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It was worse, of course, in the pre-Internet age. It’s strange to remember now how dependent all of us once were for our news on a handful of outlets – three network news operations, a couple of wire services, and, if you lived in certain cities, a newspaper like the New York Times or Washington Post with bureaus around the world. How dependent – and how credulous. Younger people who want to get a sense of just how credulous we were in those days, and how limited (and, with few exceptions, lockstep) our sources of information were, need only know that Americans told pollsters that the man they trusted most in the whole world was CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite.
Indeed, so taken in were many of us by mainstream journalism’s myth of its own rectitude, righteousness, and reliability that, after seeing All the President’s Men, we actually idolized Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and the entire Washington Post newsroom, up to and including managing editor and shameless, utterly un-objective JFK hagiographer Ben Bradlee. We thanked God for the selfless, virtuous journalists who were out there day and night fighting for the truth – and our freedoms – against the perfidies of politicians, businessmen, and others. It was not until I began to be interviewed (and flagrantly misquoted and misrepresented) by reporters for reputable outlets that I realized just how integrity-free some prominent practitioners of the journalistic trade could be; and it was not until I spent several months working on a book with Republican congressman Steve Gunderson that I discovered (to my astonishment) that a big-shot politician could actually be an extremely decent and honest human being.
Lucky us that we no longer have to rely for our news exclusively on the mainstream media – that we now have innumerable alternate sources of news and opinion at our very fingertips. But even in the Internet era, the successors of Ben Bradlee and Uncle Walter continue to enjoy an advantage. In the minds of many people, the so-called “legacy media” are still accorded a degree of credibility that they often don’t deserve – and, as a result, possess a power to distort the truth that can be chilling when you see it operating at full throttle, as is the case in Norway today.
Eternal vigilance, folks. Eternal vigilance.
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