Sure, being a child of the '60s I saw a lot of subjective "New" Journalism, and did a fair amount of it myself, but that kind of writing, like columns and editorials, was supposed to be segregated from "real" reporting, and, at least in mainstream media, usually was. The same was true for the emerging blogosphere, which by its very nature was opinionated and biased.
But my complacent faith in my peers first began to be shaken when some of the most admired journalists in the country were exposed as plagiarists, or worse, accused of making up stories from whole cloth.
I'd spent my entire professional career scrupulously pounding out endless dreary footnotes and double-checking sources to make sure that I never got accused of lying or stealing someone else's work -- not out of any native honesty, but out of fear: I'd always been told to fake or steal a story was a firing offense … indeed, it meant being blackballed out of the profession.
And yet, few of those worthies ever seemed to get fired for their crimes -- and if they did they were soon rehired into even more prestigious jobs. It seemed as if there were two sets of rules: one for us workaday journalists toiling out in the sticks, and another for folks who'd managed, through talent or deceit, to make it to the national level.
Meanwhile, I watched with disbelief as the nation's leading newspapers, many of whom I'd written for in the past, slowly let opinion pieces creep into the news section, and from there onto the front page. Personal opinions and comments that, had they appeared in my stories in 1979, would have gotten my butt kicked by the nearest copy editor, were now standard operating procedure at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and soon after in almost every small town paper in the U.S.
But what really shattered my faith -- and I know the day and place where it happened -- was the war in Lebanon three summers ago. The hotel I was staying at in Windhoek, Namibia, only carried CNN, a network I'd already learned to approach with skepticism. But this was CNN International, which is even worse.
I sat there, first with my jaw hanging down, then actually shouting at the TV, as one field reporter after another reported the carnage of the Israeli attacks on Beirut, with almost no corresponding coverage of the Hezbollah missiles raining down on northern Israel. The reporting was so utterly and shamelessly biased that I sat there for hours watching, assuming that eventually CNNi would get around to telling the rest of the story … but it never happened.
But nothing, nothing I've seen has matched the media bias on display in the current presidential campaign.
Republicans are justifiably foaming at the mouth over the sheer one-sidedness of the press coverage of the two candidates and their running mates. But in the last few days, even Democrats, who have been gloating over the pass -- no, make that shameless support -- they've gotten from the press, are starting to get uncomfortable as they realize that no one wins in the long run when we don't have a free and fair press.
I was one of the first people in the traditional media to call for the firing of Dan Rather -- not because of his phony story, but because he refused to admit his mistake -- but, bless him, even Gunga Dan thinks the media is one-sided in this election.