I'm beginning to sense that we are entering a killing season for many of our biggest and most venerable institutions. They won't go easily, or even quickly, but by this time next year we will look up and realize that many of the mighty companies and organizations that seemed so dominant in our lives for so long, have suddenly become less important, less powerful, and much less vital.
These Great Deaths don't occur on any particular schedule, but they do seem to come in bunches. If they have a cycle, it doesn't match economic upturns and downturns, or elections, or even the change of generations. You just look up one day in 1965 and the icons of just a few years — Studebaker, Philco, LIFE magazine, Top of the Pops and Adlai Stevenson — just don't seem to matter any more. They just seem older, smaller, and less consequential. Now everybody seems to be talking about Ford Mustangs, the Beatles, and the Great Society.
In the last few months I've noticed a comparable tectonic shift under way. Maybe it's the consolidation of the new world after 9/11 or the pervasive use of the Web or just because we are weary of talking about the same old people and the same old things. But something important is changing. And by this time next year, I suspect, we'll look back and wonder why we ever thought of these things as so damn important.
Here are my candidates for the gods awaiting expulsion from the zeitgeist:
The Mainstream Media — Whatever your political views, it's got to be obvious that something has gone terribly wrong with the traditional press in the last year. The scandals, like that of Jayson Blair, are the least of it. Far more disturbing is the growing recognition by the general public that the mainstream media is becoming profoundly biased, not just in the coverage it gives to stories, but in the stories it chooses to cover at all.
You don't have to be GOP partisan to be profoundly disturbed by the divergence in coverage between George Bush's National Guard experience and John Kerry's service in Vietnam. And who can't dispute the obvious difference between the daily coverage of the two campaigns — especially when leading journalists admit it themselves, using the lamest of explanations?
When you can predict beforehand the spin any political or international story will take in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and most egregiously, the Los Angeles Times, something is dangerously amiss.
But even worse is the growing recognition (first exposed by the Internet) that the MSM is consciously withholding stories from us, apparently deeming certain stories too dangerous, too distracting — or most terribly, too contrary to their own world view — to reveal to us Unwashed Masses.
I've been involved with the newspaper, magazine and television businesses now for a quarter-century and I can't remember seeing anything quite like this. The press has always had an establishment bias, meaning that it typically gave short-shrift to minorities and the poor. But that was largely ignorance. This is conscious, arrogant and with a very precise goal.
What makes this even more chilling is that we might not have ever known about this duplicity if it hadn't been for the Internet. If the bloggers and posting sites hadn't run with the stories and driven them to the forefront of public debate, we might never have known about them.