As [Walter] Lippmann observed almost ninety years ago, the crisis of journalism cannot be disentangled from the crisis of national government. Government and journalism now share a crisis of credibility, trust, and competence. At the least, the crisis of journalism reveals a changing standard for and definition of “objectivity.” Journalism, or more precisely, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, has been plunged, as a result of casual, callow, craven, or simply career-minded attitudes, into complicity, tacit and active, with a harsh and secretive administration that seeks to concentrate unaccountable power in the executive and sees itself as above the law and above reproach.
Only incidentally does the crisis of journalism involve the conflict between impartiality of judgment on the one hand and advocacy on the other. This might be a salient question under other circumstances, but it is peripheral here. Neither is the problem caused by slight inattentiveness; nor can it be solved by minor adjustments. The failure of most of the press for most of the Bush era to cover most of the basic reality was because to do so was too radical and threatening, not only to the administration but also to the news organizations themselves. Their dismal behavior goes to the root of a professional collapse. The press fiasco under Bush marks the culminating contradiction, if not repudiation, of Lippmann’s original ideas about shaping journalistic standards for a modern age. It is not sheer happenstance, but the outcome of a long history that was by no means inevitable.