In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan sounds a
pessimistic note about today's media landscape. Sparked by former
president Bill Clinton's contentious interview with Fox's Chris
Wallace, she hails the demise of the liberal elites who monopolized
America's political agenda through control of the media but bemoans
what she believes to be the proliferation of cultural detritus. I'll
have more on this later but I thought it's worth putting out right now.
Do you think she's right or wrong?
The new media did not divide us.
The new media gave voice to our divisions. The result: more points of
view, more subjects discussed, more data presented. This, in a great
republic, a great democracy, a leader of the world in a dangerous time,
is not bad but good.
But nothing comes free. All big changes have unexpected
benefits and unanticipated drawbacks. Here is a loss: the man on the
Forty and 50 years ago, mainstream
liberal media executives--middle-aged men who fought in Tarawa or
Chosin, went to Cornell, and sat next to the man in the gray flannel
suit on the train to the city, who hoisted a few in the bar car, and
got off at Greenwich or Cos Cob, Conn.--those great old liberals had
some great things in them.
One was a high-minded interest in
imposing certain standards of culture on the American people. They
actually took it as part of their mission to elevate the country. And
from this came..."Omnibus."
When I was a child of 8 or so I
looked up at the TV one day and saw a man cry, "My horse, my horse, my
kingdom for a horse!" He was on a field of battle, surrounded by mud
and loss. I was riveted. Later a man came on the screen and said,
"Thank you for watching Shakespeare's 'Richard III.' " And I thought,
as a little American child: That was something, I gotta find out what a
I got that from "Omnibus."
Those old men on the train--they were strangers, but in the
age of media a stranger can change your life.
And because the men on the train
had one boss, who shared their vision--he didn't want to be embarrassed
that his legacy was "My Mother the Car"--and because the networks had
limited competition, the pressure to live or die by ratings was not so
intense as today. The competition for ad dollars wasn't so killer. They
could afford an indulgence. The result was a real public service.
Now the man on the train is a
relic, and no one is saying, "As the lucky holders of a broadcast
license we have a responsibility to pass on the jewels of our culture
to the young." In a competitive environment that would be a ticket to
corporate oblivion at every network, including Fox.
TV is still great, in some ways better than ever. Freedom
And yet. When we deposed the old
guy on the train, it wasn't all gain. No longer would the old liberals
get to impose their vision. But what took its place was programming for
the lowest common denominator. Things that don't make you reach. Things
you don't want to teach. Eating worms on air-crash island with