It’s bigger than Dan Rather

It’s bigger than Dan Rather

: It’s bigger than Dan Rather. It’s bigger than CBS. It’s about journalism and Big Media and their relationship with the citizenry and democracy. It’s about sharing authority with the people.

My fear is that CBS will create a commission — just as The New York Times had its commission and 9/11 had its commission — and out of that, some people will be fired [please, tonight, let us not make references to heads rolling] and new rules will be instituted and the network will think its problem is solved… while the network’s detractors will insist nothing will change.

But it’s bigger than that.

Tonight on Deborah Norville’s show, there was too much talk for my taste about CBS as the Tiffany network and the gold-standard of TV journalism. That’s not only a terribly outdated perception of CBS — which is just another news company — but the attempt to harken back to those alleged golden days also continues to separate journalism from the people. It tries to keep journalism behind stone walls, cathedral or palace, priesthood or monarchy.

As the Rather affair shows, journalists are nothing if not human, and nothing if not fallible.

The time has come for journalists to admit that. The time has come for them to take Dan Gillmor’s words to heart and realize that the audience knows more than they do.

The time has come to reshape journalism — and not just CBS or (if it were possible) Dan Rather’s brain.

You could argue that CBS is the last body to do that. Or you could argue it is the best to do it: Humbled, chastised, bruised, bloodied… What if CBS tried to imagine new relationships between news and the people? They certainly can’t do it singlehandedly. But they could make a start.

That commission could include not just news priests but also bloggers and news sources and news subjects (including those who’ve been wronged) and competitors … just plain viewers aka consumers aka citizens (the people who should matter most).

They could dig into what CBS did wrong — but that’s already pretty obvious. They should produce an object lesson for journalistic hotshots everywhere. And that has value.

But how much better if they started imagining a new view of news that involves the wisdom of the people. They should examine not just what CBS did wrong but what CBS could have done right.

That’s what journalism needs now.

: Jay Rosen speculates on the CBS commission here. (And I’m terribly flattered at the link to this blog.)

: Richard Bennett’s perfect line:

Dan Rather has plead guilty to Gross Stupidity in order to avoid a conviction for Extreme Bias in the court of public opinion.