America is suffering a major leadership crisis. It’s a familiar theme of this blog (see here, here, and here), and the leading candidates for the 2024 presidential election alone confirm my point. One doesn’t need a political science or MBA degree to understand why the U.S. is in an undeniable decline.

Once great American corporations have lost their luster — Boeing, GM, Ford, and Disney to name just a few. If the U.S. mainstream media was fulfilling its role as the public’s watchdog, the CEOs of these corporations would have been held accountable and fired for their undeniable failings. Instead, they remain in their jobs, pocketing annual compensations of more than $20 million, while their Chinese and European rivals eat their lunches. The mainstream media is too focused promoting its ideological agenda to pay attention to America’s implosion, instead feigning selective concern for such issues as the tragedy in Gaza and assuring us that those who chant “Death to America” at protests aren’t representative of those who openly call for the annihilation of Israel.

The U.S mainstream media is no longer run by old white guys, whose suffering former New York Times editorial writer and Harvard law grad Sarah Jeong openly celebrated. The news operations of the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, AP, Los Angeles Times, Fortune, and The Guardian are headed by women, as are most, if not all, of the legacy broadcast networks. Minorities have much greater representation at mainstream news outlets, so it stands to reason that the dramatically increased diversity would result in a corresponding rise in media credibility and engagement.

That’s not the case. Polls show that trust in the U.S. media has been on a downward trajectory for years. A 2022 Gallup poll  revealed that only 16% percent of Americans had considerable confidence in the print media, and only 11% had considerable confidence in television news. The only institution with a lower trust rating was Congress, with a 7% confidence rating.

Establishing and maintaining public trust is critical for any enterprise, especially so in the media business. Yet I rarely come across stories in journalism trades about the loss of public trust in the U.S. media. Criticisms are usually dismissed as coming from “conservatives” or “alt right” sources, dog whistle terms the mainstream media uses to warn their readers that the discontent is from persons who are likely racists, misogynists, homophobes, and most probably Trump supporters.

In the minds of the leaders overseeing America’s mainstream media outlets, all is well, and they are mighty proud of the journalism responsible for the credibility decline of their organizations. Edith Chapin, NPR’s chief news executive, serves as a poster person for the leadership delusions.

Chapin and her staff are reportedly still dazed from the deadly missile fired last week at NPR’s newsroom with such precision that it even torched the newsroom’s safe place bunkers, leaving the coddled staff with no place to hide. The missile was fired by a 25-year NPR veteran named Uri Berliner, an award-winning journalist who has garnered a Peabody Award, a Loeb Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, a Society of Professional Journalists New America Award, and has been twice honored by the Radio Television Digital News Organization. He was also the recipient of a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.

Berliner’s missive was published in The Free Press, an upstart publication that is cornering the market on some of America’s best journalists and commentators and profiting mightily from the decline of the news organizations where they once worked. Berliner persuasively argued that NPR has lost its way and deservedly is no longer a trusted news source. He blamed NPR’s relentless focus on achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion within its newsroom, but that hasn’t led to a diversity of perspectives. Rather, he said, NPR has come to promote a “distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population.”

“An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America,” Berliner charged.

The response by Edith Chapin, NPR’s newsroom chief, reflected the arrogance and cluelessness of the current crop of leaders overseeing America’s legacy media outlets.

“We’re proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories,” NPR reported that Chapin said in an internal memo. “We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world.”

Unfortunately for Chapin, Berliner anticipated Chapin’s knee jerk defense, and backed his takedown with some inconvenient facts.  Despite all NPR’s diversity, the taxpayer supported network’s audience has not only declined, but failed to attract broader constituencies.

Berliner disclosed that according to NPR’s demographic research, only six percent of its audience was Black, and seven percent was Hispanic. By comparison Blacks comprise 14.4 percent of the U.S. population, while Hispanics represent 19 percent. The “nuanced stories” that Chapin is so proud of clearly aren’t resonating with the audiences she feigns to care so deeply about.

According to Berliner, NPR’s audience is mostly far left white Democrats clustered in coastal cities and college towns.

From a financial perspective, NPR’s programming is failing. NPR last year laid off or bought out 10 percent of its staff and canceled four podcasts because of a slump in advertising revenue. The network’s radio audience and podcast downloads are declining, and Berliner said NPR’s digital stories “rarely have national impact” and aren’t even “conversation starters.”

Berliner’s NPR takedown was a masterpiece, as he headed off his inevitable critics from the get-go. Knowing that legacy media journalists would attempt to dismiss him as a “conservative” old white guy, he disclosed up front that he was educated at Sarah Lawrence, raised by an activist lesbian mother, and drives a Subaru, which speaks well of his automotive judgment. Berliner comes by his activism honestly; his mother was Eva Kollisch, who escaped Nazi-occupied Austria when she was a teenager and became an American professor and memoirist who pioneered feminist studies and championed equal rights for lesbians.

Most importantly, Berliner disclosed he didn’t vote for Trump, fending off that inevitable angle of attack.

NPR’s published response to Berliner’s commentary was representative of the organization’s bias and dishonesty, dismissing The Free Press where Berliner placed his essay as “a website that has welcomed journalists who have concluded that mainstream news outlets have become reflexively liberal.”

Published Sept. 10, 2019

Here’s my description of The Free Press: It was founded by a former New York Times writer named Bari Weiss, who was warning about pervasive antisemitism long before Hamas’ barbaric Oct. 7 attack in Israel. Weiss’ resignation letter from the New York Times in July 2020 was a blistering critique of the Gray Lady that contained many of the same criticisms that Berliner lodged against NPR. As the legacy media places an emphasis on gender and sexual orientation, it’s worth noting that Weiss is openly bisexual and is married to a woman who also is an accomplished former New York Times reporter.

The Free Press makes legacy media journalists uncomfortable and fearful because it routinely calls out their deceptions and faleshoods. One example is this story about Dr. David Sabatini, a researcher who was making progress finding a cure for cancer, but his career was sidelined because of allegations of sexual harassment that a reasonable person would find dubious after reading the article. This article called out how the New York Times and other legacy media fell for a racism scam. The Free Press even dared to publish this story maintaining that Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted for the murder of George Floyd, was a scapegoat, not a murderer.

The Free Press is successfully tapping into a growing market of liberals and conservatives who are fed up with the legacy media and the values and mores promoted by activists masquerading as journalists and promoting their agendas. The Free Press, with more than 630,000 subscribers, is the No. 1 ranked publication on the Substack platform. A paid subscription is $8 a month, double for what I grudgingly pay for both my New York Times and Washington Post subscriptions.

In addition to being an excellent journalist, Weiss is well on her way to becoming a very wealthy one. There’s money to be made from quality and honest journalism, rather than click bait content that even the Wall Street Journal is resorting to.

In its story responding to Berliner’s attack, NPR said the #MeToo sexual harassment scandals of 2016 and 2017 “forced newsrooms to listen to and heed more junior colleagues” and “the social justice movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 inspired a reckoning” in many places.

“Newsroom leaders often appeared to stand on shaky ground,” NPR reported, noting that former Washington Post editor Martin Baron wrote in his memoir that he feared his bonds with the staff were “frayed beyond repair,” especially over the degree of self-expression his journalists expected to exert on social media.

In fact, the ground newsroom leaders stood on wasn’t shaky, but rather it was the leaders who were trembling and intimidated by their lower paid millennials they hired to replace more experienced staff. I’m doubtful that legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee of Watergate fame would have tolerated employees telling him how best to run the publication, or for that matter, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein publicly claiming how fortunate the Post was to have them.

Sally Buzbee, the Post’s current newsroom chief, hasn’t displayed Bradlee’s decisive leadership. She hired and tolerated controversial tech writer Taylor Lorenz, who publicly admitted the Post was merely a pit stop on the way to greater glory.

“When you think about the future of media, it’s much more distributed and about personalities,” Lorenz told Business Insider. “Younger people recognize the power of having their own brand and audience, and the longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes.” Lorenz later told the Los Angeles Times: “Sometimes I forget how a lot of people are still marinating in this old (media) system that’s kind of dying.”

The Post is marinating in the likes of Lorenz and culture writer Maura Judkis, who wrote this commentary arguing the “moral panic” about an epidemic of shoplifting that’s forced major retailers to close stores is because “America is a sticky-fingered nation built on stolen land.”

Little wonder the Post under Buzbee’s watch is said to be losing $100 million a year and lost 25% of its circulation since Joe Biden was elected president.

The New York Times is also facing considerable internal unrest, deservedly so given that A.G. Sulzberger, the publication’s silver spoon-born millennial publisher, caved to employee demands to fire a top editor and a reporter he earlier defended (see here and here). Despite Sulzberger appointing a “trust team” to restore the Gray Lady’s historic credibility, NewsGuard, an organization that rates credibility of news sites, in February reduced the Times‘ score from the maximum of 100 to 87.5 because the publication didn’t have a sufficient delineation between its news and opinion columns. 

Notice how the Times featured NPR’s turmoil as being driven by “conservatives.”

Underscoring the poor newsroom leadership of NPR’s Edith Chapin, she didn’t immediately move to discipline or fire Berliner, despite his hanging out baskets of NPR’s dirty laundry for all to see. Newly appointed NPR CEO Katherine Maher reportedly told some NPR hosts that she didn’t want Berliner to become a “martyr.” Note to NPR staffers: Feel free to share your grievances and gripes with the favorite publications of your choosing.

Bari Weiss and Uri Berliner are both journalism heroes in my book, but what distinguishes the two of them is that Weiss honorably resigned when she lobbed her New York Times grenade on her way out the door.

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