Glass Houses

Over the last several months, Washington has been abuzz over the demise of one of the main entities that make up our political system. 


Commentators shake their heads and shrug their shoulders, saying that it was bound to happen. It lost its way. It failed to keep up with the times. Its popularity rating and its credibility are circling the drain — and so is the money. Many people long associated with it are making the tough decision to leave it and join other groups. It is beleaguered and out-of-sync with America.  


Some people delight in its demise but politely cover their mouths to hide their snickers, while others openly sneer. Some wonder if it’ll even survive at all, while others are silently (or, not so silently) hoping it won’t. 


And since this is Washington, there’s no shortage of people providing advice for a comeback, like “return to your roots!” 


You may think that I’m describing the Republican party. I’m not. I’m describing the mainstream American media. 


During the last two years of the Bush administration, I was constantly asked how I felt about the president’s low approval ratings and what we were doing to change him or his policies so that his numbers would improve. I read about those low approval ratings in what seemed like every story about him. In fact, I’m still reading it. It’s good to know that the cut-and-paste tool is functioning so well.   


Interestingly, there were two entities that consistently had worse poll numbers than the president’s; those would be Congress — and the media. 


In private, I challenged a few reporters on what they would be doing to change their approval ratings. The funny thing was that some of them seemed to wear their unpopularity as a badge of honor. They didn’t think they needed to change. 


Well, how do they like it now?  


One of the changes in the last few years has been the trend of putting commentary into every news story. My question is: Just what are they suppose to comment on? Who is covering the news? As my dad, the one who taught me to love the news, said recently, “Just give it to me straight — I’ll make up my own mind.” 


Those of us who love journalism and want to see it thrive are dismayed at the loss of so many talented journalists as some abandon the profession to seek greener pastures — including explicit politics — and others are laid off for financial reasons as bureaus and even entire papers close down.  


President Bush would tell reporters from emerging democracies that to have a successful democracy, a strong national defense is important, but a strong free press is even more important. 


I agree with him. The media plays a critical role in our political system, and I hope it finds its way out of its wilderness before too long. But unlike the Republican party, which is working together to emerge as a stronger party, there are days when it’s really hard to see how the media plan to get themselves out of the mess they’ve helped get themselves into.

– Dana Perino served as the White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.

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