Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
August 18, 1996, Sunday, CITY EDITION
SECTION: COMMENTARY, Pg. F-4
LENGTH: 554 words
If you are one of those persons, whether Republican or Democrat or independent, who believes that the Washington press corps has lost touch with Middle America, you will want to read what Kenneth T. Walsh, senior White House correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, has written in Feeding the Beast.
Walsh, who has been covering the White House for 10 years, reinforces the accusations -- from both inside and outside the press corps -- of an out-of-touch press and presents an excellent analysis on why this has come about.
Feeding the Beast, a phrase used inside Washington to describe the media, is not a one-sided press bash. The presidency, particularly that of William Clinton, is hauled up for its own scalding.
THERE IS nothing new about sour relationships between the White House and the Washington press. These go back to John Adams, the second President, but the new era is one in which neither side trusts nor understands the other.
The American public is being short changed in the process, Walsh rightly claims.
The current era of mistrust between the White House and the press may have begun during Richard Nixon's administration. The difference is that now not only the Republicans distrust the press. The Democrats share that distrust as well, and ''a significant portion of the public is heading in that direction,'' Walsh says.
The politicians are correct, to some extent, in accusing the mainstream media as being too eager to expose the character flaws of the nation's leaders and the failures of public policy rather than inform the country about the positive side of government and the people who run it.
Walsh lists four major trends within the Washington media that undermine the credibility of journalism: They put too much attitude in their stories; they are too negative; they rush to judgment on events, trends, and people; and they have lost contact with everyday America.
News analysis, once the province of a small number of veteran columnists, is now written by even rookie reporters as a matter of course.
He says he believes that loss of contact with the rest of the country may be reporters' biggest problem.
The backlash has already begun. ''We journalists ignore it at our peril.''
NEWSPAPER reading is on a long, steady decline, dropping from 69 percent who read newspapers daily in 1972, to 50 percent by l989. The decline among 18- to 23-year-olds is the steepest, from 45percent to 23 percent.
Only readers over 65 have remained faithful readers - actually increasing from 72 percent in 1972 to 73 percent in 1989, despite the fact that many newspapers have spent much of their energies unsuccessfully chasing the younger reader.
Obviously the sole answer to the problem is not change from within the media fortresses. The current White House policies of evasion and cover-up contribute to the conditions, and the press is correct in reporting what develops. It is how this reporting is carried out that has stimulated press criticism.
Walsh is only one of a number of media critics who have voiced these fears in recent years, but as a prominent journalist with an invaluable perspective of the issue, his views are going to have an impact.
Award-winning White House correspondent and presidential historian
Kenneth T. Walsh’s latest book,
Celebrity in Chief
A History of the Presidents and the culture of stardom
A comprehensive look at the history of America’s presidents
as “celebrities in chief”
since the beginning of the Republic.