11/26/2004

Anchor Away

In a piece entitled Dropping the Anchorman, best-magazine ever The Economist offers up a few pieces of insight on the fall of Hurricane Dan. Far from being a right-wing gloat piece, the article is more an observation on the changing nature of American media.

Mr Rather's retirement epitomises two broader shifts of power. First, the old media are losing power to the new. And, second, the liberal media establishment is losing power to a more diverse cacophony of new voices.

Given America's fractious politics, it is easy to look at Mr Rather's retirement merely in terms of a left v right scorecard. But, more fundamentally, it is about choice.

The erosion of the old media establishment probably does entail some shift to the right, if only because so many of the newer voices are more reliably pro-Republican than Mr Rather. But the new media are simply too anarchic and subversive for any single political faction to take control of them. There are plenty of leftish bloggers too: such people helped Howard Dean's presidential campaign. And the most successful conservative bloggers are far from being party loyalists: look at the way in 2002 that they kept the heat on the Republicans' then Senate leader, Trent Lott, for racist remarks that the New York Times originally buried. It is a safe bet that, if the current Bush administration goes the way of previous second-term administrations and becomes consumed by scandals, conservative bloggers will be in the forefront of the scandal-mongering.

Mr Rather's passing does not mean that the liberal orthodoxy is about to give way to a new conservative one. It means that all orthodoxies are being chewed up by a voraciously unpredictable news media, which is surely all to the good.
To me, it is choice that has been the largest factor in breaking the stranglehold on public opinion held until recently by a small few. Two innovations that started off as fads but became ubiquitous - cable television and the remote control - gave television viewers not only the ability to find new channels from which to get their entertainment and information; they no longer had to leave the couch to do it.

It was the rise of cable television that began the slow and steady erosion of network television audiences, and now the internet is attempting to further divide the public attention pie. In an environment where so many alternatives are available, viewers are no longer forced to endure the biases of the Dan Rathers and Tom Brokaws as the price of getting their news.

A good thing, indeed.