This is a bad article about an important subject so I'm going to share it, then dismantle it. Since we're getting all Marshall McLuhan up in this bitch, let's start with what Max Headroom was not and work from there, shall we?
We understood right away that he was a corporate sham, albeit an endearing one, whose role was to distract us from the Matrix-like horror of reality. Max both parodied a certain template of smug, Jennings-like Anglo-American talking head, as it then existed, and foresaw its final victory. In the universe of the Max Headroom shows and movies, his propaganda-spewing, faux-intimate, media-savvy and altogether Williams-like persona was engineered (using the memories of an old-school muckraking journalist, now deceased) by the rulers of a dystopian future society dominated by big corporations and media conglomerates. I suppose no further comment is necessary.
Except that Max Headroom started life as a video DJ on BBC 4. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you'll see the wrong order; BBC liked the character of Max enough that they crafted a TV movie around him (that achieved cult status) that they then tried to export to the USA (where it lasted less than a season - I taped every show, but it didn't catch on for the simple reason that it wasn't very good). From the very start, BBC 4 were going for flagrant insincerity. and flagrant insincerity works much better when you're the bumper between Genesis videos than when you're the sidekick of a muckraking investigative journalist in a very 1984/brazil "15 minutes into the future." Matt Frewer based Max Headroom not on Peter Jennings, but on Ted Baxter from the Mary Tyler Moore show:
In a 1986 interview, Frewer said: "I particularly wanted to get that phony bonhomie of Baxter ... Max always assumes a decade long friendship on the first meeting. At first sight he'll ask about that blackhead on your nose."
So while it's interesting to use an actor pretending to be a computer program pretending to be a VJ pretending to be an actor pretending to be a news anchor as an argument for "sincerity" and "authenticity" it makes about as much sense as credulously arguing that Troy McLure from The Simpsons was influential on journalism.
But that's just the analogy. It's telling that O'Hehir doesn't get to Peter Jennings until 2/3rds of the way through his argument when Brian Williams was called a "Peter Jennings clone" for the first half of his career. And yes, it's true that Peter Jennings wasn't well trusted in the beginning. It's also true that he took the anchor seat early without a lot of field experience. But Peter Jennings earned a lot of trust, which is the key ingredient in news... not "sincerity" or "authenticity" but trust.
And it's telling that O'Hehir doesn't use the word "trust" in his article even once (ctrl-f it - you'll be amazed). He does use "we" when referring to journalism, as if his primary stint was as editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Weekly or as if Salon's greatest contribution to journalism thus far has been to report that vaccines cause autism (which they retracted - wait for it - six YEARS later). And that is why this is an important discussion to have.
Walter Cronkite wasn't sniped by the blogosphere. David Brinkley didn't have to worry about the Drudge Report. Walter Murrow didn't have to worry about web-based snarkers saying horse shit like this in his lifetime:
Again, I don’t want to stumble into a nostalgic haze: Murrow and Cronkite were “instruments of unification” or social glue within a Cold War narrative of universal progress and growing affluence that was at best a half-truth.
But Dan Rather did. Dan Rather had his career at CBS ended because a blog called "Little Green Footballs" deliberately planted a fake memo to diffuse the very real questions about George W. Bush's Vietnam war record. And just like that, "pajamas media" became a "news organization."
That's why this article isn't about "trust" - traditional media always defaults to having it. Online media always defaults to needing it. No matter how you slice it, Brian Williams was in a helicopter over enemy territory and shots were fired. And no matter how you slice it, Andrew O'Hehir is a media critic whose claim to fame is editing a free tabloid weekly that mostly exists to sell personal ads. But in this brave new world of "journalism", Andrew O'Hehir gets to write
In the news business, we’ve seen a related process of evolution. Anchors from the glory days of network news, like Murrow or Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor, presented themselves as staid, reliable and deeply sincere, in a way that looks embarrassingly gauche today.
That's not journalism, that's snark. And this is Salon trying to turn snark into journalism.
Lost in all of this is how Brian Williams got taken down: Facebook. We're now in an era where every person you ever interview ever can hold you accountable for everything you ever say. And in this era, there will always be the Brian Williamses of the world who are, on balance, actually reporting news.
And in this era, there will always be the Andrew O'Hehirs of the world who do not run this risk because they never actually contribute any original content.
And that's why I hate everything about this article, but I shared it anyway.