Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the
Danger to Us All
This is a critique of the mainstream media from probably the most distinguished foreign correspondent for CBS, when it still was a news shop that glowed with the heritage of Edward R. Murrow. Tom Fenton was one of the inheritors of the Morrow tradition, and now, in his retirement, he has penned a booked whose title pretty much sums up his position: "Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All."
You might remember Fenton as that British looking sort of guy who always appeared to report so solemnly from Europe and hot spots around the world. He is a guy that doesn't look like he would grab a handgun, Geraldo Rivera style, to fend off phantom attackers. (He'd never get a job in modern television reporting. Much too Serious.) You'd be must more likely to see Fenton in a Burberry coat, with an umbrella should a sudden shower break out. But the man took his news seriously.
"We are not giving the public what it needs," Fenton writes. "Far too often we take the official line. We live and die by the size of our audience; we dumb down the news to pump up the ratings. I have reported on world events close up for almost four decades. And I have never felt as frustrated as I have in the past few years. Why? Because TV news has a critical job to do. And we are falling down on the job."
"The glaring issue of corporate ownership of news media, and the conflicts that come with it, get raised often -- and just as often get dismissed," Fenton also writes.
Don't get us wrong, Fenton still believes that television news can be saved and that there is an objective, professional standard in journalism. He wouldn't very much approve, we suspect, of the partisan likes of BuzzFlash.com.But he is an insider who laments the passing of an age when television news divisions were not subject to the oversight of the corporate political pressures that spin the news toward the White House and the powers that be. Fenton is an adamant opponent of group think that moves like a Siamese twin in tandem with the spin of the day.
Fenton's personal commentary is often withering, even if in the end, he thinks that an hour news broadcast might be the beginning of rescuing the nightly news. Our response to Fenton is this question, "Has 24 hour cable news programming done anything but send the profession of journalism heading straight toward the gutter? Then what would one hour of nightly news accomplish?"
You get the sense that Fenton believes the legacy of Murrow can be restored to the big 3 news networks, even though his lacerating analysis leads you in another direction altogether.
Fenton would both like to see the golden age of an unfettered press return, while he inherently realizes that the external forces at work will never let it happen.
This is a fascinating book because it comes from one of the mainstream press oldtimers who has seen his profession taken over by the marketers, the packagers and the corporate honchos who don't want to offend or air anything that might be criticized in D.C. or by their competitors.
It's fascinating reading because of the credibility of the author -- and because even he can't see that some golden ages can't be restored. The salvation lies, BuzzFlash believes, in a restructured media developed from outside the corporate behemoths.
And, in the end, Fenton would applaud that, we think, as long as it was true to the standards of honest and tenacious journalism.
But then again, there's BuzzFlash, and we aren't going to stop being partisan. The difference is that we are honest about it as compared to FOX Propaganda News.