The President, The Press, And The Decline Of American Trust

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Some random thoughts about the media shock waves still reverberating this morning…

1. As a regular reader emailed me this morning, it is interesting that Brian Williams was (essentially) fired for lying to make himself look good on the very same day that President Obama was revealed to have lied to make himself look good. I’m not sure how many people are connecting these two stories, but it is an interesting coincidence.

2. This is not original either, but there is also the obvious connection to Dan Rather. In both instances, you had an anchor of a major news network caught up in duplicity. Both instances only reinforced our suspicions about the mainstream media. And in both cases, it was the rise of alternative or new media that played a prominent role in exposing them and bringing about their downfall. But this modern democratization of information is really a double-edged sword. Nobody should want to return to the bad old days when someone like Walter Cronkite was essentially America’s daddy (how paternalistic) and when we had only a few news outlets that would filter information through the prism of their liberal worldview. On the other hand, we face new challenges today, including the fact that we pretty much have no consensus on anything — that we don’t respect, trust, or defer to institutions (and why should you when the president and a network news anchor are provably lying to you?!?) — and that we therefore suffer from atomization and anomie. The amazing thing is how quickly we went from one extreme to the other.

3. It’s also interesting that word came Jon Stewart was retiring from The Daily Show around the same time as news broke about Williams’ six month suspension. There was no dearth of Twitter jokes about the duo swapping jobs, and Drudge summed it up pretty well by declaring the “end of fake news” and the “end of real news.” The irony that many Americans probably trust The Daily Show more than the Nightly News did not escape us, either. But, for some reason, I can’t help but think of this in terms of Stewart’s career. There’s a lot to be said about his tenure at Comedy Central, and he has certainly put in enough years to justify hanging it up. But what’s his next act? I mean, this platform was perfect for him. Sure, Stewart was somewhat famous prior to the show — but I never really got the sense he was firing on all cylinders prior to landing that gig. Sometimes you get lucky, and when that happens, you get fooled into thinking you were just that good. Failures bring us the wisdom to appreciate a good thing when it happens. (This, I think, explains Vince Gilligan’s decision to spin off Breaking Bad rather than chasing that elusive next great white whale. Now, maybe it won’t matter; maybe he’s so rich and iconic that he can dine out on that show for the rest of his life (Jerry Seinfeld is still Jerry Seinfeld, even if he never stars in another show). But I just wonder if he appreciates the fact that a soufflé usually doesn’t rise twice…

Matt K. Lewis