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In a Page One story last Monday, the Washington Post boldly suggested that regular ol’ ‘Mericans might be losing interest in traditional sources of information…like daily newspapers. Post staffer Howard Kurtz talked to the little people—actually, the paper commissioned a research firm—and found out folks don’t care diddly about the doings in Washington and regard the journalists who report those events with unmitigated contempt.
Kurtz studied the research and decided, “The plain fact is that much of the American public has simply tuned out the news—that is, the kind of traditional news, heavily laden with politicians and official proceedings, routinely covered by the mainstream press. These people see journalists as messengers from a world that doesn’t much interest them.”
Lest you think the Post was penning its own obit, it should be noted that this “series of conversations” about the waning relevancy of professional Beltway sniffers took place in Baltimore, and the paper that “these people, none of whom have a college degree,” had stopped reading was the Baltimore Sun. No doubt if the unwashed interviewees lived in the District and had a proper education, they’d still be riveted by a paper that needs a research firm to report a story about how journalism has lost its connection to average people. I guess that’s what they mean when they say “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”
Tweedledee Dumb Maybe part of the reason that Joe Lunchbucket has no interest in tracking the score from the halls of governance is that the tally changes so often—sometimes in the same story. Mainstream journalism’s fealty to formal balance can make for some pretty confusing messages. Take the May 14 Post profile of Sen. Nancy Kassebaum. Framed as a well-planted kiss for the Kansas senator who doesn’t pander to right field, it included some gratuitous balancing slaps in the name of objectivity. In the same graph, Kassebaum was billed as a “woman of steel” whom colleagues “wish could be more forceful.” There were so many on-the-other-hands, the reader couldn’t help but hope that the Post would run out of hands in time to reach a conclusion. But the desire not to offend undermined the need to inform. Either Kassebaum is “not shy about exercising the latitude given her” or she is “more perplexed than certain.” She can’t be both, even if the Post says so.
Uploading Conflict The Post‘s special advertising supplement Tuesday, May 16, on “Transportation, Technology and Telecommunications” was run-of-the-mill propaganda tarted up as a faux-news section. The real crackle came from the authors of the pseudo-articles. Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Commerce Secretary Ron Brown,and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña all pitched in bylines to support info-ads from Bell Atlantic, AT&T, and General Motors. The section provided graphic evidence that the regulated and regulators don’t have much trouble fitting into the same bed.