In the 1960s, as a network of communication links finally enabled the mass media to embrace the entire planet, it was reasonable to copy a cool cat like the media theorist Marshall McLuhan and feel excited about the creation of a global village in which everybody anywhere could find out what anybody anywhere else was doing or saying. It was reasonable to see the mass media as a global village schoolteacher educating the entire world in politics and culture and sports and ideas. This is no longer reasonable. The mass media now operates more like a global village idiot, deeply ignorant and easily led.
In an imaginary world, we might demand that media products should be treated like food products which are required to carry a clear label to inform consumers of their contents. To translate this idea across to the media industry, we would need somebody to stump up a lot of cash to run a parallel news organization, which would sample the output of each newspaper and broadcaster, check it for accuracy, and then produce a rolling average for, say, the preceding six months, so that each media outlet could be required to display prominently the percentage of its stories which had turned out to be false or distorted.
At the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, they display the words of the former newspaper proprietor and editor, Joseph Pulitzer: ‘A cynical, mercenary, demagogic, corrupt press will produce in time a people as base as itself.’ He was probably right.