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The Palinization of The News

By David G. Young

Omaha, NE, January 12, 2009 --  

The much ballyhooed political segregation of the news media is nothing compared with the banishment of actual news from the broadcast media.

When Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska, it was perhaps inevitable that she would end up as a commentator on Fox News. Dubious political prospects and an otherwise shaky job market, made a conservative populist like Palin a shoe-in for a spot on the right-leaning news channel.

To lefty elitists, this is yet another example of the lost cause of the conservative news media. Right-leaning Americans, the story goes, have long since abandoned mainstream news organizations like the ABC, CBS, and NBC broadcast networks in favor of talk radio and the Fox News Channel, where they can hear pundits reinforce their pre-existing views. Palin's hiring is an example of this self-segregation from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up. Before Palin, Fox hired Bush administration strategist Karl Rove. And years ago, left-leaning ABC News scooped up Clinton administration refugee George Stephanopoulos, thereby reinforcing their lefty credentials.

Yet there is a far bigger and far more problematic trend than the segregation of news outlets by political belief. The real problem is the utter banishment of any kind of actual news from most news outlets. All the cable channels have virtually abandoned news in favor of vaguely news-flavored entertainment and dim-witted commentary. And while Fox News is certainly guilty of this sin, it is no more guilty than MSNBC or CNN.

If this phenomenon were limited to the cable channels, this would not be a big deal. But with the urban newspapers either collapsing or devolving into a shell of their former selves (focused almost entirely on local issues), average Americans now have extremely limited access to hard national and international news through the traditional media.

The exception to this, of course, is the internet, and thank heavens that it exists. Through the internet, Americans who are inclined to read real news are able to access a treasure trove of high quality news through the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and the BBC. For news junkies like me -- fans of real news, not the news food served on the cable networks -- the day that used to start with Good Morning America or National Public Radio now starts with the BBC World Service, streamed over the internet.

In this sense, the internet has lived up to the promise of that cable television never fully succeeded in achieving -- serving niche markets of viewers. For people who want real news (and who don't live in New York or Washington), finding it is almost impossible without the niche outlets on the internet.

This is fine for those of us who really care to do so. But what about Joe 6-Pack? No longer can he stumble across a headline about a menacing missile test in Iran as he flips through the paper on the way to the sports section. Unless one of the insipid talking heads on the cable news channels happens to talk about it, there is little chance he'll ever know about it at all.

Does this make a difference in informing the public? How much did Joe 6-Pack really gleen off of the front page on the way to the sports section? Even if the answer is not much, this trend is still bad news for our society. When individuals only receive information about current events through the shallow knee-jerk opinions of TV personalities, our democracy suffers. And Sarah Palin is undeniably this kind of person. Regardless of where she lies on the political spectrum, her sub-par intellect, utter lack of a background in news, and limited tenure in public policy make her a horrible candidate for filtering the news to Joe 6-Pack.

If there is any silver lining here, perhaps it is that Palin's addition to the cable channel will inspire a few viewers who can still be saved to flee to the higher quality content available on the internet. Broadcast journalism, as we knew it, is dead.

Related Web Columns:

Death of the Daily, March 10, 2009

Obama's Kryptonite, November 11, 2008