ABC News veteran Ted Koppel has penned an opinion piece arguing that the rise of partisan news organizations like Fox News and MSNBC are a sign of the "end of real news."
In a commentary scheduled to run in Sunday's Washington Post, Koppel argues that opinionated news hosts like Fox's Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann are a sign that US society has lost interest in objective truth, and now has "a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality."
Koppel, who hosted ABC's Nightline until 2005, goes on to argue that this "idealized" view of the world contributed to the banking collapse of 2008, the housing crisis, runaway deficits and runaway military spending.
"When our accountants, bankers and lawyers, our doctors and our politicians tell us only what we want to hear, despite hard evidence to the contrary, we are headed for disaster," he writes.
The commercial success of both MSNBC and Fox News is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.
And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose....
We need only look at our housing industry, our credit card debt, the cost of two wars subsidized by borrowed money, and the rising deficit to understand the dangers of entitlement run rampant. We celebrate truth as a virtue, but only in the abstract. What we really need in our search for truth is a commodity that used to be at the heart of good journalism: facts - along with a willingness to present those facts without fear or favor.
Fox News and MSNBC are "to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone," Koppel quips.
Like many media critics before him, Koppel argues that American news began to change when news organizations realized that news shows could be profitable.
Prior to that, networks saw news as a "public service" they were mandated to provide by the Public Radio Act of 1927. That law had an early version of the "fairness doctrine" that mandated news organizations give an airing to both sides in a political debate.
(Koppel omitted the fact that the "fairness doctrine" was done away with during the Reagan administration, a fact that many observers say led directly to the rise of right-wing radio shows like Rush Limbaugh's, before paving the way for progressive news organizations like MSNBC.)
Koppel paints a grim picture of the future of news, arguing that even as news consumers have more choice in media than ever before, that choice is leading to a fragmentation of the US public.
"Broadcast news has been outflanked and will soon be overtaken by scores of other media options," he writes. "The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we're now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers."