I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday. Driving home afterwards, I came away more convinced than ever, that the mainstream media is on its deathbed. This is not a new revelation, but this year’s dinner left me seeing a crystal-clear image of the grim reapers slow knock on Big Journalism’s door.
A fair percentage of the three thousand people wedged into the giant ballroom at the Hinckley Hilton on Saturday night tend to be, if I can exaggerate just a bit, full of themselves. They are narcissistic. They embody the same traits as the Greek god Narcissus, who meets his divine punishment, when he stares at his own reflection in a still pond. He is so captivated by his own beauty that he can’t turn away. He decays and decays while gazing away until he dies.
The Mayo Clinic website’s definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is uncanny in how it reads exactly like so many criticisms of the elite mainstream media nowadays:
”Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
That definition brings back a memory I have of a very famous uber-anchor I once watched at work during a broadcast in New York. At this persons every step, a make-up artist followed, mirror in hand. Uber-anchor would face the camera, and the make-up artist would instinctively raise the mirror to the anchors face. This happened before almost every shot, every interview, during every commercial break. One quick check. One more look. One more dash of hair spray. Imagine what that does to your psyche, over time. Day after day, year after year. Throw in the affirmation of good ratings, high revenue and high praise from the boys in the Board Room, and you begin to see Narcissus’s beautiful reflection in the still pond.
Lately though, winds of change have been rippling the waters. The reflection of the boys in the boardroom shows a collective furrowed brow. Here are the numbers: The CBS Evening News hit yet another new low for the months January through March. ABC World News down to its lowest mark in the same time period, since people meters were first introduced in 1987. All three of the dinosaur networks have imposed massive lay-offs.
My own experience at the local level is even more telling. When I anchored a No. 1 rated 10 p.m. newscast in the Midwest in the mid-1980’s, it was not unusual to have a 40 percent share of the audience. Today a good share of the newscast I anchor is never more than single digits.
And newspapers? Will the last reporter left please turn out the lights? And that leads me back to the Correspondents Dinner, where the lights and the stars were burning brightly Saturday night in a giant celebration of elitist denial. Hollywood and Hollywood on the Potomac, making beautiful music together like the band on the Titanic, down by the bow, listing at about 30 degrees.
The increasing tendency to import high-profile guests from La La land has a real meaning in this context of narcissism. The correspondents are in effect enhancing their own reflection by importing truly beautiful people, those who make their livings in make-believe, and who wow Washington with their shallow fame and fortune. I wonder if Freud would call this, “transference” — where the patient (the correspondent) bolsters his or her fragile esteem with an Oscar-winning guest. “ Look at me!” Look at me!” “ My guest came here by private jet! Teenaged girls whoo and screech as we pass by on the red carpet! How would an old school editor react to what this indulgent evening has become?
Meanwhile, the boys in the boardroom are doubling down in their own narcissistic way. Not only do they fly in Hollywood guests, but as their grim demographic charts and revenues point downward, their pay is pointing upward. The New York Times reports on Monday of this week, “At the top of the list is Leslie Moonves chief executive of the CBS Corporation whose pay package in 2009 totaled almost $43 million, more than twice what he made in 2008.” Leslie is no fool. If his ship is going to sink, better to have a luxury life raft to sail off into the sunset… on a tranquil sea… smooth as a mirror.
Anchorman a well-known news anchor from a top-10, big city station. The Daily Caller has elected to redact his identity to protect his anonymity.