Charges of carelessness and shallow thinking have long dogged the press. Seventy-five years ago, H.L. Mencken wrote: "One of the principal marks of an educated man, indeed, is the fact that he does not take his opinions from newspapers...
I know of no subject, in truth, save perhaps baseball, on which the average American newspaper, even in the larger cities, discourses with unfailing sense and understanding."
More recently, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "Hastiness and superficiality - these are the psychic diseases of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press." But more and more observers accuse the press of darker crimes than merely misreporting facts. They cite ideological bias, excessive negativity and too much assumed power and self-importance.
"Relating to Readers in the '80s," a survey done for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, found 50 percent of those asked disagreed with the statement: "Newspapers are usually fair, the bend over backwards to tell both sides of the story."
Only 13.7 percent of respondents to a National Opinion Research Center poll said they had "a great deal of confidence in the press." A Chicago attorney put it even more bluntly when he told Time: "There is no longer a prevailing feeling that the press is fighting to right a wrong. The sense is that the press is venal, out to make a buck."
Can one trust even widely available, well-established publications and broadcasters to give a complete, accurate picture? Can one even trust their critics?