When I was 14, our family acquired its first television set. It was a black and white television and we had a tall antenna on top of our house. In those days we had only two stations to view. One was an NBC station in Albany, Ga., and the other was in Tallahassee, Fla./Thomasville, Ga.
People in those days did not watch television all day. Children did not keep their eyes glued to a television screen. We still played outside in those days. But at certain times everyone would come into the house to watch programs such as Disney's Wonderful World of Color and the Ed Sullivan Show.
There was another program that was always viewed with great interest. The NBC Nightly News with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley was our source of information in this wide, wide world. These two men were like members of the family. They were trusted and revered. The news they delivered was grounded in fact, and not opinion. They brought us the story on events happening around the globe and we watched and listened with great interest and trust.
On the CBS television network, Walter Cronkite was just as well-liked and trusted. In fact, he was once listed as the most trusted man in America.
Yes, there was a day in which network news was a good friend and it did not betray the trust and friendship of the American people. Years ago things began to change. The network news became a source of opinion as much as it was a source of news. In the 1960s there was a shift as the networks found out just how much power they had in their hands. Such trust had been built up in the '50s that no one wanted to question the men they had always allowed into their families at six o'clock each evening. This continued throughout the '70s and worsened in the '80s. The '90s saw no relief from the direction that the national news media had chosen for itself, and people were growing weary of always having to deal with a liberal-leaning press. But something changed.
In the last decade of the 20th century, the 1990s, there were a couple of developments. First, back in the early '80s CNN came into being and began to eat into the network news market. In the '90s, the Internet and a proliferation of other news outlets joined in to deal network news a reeling blow. Their market share began to drop. Everyone once gained their news from the old network sources of ABC, NBC and CBS, but now those outlets were struggling with falling viewer ship. FOX News came on the scene and only exacerbated the situation for the networks.
But the main foe they are facing is the Internet. People can access it at any time in the privacy of their home and they can read and absorb as much as they like. In addition, a person can go to those sites which are known to be conservative or liberal. They don't have to sift through all the rhetoric in order to decide just what an author is trying to say. The Internet has given the individual more control over the news they consume.
Never in the history of journalism has the public witnessed network news as biased in its coverage as during the 2004 presidential race. The coverage was unashamedly liberal in its approach. CBS besmirched an already damaged reputation even further with their unending desire to break some sort of story which would damage a sitting president.
Dan Rather might as well resign. His credibility is damaged beyond repair. Not only did one story disintegrate on him while he was still smacking his lips at the prospect of hurting the credibility of the president, but he and CBS never gave up.
When the "documents" story imploded under the weight of its own false nature, CBS worked underhandedly with The New York Times to break another one about missing munitions. Rather, not learning his lesson only a few weeks before, was planning to break the story on Sunday evening just before the election, but The New York Times broke it too early. When the facts got out they stood there with smut all over their faces. This was a crucial error for CBS, and it will have implications for network news beyond their own organization.
NBC and ABC are just as biased and liberal as is CBS. They just have not been caught with bogus stories. However, they have participated in the greatest whitewash of a political candidate in years. The Democratic candidate got 77 percent favorable news stories from the major networks while the Republican candidate managed to get favorable stories only 34 percent of the time. That is too wide a spread to be accidental.
The network news media, including CNN, have sealed their fate. The bias in their coverage is the straw that broke the camel's back. The people of the United States will no longer trust them and look to them for information. Not only are the American people tired of being manipulated by the media but they are also extremely fatigued at having their intelligence insulted.
So the downward turn of the national network media will continue. It is the natural by-product of their chosen direction.
(The Rev. Bill Harrell is senior pastor of Abilene Baptist Church.)
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