Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 8, 2005

Hans Bethe and the Decline of the Media

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:40 pm

Much has been said over the past few years about how, allegedly, you can’t rely on news from the Internet (e.g., blogs) because it doesn’t have professional journalists vetting stories for accuracy and importance. (I first heard this report in connection with Matt Drudge’s reporting of the “Lewinsky blue dress” story, which “everyone knew” wasn’t true until … it turned out to be true.)

The mainstream media, we are told, have editors — professionally trained journalists who serve as valuable filters ensuring that only stories that are both accurate, relevant, and balanced reach the untrained eyes and ears of the general public. Matt Drudge and the bloggers can publish whatever they want without oversight or accountability; therefore what they publish is rumor and innuendo, not news, and certainly not to be accorded the same level of reliability as what one would hear, say, on CBS News. (Excellent straw-man summary here.)

You might think this theory was put to rest when the dress turned out to exist, but no. It was still in vogue in September 2004 when CBS News broadcast a false story that turned out to be based on documents that were not only forged, but amateurly forged. Within hours of the broadcast, bloggers had convincingly established that the documents were forgeries, but CBS continued to stick by the discredited story.

So, now we know that CBS — and perhaps other media organizations held in the same high regard — engage in precisely the same sort of unsubstantiated rumor-mongering of which they accused Matt Drudge and the bloggers. They are no more reliable than the bloggers, which means (remember your symbolic logic from 8th grade math?) that the bloggers are at least as reliable as the traditional media.

But still, even if true, the bloggers can post anything, including all sorts of irrelevant stuff, so we still need the media with their professional-journalist editorial filter to determine what’s not important, right?

Wrong. If the traditional media have little idea of what’s true, they have even less of an idea of what’s important. And this has nothing to do with liberal bias, if any. Consider this:

Hans Bethe, the last of the great European physicists to flee Hitler and help develop atomic power in the U.S, died yesterday at age 98. He won the Nobel prize for showing how, in a step by step process, the sun fuses hydrogen into helium.

And what makes the front page of today’s Boston Globe instead? An angry family demanding $740,000 from NStar because their dog got accidentally electrocuted at one of NStar’s lamppost sites.

Hans Bethe: page D14. Dead dog: p. 1.

An Instapundit reader has more:

Glenn, I live in the Boston area.

You wouldn’t believe how much news coverage this electrocuted dog story has gotten. It’s not just the globe. The local TV stations have had it as one of their top stories several days now. No disrespect to the family that lost their dog but there ARE other thing going on in the world.

When I first saw that story (around 3:45 pm EST today), I checked Google news, and found that only two “mainstream media” sources had picked up the Hans Bethe story, and they were not the “major” sources like the New York Times or the Washington Post (let alone CBS), but the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Indianapolis Star. Since then, some of the “bigger” papers have started to pick it up, but they’re all way behind SpaceRef.com.

It’s a different world. If you are relying on newspapers and TV for your news, you’re not getting the full story. I’ve been saying that for 20 years (since I was in high school), but it’s absolutely undeniable now.

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