The collapse of America’s media elite

By Hugh Hewitt

John Hindrocket writes for the blog Powerline and this past week he raised the “Emperor’s New Clothes” question abut the mainstream media.

But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What can they do that we can’t? Nothing. Generally speaking, they don’t know any more about primary data and raw sources of information than we do – often less. Their general knowledge is often inadequate. Their superior resources should allow them to carry out investigations far beyond what we amateurs can do. But the reality is that the mainstream media rarely use those resources.

Too many journalists are bored, biased and lazy. And we bloggers are not dependent on our own resources or those of a few amateurs. We can get information from tens of thousands of individuals, many of whom have exactly the knowledge that journalists could (but usually don’t) expend great effort to track down – to take just one recent example, the passability of the Mekong River at the Vietnam-Cambodian border during the late 1960s.

I have been both a lawyer and law professor for two decades and a TV-radio-print journalist for 15 years of those 20. It takes a great deal more intelligence and discipline to be the former than to be the latter, which is why the former usually pays a lot more than the latter. It is no surprise to me, then, when lawyers and law professors like those at Powerline and Instapundit prove to be far more adept at exposing the “Christmas in Cambodia” lie and other Kerry absurdities than old-school journalists.

The big advantage is in research skills, of course, and in an eye for inconsistencies which make or break cases and arguments. Lawyers turned amateur journalists are going to be much better at it than time-serving scribblers, and even non-lawyer bloggers with superior research skills – think Captain Ed, Tom McGuire and Polipundit – are going to run rings around “pros” who aren’t in a hurry to bring down their favored candidate.

They will be assisted in their effort by the full-time labors of “new media” pros like Jim Geraghty and John McIntyre. The only difference between professional and amateur journalists is that the former get paid to practice their trade. As with athletes, the purer effort comes with the amateurs, though some of the pros keep their ideals front and center.

The late Michael Kelly, who would appear on my radio program every Wednesday before he left on his last assignment to Iraq, rejected the idea of journalism as a profession, as there was no licensing body. The child of journalists and among the most respected journalists of our age, Kelly often described journalism as a “craft” to me, one in which there were both excellent and terrible practitioners.

The bloggers of the center-right who have exposed the Kerry Kurtz Chronicles over the past three weeks are much better craftsmen than their paid counterparts at the big papers. They found they key lie – Kerry’s many and self-contradicting tales of daring-do across the Cambodian border and his use of those lies for political advancement – and researched it and exposed it while their paid brethren ignored the big story because it was inconvenient for their candidate’s chances.

The willingness to push the story forward regardless of whom it injured used to be the mark of journalists at the big papers. It isn’t any more. And for a long time to come, the complicity of the old media “reporters” in not reporting Kerry’s lies will be an exhibit in the history of the collapse of credibility of America’s media elite.