Walter Russell Mead
If the president were a conservative Republican rather than a liberal Democrat, I have little doubt that much of the legacy press would be focused more on what is wrong with America. There would be more negative reporting about the economy, more criticism of policy failures and many more withering comparisons between promise and performance. The contrast between a rising stock market and poor jobs performance that the press now doesn’t think of blaming on President Obama would be reported as demonstrating a systemic bias in favor of the rich and the powerful if George W. Bush were in the White House. The catastrophic decline in African-American net worth during the last four years would, if we had a Republican president, be presented in the press as illustrating the racial indifference or even the racism of the administration. As it is, it is just an unfortunate reality, not worth much publicity and telling us nothing about the intentions or competence of the people in charge.
The current state of the Middle East would be reported as illustrating the complete collapse of American foreign policy—if Bush were in the White House. The criticism of drone strikes and Guantanamo that is now mostly confined to the far left would be mainstream conventional wisdom, and the current unrest in the Middle East would be depicted as a response to American militarism. The in and out surge in Afghanistan would be mercilessly exposed as a strategic flop, reflecting the naive incompetence of an inexperienced president out of his depth. The SEALS rather than the White House would be getting the credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, and there would be more questions about whether killing him and then bragging endlessly and tastelessly about it was a contributing factor to the current unrest. Political cartoons of Cheney spiking the football would be everywhere. It’s also likely we would have heard much more about how killing Osama was strategically unimportant as he had become an increasingly symbolic figure and there would have been a lot of detailed and focused analysis of how the foolish concentration on bin Laden led the clueless Bush administration to neglect the rise of new and potentially much more dangerous Islamist groups in places like Mali. The Libyan war would be widely denounced as an unconstitutional act of neocon militarism, with much more attention paid to the civilian casualties during the war, the chaos that followed, and the destabilizing effects on the neighborhood. The White House fumbling around the Benghazi murders would be treated like a major scandal and dominate the news for at least a couple of weeks.If Bush were in the White House, the Middle East would be a horrible disaster, and it would all be America’s fault.
Mead goes on to discuss the decline of the MSM
I think he's too kind, that he represents the genteel vision of the MSM that's seen from academia. But he's correct in that there is a shift in power that's brought about by the Internet that's as profound as the development of the automobile had on America in the early 20th century.
Journalism is one of the elements of our society that has been most profoundly affected by the decay of the blue social model and the rise of the information age. Old worries about news monopolies in local markets seem almost quaint when so much information from so many sources is so easy to get and when online startups (including blogs) are so easy and cheap. The erosion in the power of the great media companies of the past and the efforts of the great media enterprises to rethink their franchises for the new era have transformed the industry almost beyond recognition.
The national elite press does not, on the whole, welcome the decline of blue model America and, like academics and others whose interests, self-image and power in the world are adversely affected by the reshaping of American society, it naturally and almost inevitably interprets many of the changes taking place through the conceptual model of the Grim Slide from the time of Ronald Reagan to the present day. The changes in American society look like the systemic erosion of the social achievements and protections of the progressive era, and the economic misfortunes, falling wages and declining job security of many old media journalists reinforce their dark forebodings about what the transformations mean.
The elite press was once the custodian of a cultural consensus about the way America should work. There was always disagreement, and many people were angry about the role of the press but in the blue model’s heyday those dissenting voices were confined to the margins both by the structure of the American media system and by the strong social consensus in favor of the blue status quo. These days, the elite press is less custodian of a consensus than embattled defender of a controversial vision. Opposing voices are louder and more effective, and the underlying assumptions of the elite’s worldview are more openly and widely contested.