Something I believe that nobody I know believes: Woodward and Bernstein Watergate coverage precipitated the 40yr collapse of trust in print news. That long slow slide of trust can be seen, among other places, in Gallup polls over the years. After Nixon resigned 40 years ago this weekend, Washington Post Watergate coverage became exemplar for the entire next generation of reporters. The political press became obsessed with unearthing scandal, which metastasized throughout print journalism, gunning for Pulitzer bait.
There are clearly scandals that need to be unearthed, like Watergate, but endless scandal frenzy is exhausting and demoralizing. Particularly when applied indiscriminately across the news landscape, and particularly when extrinsic press motivations are so clear. Irony is we now know Woodward and Bernstein less reported Watergate than had the story fed to them by Mark Felt, a partisan in an internal FBI battle.
I think the 40 year echo effects of Watergate have more to do with the existential crisis of newspapers than anyone would ever admit. As news consumers, the endless barrage of scandal, tragedy, and conflict has real psychological effects. They make the world seem worse than it is.
Followup reading that provokes thought: Avoid News, The Information Diet, You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read. Also the book “Breaking The News” by
@JamesFallows is thought provoking and recommended. Last but not least, Steven Pinker on the broad perspective of our era.
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