Time and again, on some of the biggest stories of this new century, from the start of the war in Iraq to the presidential campaigns of 2008, the mainstream media has appeared unwilling, or unable, to do what American humorists do so well — tell it like it is.
Much as some in journalism's ranks like to champion the great lengths to which reporters go in pursuit of fairness, the spin doctors of DC are getting better at making us all wolf down pap like USDA prime.
Hypocrisy, for example, has long been a staple in America's daily news diet, not quite as substantial as tyranny, but at least as important as skulduggery. Yet, many in the media shrunk in recent weeks from their duty to point it out, to provide context and analysis, and ask questions despite the application of political pressure.
At least we still have the humorists (and, of course, bloggers), who give hope to those of us who can't watch the evening news without talking back to the TV.
Humorists and journalists have always been linked by a shared desire to reflect truth no matter how ugly, including the truths that make some want to smash the mirror, rather than face up to it. For that reason, it's no surprise so many American humorists have risen from journalism's ranks, the most well known of whom was the late, great Mark Twain.
There are still plenty of brave journalists who are both truthful and determined (Campbell Brown in particular), but they certainly seem fewer in number, or perhaps less willing and able to tell it like it is.
Easy as it would be to blame the many cuts news staffs have taken, I'm afraid that's merely another symptom, not the cause.
The blame rests with greed — that ever-increasing emphasis on the profitability of news delivery that Wall Street started applying more than 30 years ago.
Used to be that news organizations relished holding that mirror regardless of whether the reflection was well received. But now I worry that editors sometimes stop to think whether doing so will cost them advertisers, or subscribers, or drive down the stock.
Shooting the messenger is nothing new. What we ought to worry more about is whether its effectiveness has improved.
Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA