Why I don't trust readers.

Media criticism.
Aug. 5 2005 7:33 PM

Why I Don't Trust Readers

I'm sad to report that their credibility has fallen to an all-time low.

(Continued from Page 1)

The larger point that the boneheads who so despise the media need to appreciate is that the mainstream American press is better than it's ever been. If you don't believe me, visit your local library and roll through a couple of miles of microfilm of the papers you're currently familiar with. By any comparison, today's press is more accurate, ethical, reliable, independent, transparent, and trustworthy than ever. Skepticism is a healthy disposition in life. I wouldn't be a press critic if I regarded the press as hunky-dory. But mindless skepticism is mainly an excuse for ignorance. Even the people who denounce the New York Times as the bible of liberals ultimately get most of their useful news from it.

Your average reader is not to be trusted because he just doesn't know his own mind. In addition to the Jayson Blair finding, the Annenberg survey offers this gem. When asked how important it is to them to live in a country in which they can criticize the government, a resounding 81 percent of respondents say "very important" and 14 percent say "somewhat important." The verdict is almost unanimous.

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Now, one would assume that what's good for the individual—rip into your government the best you can—would also be good for journalists, who are paid to watch-dog politicians. But the average reader can't keep a consistent thought in his head for two minutes. When the same Annenberg survey asked if government should have the right to limit the press in reporting a story,  an appalling 68 percent said either "always," "sometimes," or "rarely." Only 29 percent said "never." Let's hope the First Amendment never comes up for a vote.

I've had it with all you unreliable, inconsistent, and detestable blockheads. I've given you every possible chance and you've failed me miserably. Tonight I'm ordering a custom bumper-sticker that reads, "I Don't Trust the Mainstream Media Audience."

******

What puts the corn starch in your shorts? Send e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Correction, Aug. 8, 2005: The article originally misstated when disgraced politician Arthur E. Teele Jr. killed himself. It was hours after he spoke with DeFede, not "moments later." (Return to the corrected sentence.) 

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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