The Pew Research Center just released its 11th annual "State of the News Media" report. The section on cable news is informative, but if you happen to be a fan of MSNBC, you may want to have some tissues handy. That far-left network, which shamelessly, tirelessly and loyally promotes President Obama's policies, lost 24% of its prime-time audience last year. 24%! CNN suffered a 13% decline, while Fox News fell by 6%. Despite FNC's small drop, the network still attracted more prime-time viewers than CNN, MSNBC, and HLN ... combined!
Of course, some audience decline is to be expected in the year after a big presidential election, but the huge declines at MSNBC and CNN go beyond that. Many Americans have long believed the national press is biased left, but a more damning charge is now being debated: Is the U.S. media actually corrupt? Those who believe it is point to the fawning coverage of Barack Obama, and now to the recent coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
If someone really wanted to assess the "state of the news media," all he or she had to do was tune in cable news over the past few weeks. The moment the jetliner was reported missing, the cable outfits pounced. And with good reason. It was a genuine news story that possibly involved terrorism and tragedy.
But then CNN, desperate for viewers, decided to go round-the-clock and whole-hog. When there was no more news to report, the network resorted to asking guests about the "supernatural" and even "black holes." Not to be outdone, CNN's poor little sister HLN invited a psychic to speculate about the plane's fate. "I see a lot of trees," she said. Unfortunately, CNN and HLN seemed to have missed the forest.
Fox News media analyst Bernie Goldberg pithily described CNN's questioning as "stupendously dumb and jaw-droppingly stupid." Meanwhile, Goldberg's FNC colleague Howie Kurtz worried that media credibility itself was "vanishing into a black hole."
It's worth remembering that when the Founding Fathers granted the press special privileges, they did so with some trepidation. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams loathed the early press in America because it often operated irresponsibly; it was not unusual for money to change hands in the production of a news story. But Jefferson, Adams, and their peers understood that the people needed information in order to make informed decisions in the voting booth. Therefore, the greater good was served by allowing a free press in the hope that the honest journalists would outnumber the dishonest ones.
But we now have a problem. Entire news operations are devoting themselves not to reporting events honestly, but to promoting a certain ideology and ignoring events that interfere with their politics. When a network spends 24 hours a day "reporting" rumors and theories about a missing plane, that leaves exactly zero time for other stories that are crucial. Remember the IRS targeting conservative groups? ObamaCare's dismal numbers and countless delays? Benghazi? How about Vlad the Invader and his annexation of Crimea? You didn't hear much about them over the din of speculation.
News organizations are not supposed to be attack dogs that demonize the Tea Party and conservatives, nor lap dogs that await orders from their masters in the White House press office. The media is intended to be watch dogs, guarding the rest of us against government malfeasance and corruption. But too many media outlets have become corrupt themselves. It's worth pondering what Jefferson and Adams and Madison would think if they were around today. Hey, maybe we'll call a psychic to find out.