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10:23 am: Why I can't watch the news any more.
We have had "Birthers" who still don't believe President Obama is an American citizen, even though his full birth certificate has now been published, and "Truthers" who reject the accepted explanation of the events of 9/11. Now we have "Proofers", who argue that the decision not to release photographs of the dead Osama bin Laden proves that he wasn't killed in the attack, despite Al-Qaeda having confirmed it.

I am old enough to remember a time in (during the Eisenhower administration) when the public generally accepted as true whatever stories government spokesmen offered. The press also seemed was more protective than adversarial with public figures, editors apparently feeling that promoting public confidence in authorities was their civic duty.

All that changed with Vietnam, where the nightly news programs constantly juxtaposed official spokesmen giving a rosy picture of the situation there with the goriest films they could find of our soldiers being killed. And after that came Nixon. Apparently he thought things had not changed since the days when his "Checkers speech" was enough to mollify the press. He was wrong. Things under Lyndon Johnson had deteriorated to the point that the public had come to assume that if the government took the trouble to deny some bizarre allegation, then it was probably true. So, perversely, when Nixon gave his "I am not a crook" speech the public assumed that he was.

Finally, when Woodward and Bernstien won a Pulitzer prize for bringing down the Nixon administration by publishing every unattributed allegation they could find, the die was cast. So now we have a society where the press resemble a ravening pack of wolves and where every situation, however clear cut, generates a clique of contrarian conspiracy crazies who get press coverage proportional purely to the outlandishness of their claims.

Sigh. For a 50's era student of journalism what passes for "journalism" today is the sort of breathless sensationalism that once upon a better time was the exclusive realm of the tabloids.



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