Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Journalism’s fleeced itself. The world of news media is at present divided into two blocks, between which dangles an iron curtain of — of all things — credibility. And much like the Iron Curtain of yore, this one’s imaginary.

The two camps — one is the mainstream media, dominated by the Fox News and Tribune Companies of the world, and the other is the terribly named but ever-growing Blogosphere, or the network encompassing each and every news blog — have been at odds since the inception of the latter, and probably will be for quite some time.

The issue at hand is, as mentioned earlier, credibility — or rather, the illusion of credibility. Print and broadcast media have been clinging to it for quite some time, and for the most part, the public buys it. Corporate-owned media is granted a presupposition of credibility owing to its establishment, and bloggers are seen as errant and bloodthirsty, no matter the circumstances surrounding the reporting of either. Need proof? Look no further than the past two weeks of news coverage, the most apt description of which is, fittingly, incredible.

On Jan. 16, the blog Daily Kos reported on the real identity of supposed Talon News correspondent Jeff Gannon, some of the details of which were articulated in this space Wednesday. The long and short of the scandal is that James D. Guckert posed as reporter Jeff Gannon and gained access to White House press conferences, where he reported for the fraudulent Talon News agency, which, liberal news outlet Raw Story reported Tuesday, “appears to have repeatedly plagiarized content from other mainstream media publications, including Fox News, Reuters and the New York Times.”

The details of the scandal are messy and continually forthcoming, but, for the most part, that’s irrelevant. The beauty in the debacle comes from the crux of the Gannon incident: It, like Rathergate before it, illuminated the fallibility of the “trustworthy” media.

The essence, again, is the illusion of credibility: The story broke on a blog and, for the most part, was covered by blogs. The mainstream media began covering it once it was apparent this was a story with some selling power, but even now, two weeks after the story broke, mainstream media coverage is lax, and most mainstream media sources are simply acting as conduits for blog coverage.

Compare this with the tapes released to the New York Times by Doug Wead, an author and former friend of the president and a man who was formerly employed as a liaison to evangelical Protestants for former President George H.W. Bush.

The story ran on Sunday, Jan. 20. Sunday circulation of the New York Times is appraised on the New York Times Company’s Web site at 1,682,100 copies. It’s a safe call to say a lot of people saw the article.

The tapes contain nothing new. They’re candid conversations recorded without the president’s knowledge. Religion is said to be frequently broached on the tapes, and President Bush may have surreptitiously admitted to using marijuana. And so what? Bush has stated publicly that God speaks to him, and he’s admitted publicly that he formerly had problems with alcohol, which we all know is a drug. Despite all this, the existence of these tapes is being treated as hot news, and the media — both mainstream and underground — is abuzz.

The genesis of all this is focus. The public has, for its consumption, two stories of vastly different importance, and for the most part, chooses to pay attention to the paltrier of the two, be it due to saturation or ignorance.

The media is evolving and unless its stewards can find a way to manage themselves and coexist, the sphere of public information is going to be further susceptible to the kind of manipulation — driven by both agendas and self-interest — that’s been so readily available on newsstands and televisions around the nation as of late.

To put it as Mr. Wead did when speaking to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I just think this story has become a distraction.”