Watchdog? What Watchdog?

A recent Gallup poll finds that public confidence in the media is at an all-time low. Interestingly, confidence was lowest among those who reported following the news most closely. In other words, the people who arguably know the most are the people most skeptical of what they are–and are not–being told.

In my Media and Public Policy class last Wednesday, students voiced their dismay over the Indianapolis Star, which has abandoned any pretense of investigative reporting on city and state government. If someone brings an issue to the attention of the paper, they may run it, but any visible effort to actually monitor local government, or to act as the eyes and ears of the voters, is long gone.

Local television news is equally superficial, although in fairness, it is often better than the current Star. Historically, the local channels have taken their cues from print media; in the absence of anything resembling meaningful local news from newspapers, they are floundering.

So we have lots of sports coverage. And at the Star, which has continued to “downsize” its investigative reporting capacity, a new reporter for the all-important “beer and entertainment beat.”

The national networks aren’t appreciably better . In fact, their credibility may be worse.

Politifact has a new rating system, which is using scorecards to track the accuracy–or lack thereof–of network pundits and “on-air personalities.”

Right now, you can look at the NBC/MSNBC file and see how that network’s pundits and on-air talent stand. For instance, 46 percent of the claims made by NBC and MSNBC pundits and on-air personalities have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

At FOX and Fox News Channel, that same number is 60 percent. At CNN, it’s 18 percent.

(Forgive the snark, but I can’t help attributing CNN’s better rating to the fact that it provides less news. I mean, how much misdirection can you work into weeks spent tracking a missing plane?)

So–we can’t rely on the veracity of the national news networks, and there is no local general interest journalism left.

No wonder no one trusts anyone anymore.


  1. This is what happens when a monopoly takes over; private editoralizing abreviates what and how much is released to the public and decides for us what we need to know – in THEIR estimation. When the Star was a privately owned local paper, we got much better and more in-depth news even with the right-leaning tendency regarding political news. I remember when we had three daily newspapers; two (Star and News) owned by the Pulliam family, the third (Times) gave us a second option for afternoon news editions and to receive updated daily events. Indianapolis is a much bigger city now than it was when we had three options; now it is the Star or additional expense of subscribing to a national or “big city” out-of-state newspaper. The USA Today advertising supplement now included in the Star seems to provide condensed versions of all news. I think by now we all know that Gannett owns the Star and not long ago bought USA Today.

    Being deaf, I must depend on closed captioning; locally it is pitiful on all news channels. WISH TV, Channel 8, doesn’t bother captioning the 5:00-6:00 a.m. broadcast other than popping up an occasional line. The fact that CC is required by the FCC doesn’t phase them; maybe we will see a change when CBS moves to WTTV Channel 4 in January – unless CBS is the culprit. MSNBC provides excellent captioning and better national and international news. Leaning more to the left, to be sure, but content and quality is what we want from our news reporting in all media.

  2. Without accounatbility created by a worthy news media; it’s a fool’s paradise. Nobody is accountable for anything; elected officials can make outrageous and false statements without being called out; the city can issue contracts without the benefit of public competitive bids. It’s all about the Star’s advertising revenues now; another salute to the accountant mentality that took hold under Reagan – the Star’s P&L statement looks good, the future looks bad.

  3. In one recent report, in print and on the air, I learned that a change from 78 to 81 represented a 38% Increase. I kept seeing that number. Several sources. I think the new reporters are dumb. And parrots. And on Ch-8, bra size trumps everything.

  4. When I wrote for The Recorder, there was a sports ‘section’ in the Star,News,Times newspapers. That morphed into a ‘sports page’. Currently, the sports pages consume more print than the entire edition. This did’t happen by accident but rather design. It worked in Rome and it will work in ‘merica. So go on and pay $29.00 for a $3.00 Colts Tshirt. You can’t stop the tide. You’ll look like a ‘real Hoosier’ and Irsay can climb up the Forbes 400 list.

    What did that fool politico say about rape? Something like ‘it’s the will of God so relax and enjoy it’?

    And you think things are going to get better? I’ve got this bridge in Brooklyn…….

  5. Earl; in addition to the Star Sports section, it is almost time for the annual additional Colts section to appear. It is the same situation on local news, at least it is on CBS Channel 8, there is a separate report on Colts Watch before the sports segment airs…after games it runs before the news.

    How many readers are aware we pay more for home delivery subscription Thanksgiving issue due to the increased size; the increased size is due to those hundreds of the paid advertisement circulars to kick-off the Christmas shopping season. So the Star is getting more money from both ends…anyone know a home delivery person to ask if they get paid more for delivering the Thanksgiving edition? Fortunately we aren’t charged for the additional seasonal 10-12 advertisements on TV breaks. They may yet find a way to do that; Amazon charges me Indiana 7% sales tax, incuding Kindle downloads, and nothing is ordered from Indiana. Where there is a will; there is a way and the GOP will find that way being owners of much of our media.

  6. Journalism used to be one among many professions. Professionals marched to their calling first, their living second. An honorable way to live.

    Most people still begin productive life following their calling and accepting their living. Good for them. However, a few spend their entire life focused on accumulating no matter what it takes. Their living is their calling. Some of them are smart and ruthless enough to be expert at their calling/living.

    As their wealth accumulates so does their influence and typically they end up in an arms race with like minded others and power/wealth/control/ego becomes their master.

    America now has exceeded a critical mass of wealth and wealthy to cross over the threshold between business and politics in order to satisfy these people and their need to win at any cost.

    Their ego tells them that their business success entitles them to make the rules for everyone. Oligarchy.

    Democracy is designed to prevent oligarchy by relying on numbers, voters, to make political decisions. Stuck with that reality, oligarchs need to buy votes to support their continued wealth building. What better way to do that than owning mass media.

    So while many journalists still regard themselves as professionals they quickly realize that to make a living their calling has to be adapted to compromise between the whole truth and nothing but and slanted reporting in support of the business that’s in support of the wealthy owners. Not unlike prostitution. Fake it well and make a living.

    Oligarchy is freedom for some at the expense of others, exactly the opposite of democracy’s equal freedom for all. The influence of mass media unlocks the possibility of oligarchy within a democracy. And we’re headed down that road.

    My opinion is that freedom always wins in the end. The transition back is typically fraught with trauma though. How much? I don’t know. I just don’t.

  7. Earl—that was no fool politico who said the part about lying back and enjoying it, that was a fool basketball coach—Bobby Knight. The part about the supreme deity’s will might have been Mourdoch. If one is gong to quote idiotic statements from people with Hoosier ties (Knight coached and bullied here, but was from Ohio as I understand), we need to make sure we are accurate. As a Hoosier, born and raised, I am proud of the great minds we have produced: Vonnegut, Debs, et al. We also have produced classic fools. My favorite quote is from a fellow alum of DePauw University, Danny Quayle, who said something about not being able to speak Latin in Latin America. I was president of my high school Latin club. I know—I called for accuracy in quotes and did not provide the quote from the former Vice President, but I hope I made my point.

  8. Mark; I Googled that phrase, “If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” It is attributed to a weatherman named Tex Antoinne on WABC in New York City in 1976. He made the comment after a news report about the attempted rape of an 8 year old girl and attributed it to Confucius…he was immediately fired. When did Bobby Knight make the comment? Mourdock’s comment was that if pregnancy resulted from a rape; God must have wanted the pregnancy to happen.

  9. This is a great picture of the both the motivation behind, and the results of, oligarchy. There’s money to be taken from the middle class.

    Of course it’s unsustainable for the economy, but money in the bank will sustain those who grabbed it when they could. And let them buy votes to create a future more supportive of the few.

  10. To add to the sad state of affairs, I only half believe Politifact.

    I have seen them show something is false and rate it “mostly false”. The fact that they have earned the ire of both conservatives and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow does not mean that they are getting it right, only that their mistakes hit both sides of the political spectrum.

  11. Further research on the “rape” quote showed Clayton Williams, Jr. of Midland, TX, made the same comment in 1990 comparing rape to bad weather. He was an unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate. Bobby Knight made the quote comparing stress to rape in answer to a question from Connie Chung during an interview in 1988. Clayton Williams was leading in the race for governor of Texas when he used the quote in 2012…he lost. Others attributed the origination to Confucius which I do not believe; many people begin a stupid comment with “Confucius say…”. This does seem to be a favorite quote of politicians and Bobby Knight seemed to like using the analagy of rape in other situations. So; Earl and Mark were both right and we should allow the politicians and Bobby Knight dual ownership of this nasty comment and leave poor Confucius out of it.

  12. You go, Jo.

    So much for Latin Clubs and accuracy buffs. We who choke on a gnat and swallow a camel..

  13. Translation: The media will not save us. It is lost to the 1%. We are going to get screwed so live with it. That’s the camel. Who said it is the gnat. And as my immortal DI shouted: “Are we clear on that?”

  14. Al Jezeera and BBC do better at investigative reporting. It also helps to see yourself as others see you, brings some humility and clarity.

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