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Howard Kurtz is worried that the mainstream media has lost its sway. How else, he wonders, could scores of Americans really believe that the government may kill their grandmother? In his column yesterday, Kurtz applauds reporters for taking politicians like Sarah Palin who have promoted outlandish lies about health care to task. "For once, mainstream journalists did not retreat to the studied neutrality of quoting dueling antagonists," he said. And yet, paranoia over 'death panels' continues. Kurtz's conclusion: the mainstream media no longer has the influence over the national discourse that it once did. "Perhaps journalists are no more trusted than politicians these days, or many folks never saw the knockdown stories. But this was a stunning illustration of the traditional media's impotence." Some columnists say there might be other, kinder explanations.

  • Before the Media Reported the Facts, They Hyped the Lies, writes Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. “They cover the controversy. They cover the lies and the untruths and the angry ads. Sometimes they fact-check these documents and sometimes they don't.” Klein says simply giving airtime to outlandish lies is enough to spread misinformation. “For the past few weeks, the casual consumer of news has heard about death panels and illegal immigrants and skyrocketing deficits and violent town halls. They may not believe all those things. But they assume they're part of the national conversation for a reason, and, quite naturally, they recoil from the center of it.” Klein's solution? " Reporting the facts is important. But so too is not reporting -- or at least not focusing, day after day -- on the lies."
  • The Press is Content to Trust Liars, writes Tim Fernholz at The American Prospect. "Having identified Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Chuck Grassley, John McCain and today, Michael Steele, as spreading falsehoods about health care reform even after they have been broadly discredited, will the journalists Kurtz mentions offer them any sanction? Or will these public figures continue to be extensively quoted in newspapers and on television?"
  • Kurtz is Right, says Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite. "If the MSM were to disappear would anyone notice?" MacNicol says the health care debate could have been a great opportunity for the "beleaguered mainstream media" to prove it still mattered, but that the opportunity has been missed. "If we can't rely on news institutions to rationally explain the complicated (and extremely important) issues of the day in a way that will reach people, than why do we need them at all?"
  • Since When is the Media Supposed to Influence Public Opinion? asks conservative opinion blogger Warner Todd Huston at Texas for Palin. "I thought the media's job was to report news so that readers could come to their own conclusion? I thought a journalist was in the just-the-facts-m'am business?" Huston said it's no surprise that Americans don't trust the media, because journalists like Kurtz, "have been caught over and over again in lies, obfuscation and omissions not to mention your sycophancy for the Chief Death Panelist, The One, your Obammessiah."

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