the Morning Sun would recognize he had printed a letter that is defamatory, prejudiced, incendiary and just verifiably untruthful and retract it and apologize for it. Having been an editor and publisher of daily newspapers much bigger and more influential than the Pittsburg Morning Sun, I was actually confident of being able to reason with Stephen Wade. I was wrong.
He wrote back to me suggesting I pen a letter to the editor in response. Facts were not important to him. Reality is not important to him. Stephen Wade, like so many other media types in this strange new world, seems to think everything is just a matter of opinion. And that’s scary.
So I wrote to Wade’s bosses at GateHouse Media in New York demanding a retraction and apology – so far to no avail. Bottom line: I may have to sue these people, costing them and me a lot of money, just to motivate them to do what decent journalistic and business ethics should motivate them to do.
Imagine now, if you will, how ordinary Americans feel when they get slimed.
I have something of a public profile.
I have financial and legal resources.
I have the ability to call out the errors and bad behavior of people.
I make a habit of doing just that – it’s my job.
Nevertheless, because of arrogance or ignorance or stubbornness or pettiness, this little newspaper in this little town refused to do the right thing.
That’s the sad state of the media – even in small-town America.
No wonder newspapers are going out of business faster than mortgage lenders.