I’ve been thinking for some time now of giving the column a facelift if not a complete makeover and would appreciate reader input.
I’ve long felt the title “Media Monitor” doesn’t accurately reflect the range of topics covered here. Regular readers know I often use this space to review books, compile recommended reading lists, and vent about politics and pretty much whatever else comes to mind.
I’ve tried whenever possible to use the media as a backdrop for anything I cover in a given week, though on many occasions it’s been impossible to do so.
Back in 2002, for example, I undertook a 14-part series on why Jews vote for Democrats in such overwhelming numbers.
I’ve also done columns looking back on historical events such as Rudy Giuliani’s throwing Yasir Arafat out of a 1995 UN event at Lincoln Center; deconstructing the myths surrounding John Kennedy’s Camelot; and explaining why it was Richard Nixon and not Henry Kissinger who saved Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
So there’s good reason for my discomfort with the limiting and not quite accurate title “Media Monitor.”
Also, the media landscape itself has changed radically in the 12-and-a-half years since this column was launched. The Internet was then still in its early stages and blogging was a few years away from taking off and becoming such a ubiquitous presence in our lives.
As websites and blogs have proliferated in a manner that would have been unimaginable in 1998, traditional print and electronic media have seen their monopolistic grip on the news smashed to pieces and, as a result, been forced to be more cognizant of their biases and of the need to be accountable to the general public.
The most striking example of this new brake on the mainstream media occurred a few weeks before the 2004 presidential election when Dan Rather, a dinosaur of old-time media who thought the news was still whatever CBS said it was (his predecessor, Walter Cronkite, would smugly and condescendingly proclaim “And that’s the way it is” every weekday evening after presenting 22 minutes of carefully edited and filtered news) did his bit for the John Kerry campaign by running a detrimental story bout President Bush’s National Guard service.
In the old days, it would have been difficult if not impossible for pro-Bush forces to counter a story like this one, which turned out to be full of holes and peddled to CBS by dubious sources. But immediately after the story aired, websites and blogs were on it round the clock until Rather, who at first treated his critics with disdain, was forced to make an on-air apology and accept a premature retirement ultimatum from his superiors at what was once billed the “Tiffany network.”
The fact is, in a world of constantly updated websites and blogs and 24/7 news coverage and analysis on cable TV, a weekly media column can get stale and fall behind the curve pretty quickly.
And then there’s the matter of coverage of Israel, which since 1998 has improved to a considerable degree in the mainstream media, no doubt thanks to the increasingly potent efforts of media watchdog groups like CAMERA and websites like HonestReporting.com.
The New York Times, for example, while still more than capable of framing news stories in manner guaranteed to aggravate the pro-Israel community, is nowhere near as bad as it was back in the late 1990s when Deborah Sontag served as the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief and filed reports on a near daily basis that read as though they’d been prepared under the watchful eye of the Palestinian Authority.
There was a period when probably a third of the Monitor’s columns concerned Sontag’s outrageously slanted coverage.
At any rate, I know this column has some fiercely devoted readers who never hesitate to let me know when I’ve hit the right chord – and even more frequently when I’ve missed the mark. I felt the need, therefore, to offer some reasons why the column’s focus may move even further away from media coverage and take on an ever more eclectic range of subjects.
For now we’ll still call it “Media Monitor,” but I’m open to suggestions for a new name.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org