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They are beginning to notice

Posted by Helen Thursday, September 23, 2004

Some weeks after the entire American media and the ever increasing number of those who get their news and information from cyberspace, the Daily Telegraph has deigned to notice the Dan Rather affair.

Under the heading Breaking news: CBS is in trouble Alec Russell explains the significance of the downfall of CBS and its star anchorman. Mr Russell does go through the saga and what it has meant to the networks. He also explains that the networks are under attack from cable networks:

“Startling audience figures revealed that for the first time a cable network – Rupert Murdoch’s unashamedly gung-ho Fox News – had higher viewing figures for the [Republican] convention than any of the networks.”
Quite so. Well, of course, Rupert Murdoch is a bit of a hate figure over in Canada Square and Fox News is, undoubtedly gung-ho. But there might be another reason why their viewing figures went up. It is just possible that the potential audience, which may just be more intelligent than the networks and the established media gives it credit, did not trust those networks, well-known for their “liberal” a.k.a. left-wing slant, to give a fair report of what was happening at the Republican Convention. During the Iraq war, for instance, more people watched non-terrestrial channels for news in Britain than the BBC, ITN and Channel 4, probably for the same reason.

In other words, Mr Russell and the editors of the Daily Telegraph may have noticed but they still don’t exactly get it. The article quotes all sorts of media panjandrums who bemoan the possibility that the networks may be outdistanced by cable TV, websites and blogs.

Tom Rosenstiel, the director of a media think-tank, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, for example, wrings his hands in an article in the Washington Post:

“What is lost with the passing of network TV in other words is the journalism of verification.”
Excuse me. I was under the impression that the reason Dan Rather and CBS are in trouble is precisely because they did not verify their story. Presumably, these things happened in the past, but now, with the new technology they get caught out. Of course, you can understand why the Washington Post that has been riding out on its reputation as the newspaper who has brought a President down, dislikes the idea of similar shenanigans in the media itself being uncovered.

As usual, it is the audience that is to blame. And the right-wing radio shows and blogs. Or so Jonathan Alter, a Newsweek columnist opined:

“… we do live in a more fractured news environment where the tone of political discourse is set by cable news and talk radio. People want a more tangy stew.”
He then speculates of what might happen if the networks decided to abandon the middle road and decide to go more to the right. The trouble is that the networks have not been middle of the road for a long time. Numerous books and articles in the United States have proved it beyond any doubt that there is a left-wing agenda in most of them. And, let me repeat: Dan Rather was caught out peddling forged documents to further a certain political agenda.

What, our readers might ask, has this to do with the EU Referendum? A great deal, as it happens, as my colleague has pointed out before. We are also fighting a media that has for a long time sought to control the message through supposedly careful writing and editing. And we, too, now have a wonderful weapon in our hands: the internet and, in particular, the blogs. Properly used, these weapons could be killers. What will the established media do now?

They are beginning to notice but they still do not exactly get it.