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The Clinton Campaign Illustrates the Media’s Crisis

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Author: Mark L. Bail

There is no arguing with the pretenders to a divine knowledge and to a divine mission. They are possessed with the sin of pride, they have yielded to the perennial temptation.

–Walter Lippman

Mainstream journalism is in crisis. The old revenue model of selling advertising in printed papers doesn’t work well in the digital age. Television and internet news sources have sped up the news cycle to the point that the morning paper is 24 hours too late. The demand for scoops is greater. With this increased competition is a loss of a near monopoly on information.

Once upon a time, a lot of information just didn’t exist. If it wasn’t in the newspapers, it wasn’t known by the broader public. Journalist Walter Lippmann made this argument in the first chapter of Public Opinion (1922). Until the advent of cable news and the 24-hour news cycle, newspapers decided what qualified as news. Since the advent of the internet as a news medium, newspapers are often playing catch up. And catching up isn’t easy.

Just ask the New York Times. Trying really, really hard to find a scandal in Hillary Clinton’s emails from when she was Secretary of State, the Times ended up screwing the pooch. Media Matters has the best run down of events, but Poynter has also picked it up. Yesterday, the Clinton Campaign released its formal complaint to the Times executive editor. Here’s Media Matters:

The New York Times uncorked perhaps the biggest newsroom blunder of the 2016 campaign season, when Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo erroneously reported that two inspectors general were seeking a criminal probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. The Times’ would-be blockbuster landed online on July 23 and on the front page of the print edition July 24.

But even before many readers picked up the paper on Friday morning, the story had begun to unravel. By Friday afternoon, the Times’ exclusive had suddenly morphed into a humiliation for the Times itself. The paper was widely ridiculed for getting the referral story wrong, and then for awkwardly trying to limit the damage via stealthy online edits.

Almost four days after its initial publication, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in on the “mess” this morning, suggesting that the paper should have waited to publish until it had developed the story more extensively: “Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.”

Meanwhile, executive editor Dean Baquet pinned much of the blame for the debacle on the Times’ sources — rather than the reporters and editors involved — suggesting that this might not be the last mistake of this nature we see from the paper: ”You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral … I’m not sure what they could have done differently on that.”

As journalistic screwup’s go, this is major. The most respected newspaper in the world falsely reports the beginnings of a criminal investigation into a presidential candidate. Why?

The dynamics of the media crisis are playing out in the Clinton Campaign. The New York Times hasn’t kept up with the times. It’s no longer the 90s. No on cares what Cokie Roberts thinks. Conservative propaganda is a limited source for news stories. The people running the Times and Post–as intelligent as they may be–came of age during the years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and they’re are trying to turn the past into the present. I don’t think it’s going to fly. Remember earlier this year when the press was all upset because Clinton would answer their questions? The Washington Post does. Ol’ Tiger Beat on the Potomac created a clock to count the minutes Clinton hasn’t responded to questions from the media. The count is now up to 61,367 minutes. That’s 42 days for you non-cardstackers. Their nose may be out of joint, but besides the mainstream press, who cares? They can’t even get their stories straight.

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