What the press has learned

February 18, 1999|By Arnold Rosenfeld

I HATE the word "media." I'm a snob. I don't like being lumped in with Larry Flynt and Matt Drudge. I'm not sure they'd like being lumped in with me. But, as the Emperor Joseph said in "Amadeus," there it is.

So, now that It is over, what has the mainstream press learned? (I define "It," in this case, as the impeachment saga.)

Frankly, not an awful lot: Something's out of kilter in the news trade. The good news doctrines, the ones they have taught in journalism schools, since the wilder forces of journalism turned establishment, no longer apply. Good newspapers ask, "Are you who you say you are?" But the question has become harnessed to bad causes, bad motives. The perpetual search for public hypocrisy leads grubbily to the perpetual search for personal hypocrisy.

The public doesn't trust our competence to sort out good from bad. That makes news decision-making simpler: just let everything in. But that doesn't work either: One person's great scoop being another's story that should have been suppressed.

The technologies Marshall McLuhan contemplated have taken charge. One can only trust the marketplace to continue to show better sense than the heralds of the night. Too many notes.

Arnold Rosenfeld is editor-in-chief of the Cox Newspapers. His e-mail address: arnold.rosenfeld@cox.com.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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