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Media mea culpas don't defuse public discontent

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The increasing disillusionment with the media is also fed in part by the burgeoning of the so-called "blogosphere," the Internet-based populist forums where critics of all stripes can air their views, complaints, and biases. Indeed, it was a blog that first questioned the authenticity of the alleged National Guard documents only hours after CBS aired its faulty report on Sept. 8.

That's led some analysts to contend that this could be a watershed moment in the clash between so-called "old media" and the new.

"If I were to be asked what I would do if I were CBS, I would make peace with the bloggers and invite them inside," says Mark Tapscott, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy in Washington. "News is now a conversation. It is no longer this elite telling us what is important."

Traditional media critics have long called on their colleagues to become much more transparent in their reporting processes. The New Yorker's Ken Auletta notes that even if he refers to anonymous sources in a story - a practice he tries to avoid - his editors and his fact-checkers know exactly who they are.

"Part of the problem is individual responsibility," says Mr. Auletta. "Reporters are responsible for getting things right, or correcting them if they don't, and for being as transparent in our procedures as we call upon business to be in theirs. And we're not."

One of the key findings in the critique of the National Guard segment is that the vetting process used to verify the report within CBS was seriously flawed and that management failed to perform due diligence before airing such a controversial segment about a sitting president.

Four senior newspeople lost their jobs as a result.

CBS's critics believe the firings are a good start. However, they want further changes, including the axing of CBS President Andrew Heyward. "If they want people to consider CBS credible and not liberally biased, CBS will have to do more than they did," says Matthew Sheffield, who writes on a website called RatherBiased.com. "If CBS wants to take partial measures, that's fine, but if there are only partial measures, they only get partial credibility."

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