Lie to me

Earlier this week, Chris Wallace – son of legendary journalist Mike Wallace – appeared on the Stephen Colbert Show and said, among other things, that his father and the legendary television news show 60 Minutes were partly to blame for today’s public distrust of the media.

Wallace, a former FOX Network news anchor who this week began his own show on CNN Plus, said he understands why many Americans have a dim view of the media and how it presents news.

When asked what, if anything, could be done to restore public trust in the media, Wallace told Colbert that before the advent of 60 Minutes, the major networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – considered the broadcast of news to be a “public service.”

Wallace said he believes that “[today’s] desire to chase ratings and make money is what needs to change if the news and the public’s faith in it are to be restored,” according to an MSN story about the interview.

“It used to be in the old days, and I can remember growing up with my father in the ’70s, that news didn’t make money. It was a public service, and the networks viewed it as a public service,” Wallace said. “And then 60 Minutes came along and showed you could make phenomenal amounts of money with the news business.”

60 Minutes first aired in 1968 and was originally hosted by Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner. The show has often been praised by journalists and other media programs for its integrity and “fearless” pursuit of the news. It has enjoyed steadfast popularity in television ratings for more than five decades.

Today, however, a growing number of Americans say that the media can’t be trusted. Many people claim that today’s media is politically biased. Another often heard complaint is that today’s news is more “editorial than objective news.”

It’s easy to understand why many people feel that the news is no longer objective and fact-based. Today, more than ever before, Americans – and people all over the world – have an increasingly wide range of news options, many of which that have popped up during the past 20 to 30 years on cable television, satellite radio and, of course, the internet.

It’s hard to know who or what to trust, and it’s easier than ever before to blame the media for everything from today’s political climate to the rising cost of gasoline. Millions of people, it seems, are convinced that big media is orchestrating a vicious web of lies intended to keep “regular people in the dark.”

So how can we put the genie back in the bottle? How do we — or can we — restore the concept that news is a public service? Can we really stop the networks from “chasing ratings?”

I seriously doubt it.

If the news delivery business is to truly be a public service than we have to remove the profit factor. Please don’t blather on about NPR (National Public Radio). Even their “listener-supporter” broadcasts include corporate messaging and receive government funding.

Do we really want the government funding the news? Yeah, right. Surely, we can trust the government to fairly and accurately report news and information about the government. I don’t think so.

Getting money out of the news business is problematic on many levels. How do we pay journalists or recruit top journalistic talent? How do we pay for the delivery of the news (the producers, clerks, editors, technicians, camera operators, etc. etc.)?

So, what’s the solution? How do we keep the news business honest?

From my perspective, the more news outlets we have, the better. But more news outlets also requires more viewer/reader/listener discretion. It’s easy to gravitate toward news that aligns with our own pre-disposed political beliefs and philosophies. It’s much harder to seek out information that might make us uncomfortable.

In the end, there are no easy answers. As long as we need a scapegoat to explain things we don’t like or trust, the media will always be a convenient target.

In the words of legendary journalist Walter Cronkite: And, that’s the way it is.

What do you think?

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