The Damage Watergate Did To The Media

The ramifications of Mark Felt’s revelation, that he was “Deep Throat,” have been discussed at length across the blogosphere today. However, one aspect of this story that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is the massive, long-term damage Watergate did to the mainstream press.

Howard Kurtz elaborates in his column today:

“But it must also be said that while Watergate and “All the President’s Men” briefly turned journalists into heroes, they may have contributed to the long-term credibility problems of the profession. Too many journalists became sloppy with anonymous sources, some of whom didn’t have first-hand knowledge of what they were talking about, and some reporters tried to pump every two-bit scandal into a “-gate.” Having been lied to by the Nixon White House, journalists became more confrontational, more prosecutorial and more willing to assume that politicians must be lying. And the news business is still paying the price for some of those excesses.”

Yes, an anonymous source may have helped to break Watergate, the story of the century, but that was 30 years ago. How many bogus stories have been touted by the media since then based on claims made by dodgy anonymous sources? Perhaps the two biggest scandals to engulf the media in the last year have been “Rathergate” and Newsweek’s “Qur’an In The Toilet Fiasco,” which both prominently featured anonymous sources getting it wrong….and guess what? The mainstream media is going to keep getting it wrong, over and over again, because the “biggest story ever” was based on an anonymous source.

Furthermore, Kurtz is right about the “gotcha journalism” that has become the rule, not the exception in the mainstream press. Most of the time, the MSM does a lousy job of giving context & pointing out relevant information in part because they’re ideologically disposed to ignore inconvenient facts, but also because they’re so focused on ginning up controversy and scandals.

In a very real way, that failure has driven many Americans into the arms of like-minded bloggers and radio show hosts who are not just coming at the issues in a more similar way ideologically, but who are willing to take the time to add more perspective and depth to stories.

Watergate may have killed the Nixon administration, but the mainstream media is still bleeding from its self-inflicted wounds, more than 30 years after “Tricky Dick” was run out of office.

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