05/16/2005 05:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011


The blunder at Newsweek was inevitable. By the magazine's own admission, albeit sometime ago.

When the Monica Lewinsky story broke, Newsweek made an egregious error in its cover story. In the next week's cover story, Newsweek referred to the error and explained, "However regrettable, such errors are inevitable in the rush to deadline." Inevitable! In a news magazine! A letter to the editor suggesting that the magazine's priority should be getting the story right, not rushing to deadline, was not published.

At the time, the editors of the Dallas Morning News and the San Francisco Chronicle appeared on Nightline and defended serious errors in their newspapers' reporting in a similarly cavalier fashion.

Since then, numerous scandals have rocked the mainstream journalistic world--CBS News, The New York Times, USA Today....on and on. It's no wonder the media are held in such low public esteem. It's no wonder fewer and fewer people believe what they read in the paper or see on TV. CNN can boast of being the most credible news organization with a believability rating of around 34%! And it's not an issue of blue and red. It's an issue of black and white.

The mainstream media have lost their dedication to accuracy, and that loss precedes blogging, although blogging contributes to the problem, as does the proliferation of news outlets. And much of the problem is scoopism, or a false scoopism, which is often the race to be first with the obvious. For example, the name of the next appointee to the Supreme Court will not be a secret; it will be announced publicly.

It sounds almost pretentious these days to point out that Joseph Pulitzer's three cardinal rules of journalism were 1) Accuracy 2) Accuracy 3) Accuracy. News organizations may not always be objective or fair, but they should always be accurate.

The media are in crisis. In order to restore their credibility, they need to do what The New York Times did in the wake of the Jayson Blair disaster. The Times created a committee to recommend ways to restore readers' confidence in the paper's reporting.

The major newspaper and broadcasting associations should set up and fund such a committee for their industries, drawing upon the resources of the country's major journalism schools and independent journalistic organizatons.

Our democracy relies upon a free press to function properly. But that press must not only be free. It must be credible.