Williams Sounds Wail of the MSM Dinosaur

There was no Memorex around when the brontosauri were bidding bye-bye, but I think we have a pretty good idea of what they sounded like as they were going extinct.  Just listen to Brian Williams this morning.  Appearing on Morning Joe, the NBC Nightly News anchor lamented the decline of "classically-trained" journalists in favor of guys with "an opinion and a modem."  

A question from Pat Buchanan about the ebbing fortunes of the old media set Williams off on a soliloquy he assured us was not self-interested.

PAT BUCHANAN: Is the old media that we all grew up with, is that really passing away and this new media the kids got, with the internet and the rest of it [Ed.: and them other new-fangled contraptions], is that the future?  And are they as addicted to newspapers and things like that as we were?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: No, they aren't.  And when people hear me lament the passing of that media, they think, oh, that's just you're own self interest.  And it's not, it's Jefferson's kind of educated and enlightened democracy. It's that citizenry that's up on stuff. When a local paper goes, who's going to cover the school board? And if you're going to tell me it's, it's someone with a web site, well, have you been, as a friend of mine says, classically trained? Do you know to make your calls, and get your two-to-three sources?  Do you know, when you hear something at that school board meeting, at that town council meeting, what the legislative history is of that?  Do you cover this for a living, or do you have an opinion and a modem?  There's a big difference.

I'll begin by actually agreeing with Williams to a certain extent.  There is a need for solid meat-and-potatoes reporting on the local and other levels.  And most of us in the blogosphere do tend to be more pundit than reporter.  By the same token, some of the best true reporting has been done by bloggers. I have in mind, for example, military bloggers who broke some of the most important stories out of Iraq, ones that the MSM wasn't covering.  As the old media continues its decline, there will be demand for solid, straightforward reporting.  I have enough confidence in the free market to assume it will respond.

Beyond that, though, Williams' mindset is so much condescension cloaked as high-minded concern.   The MSM as bastion of classically-trained journalists dedicated to seeking two to three sources?  Did Brian flip the channels during the depths of the financial crisis, when the hyper-partisan liberal Paul Krugman was ubiquitous and rarely if ever balanced by someone with a free-market perspective? Two to three sources? As when Dan Rather avidly relied on Bill Burkett to propagate blatantly fraudulent documents?  Documents that bloggers, within hours, demonstrated to be crude forgeries.

And does Williams truly believe that people, in today's age of a thousand cable channels and a billion blogs, are less well-informed or interested in information that during his imagined utopian Jeffersonian era, when 90% of people toiled in the fields and news could take months to reach them?

As one of those "kids" with a modem and an ocean of opinions, I say: the MSM is moribund—long live the new media!

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.