According to a recent Pew poll, respect for the contributions of journalists to society has sunk considerably since 2009, dipping especially low among women. I wonder why. In an article I wrote on the fallacy of consensus science, I quoted from Michael Crichton’s brilliant 2003 lecture “Aliens Cause Global Warming” about the deterioration of journalism and the media:
The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?
In spite of all the claims like “We Report … You Decide” or “Fair and Balanced,” it is obvious that news organizations are more interested in giving the paying audience what they want to hear rather than giving them the facts. Most people can’t handle the facts. They want the selected facts couched in terms that reinforce their self-image. So conservatives are more likely to watch Fox News. Liberals are more likely to watch MSNBC or CNN (although I’m not sure anyone is watching them anymore). But why should it matter if it is just the facts? Shouldn’t the facts be the same no matter who gives them?
In an age where people care more about being entertained than being informed, news agencies have had to out-sensationalize their competitors in order to stay afloat financially. Dry and balanced facts do not make tantalizing news. And commentary has become just as important, if not more important, as delivering the news. Most journalists, as Crichton said, are commenting as much as they are reporting. That’s definitely the case with all of my articles (if you would even call me a “journalist”). That’s because I want to make this stuff interesting to the reader. Ultimately, readers have demanded more opinionated journalism.
It is ironic that the very people who are responsible for the shift from factual journalism, the readers, should then express a lowered opinion of the journalism they demand with their dollars and page views. We can’t have it both ways. If we really cared about journalistic integrity, we would pay for it. As it is, this poll kind of reads like this to me: “I don’t respect that woman anymore. She’s a whore. Why do I say that? She slept with me.”