Patterson (Government and the Press/Harvard Univ.; The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty, 2002, etc.) delivers an impressive evaluation of a crisis he identifies as just as bad, if not worse, than that associated with the “yellow journalism” of the early 1900s.
The author reports on the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, which was launched in 2005 with the purpose of strengthening the education and practices of journalism. He draws on the supporting work of the leading schools of journalism and references several multiyear research surveys of the media across multiple markets. He emphasizes that democracy and press freedom are inseparable; this relationship, he writes, “has been the bedrock of First Amendment jurisprudence.” Patterson shows how, as a profit-driven business, journalism has devolved, permitting inaccurate information to be presented as news to a public whose interest is at an all-time low. During the run-up to the Iraq War, misinformation—e.g., nonexistent links to al-Qaida and nuclear weapons—joined with news as a form of entertainment and just plain partisan opinion-mongering. Sources, otherwise known as politicians, seek advantage from strategic spin. Journalists and their masters feed controversy. The public is left polarized and uninformed. These things all combine to undermine truth and an informed citizenry. Practitioners have come to represent stories as what the sources say the story is and, thereby, have reduced their professional skills to “stenography.” Reviving truth-based standards will not be a simple matter, writes the author. Technological change and demographic shifts each have compounding effects, and news companies are often bound by the desires and requirements of profit-driven corporate executives.
A well-organized and detailed book that underlines the need for remedial policy action and effective oversight.