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By Tim Stafford

Show Biz Reporters and Jihad Journalism

"Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy"

By James Fallows

Pantheon Books

296 pp.; $23

"Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism"

By Marvin Olasky


303 pp.; $20, paper

I heard James Fallows talk on National Public Radio, describing the event that put him over the edge. Watching one of the Washington news talk shows, Fallows heard a panel of journalists pronouncing authoritatively and articulately on what President Clinton should do in Bosnia. The trouble was, Fallows knew each of these journalists, and he knew for a fact that none of them had been to Bosnia or covered the story firsthand. They didn't know what they were talking about. He felt embarrassed, Fallows said, to be part of a profession with such low standards. He decided then and there to write about what has gone wrong with American journalism.

James Fallows ranks among the finest journalists of our time. His specialty has been in-depth illumination of complicated subjects. Seeking to understand the Asian challenge, for example, he was not content to do some interviews and make a three-week Asian trip. He took his family to live in Japan and several other East Asian countries. He has brought a similar care to subjects as arcane as Pentagon weapons procurement. He cannot be dismissed as a ritual complainer. (Complaining about the news seems to be the equivalent of reviling camp food when you are in junior high.)

Not content to describe trends, Fallows names names and cites examples, such as Mike Wallace parachuting in for an instant interview with a subject he does not have the time to understand, or Cokie Roberts refusing to respond to any press inquiries about the amounts she is paid for speaking to special-interest groups. Fallows says that American journalism has gone wrong, so wrong that it undermines our democracy.

He is not charging media bias (he is not denying it, either) but something far deeper. Fallows says journalism has developed habits that undermine its very ...

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