Skip to comments.Editing Their Way to Oblivion: Journalism Sacrificed For Power and Pensions
Posted on 10/24/2008 2:26:54 PM PDT by coffee260
The traditional media is playing a very, very dangerous game. With its readers, with the Constitution, and with its own fate.
The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months Ive found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.
But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, Ive begun for the first time in my adult life to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was a writer, because I couldnt bring myself to admit to a stranger that Im a journalist.
You need to understand how painful this is for me. I am one of those people who truly bleeds ink when Im cut. I am a fourth generation newspaperman. As family history tells it, my great-grandfather was a newspaper editor in Abilene, Kansas during the last of the cowboy days, then moved to Oregon to help start the Oregon Journal (now the Oregonian). My hard-living - and when I knew her, scary - grandmother was one of the first women reporters for the Los Angeles Times. And my father, though profoundly dyslexic, followed a long career in intelligence to finish his life (thanks to word processors and spellcheckers) as a very successful freelance writer. Ive spent thirty years in every part of journalism, from beat reporter to magazine editor. And my oldest son, following in the family business, so to speak, earned his first national by-line before he earned his drivers license.
So, when I say Im deeply ashamed right now to be called a journalist, you can imagine just how deep that cuts into my soul.
Now, of course, theres always been bias in the media. Human beings are biased, so the work they do, including reporting, is inevitably colored. Hell, I can show you ten different ways to color variations of the word said - muttered, shouted, announced, reluctantly replied, responded, etc. - to influence the way a reader will apprehend exactly the same quote. We all learn that in Reporting 101, or at least in the first few weeks working in a newsroom. But what we are also supposed to learn during that same apprenticeship is to recognize the dangerous power of that technique, and many others, and develop built-in alarms against their unconscious.
But even more important, we are also supposed to be taught that even though there is no such thing as pure, Platonic objectivity in reporting, we are to spend our careers struggling to approach that ideal as closely as possible. That means constantly challenging our own prejudices, systematically presenting opposing views, and never, ever burying stories that contradict our own world views or challenge people or institutions we admire. If we cant achieve Olympian detachment, than at least we can recognize human frailty - especially in ourselves.
For many years, spotting bias in reporting was a little parlor game of mine, watching TV news or reading a newspaper article and spotting how the reporter had inserted, often unconsciously, his or her own preconceptions. But I always wrote it off as bad judgment, and lack of professionalism, rather than bad faith and conscious advocacy. Sure, being a child of the 60s I saw a lot of subjective New Journalism, and did a fair amount of it myself, but that kind of writing, like columns and editorials, was supposed to be segregated from real reporting, and at least in mainstream media, usually was. The same was true for the emerging blogosphere, which by its very nature was opinionated and biased.
But my complacent faith in my peers first began to be shaken when some of the most admired journalists in the country were exposed as plagiarists, or worse, accused of making up stories from whole cloth. Id spent my entire professional career scrupulously pounding out endless dreary footnotes and double-checking sources to make sure that I never got accused of lying or stealing someone elses work - not out any native honesty, but out of fear: Id always been told to fake or steal a story was a firing offense . . .indeed, it meant being blackballed out of the profession.
And yet, few of those worthies ever seemed to get fired for their crimes - and if they did they were soon rehired into an even more prestigious jobs. It seemed as if there were two sets of rules: one for us workaday journalists toiling out in the sticks, and another for folks whod managed, through talent or deceit, to make it to the national level.
Meanwhile, I watched with disbelief as the nations leading newspapers, many of whom Id written for in the past, slowly let opinion pieces creep into the news section, and from there onto the front page. Personal opinions and comments that, had they appeared in my stories in 1979, would have gotten my butt kicked by the nearest copy editor, were now standard operating procedure at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and soon after in almost every small town paper in the U.S.
But what really shattered my faith - and I know the day and place where it happened - was the War in Lebanon three summers ago. The hotel I was staying at in Windhoek, Namibia only carried CNN, a network Id already learned to approach with skepticism. But this was CNN International, which is even worse. I sat there, first with my jaw hanging down, then actually shouting at the TV, as one field reporter after another reported the carnage of the Israeli attacks on Beirut, with almost no corresponding coverage of the Hezbollah missiles raining down on northern Israel. The reporting was so utterly and shamelessly biased that I sat there for hours watching, assuming that eventually CNNi would get around to telling the rest of the story . . .but it never happened.
But nothing, nothing Ive seen has matched the media bias on display in the current Presidential campaign. Republicans are justifiably foaming at the mouth over the sheer one-sidedness of the press coverage of the two candidates and their running mates. But in the last few days, even Democrats, who have been gloating over the pass - no, make that shameless support - theyve gotten from the press, are starting to get uncomfortable as they realize that no one wins in the long run when we dont have a free and fair press. I was one of the first people in the traditional media to call for the firing of Dan Rather - not because of his phony story, but because he refused to admit his mistake - but, bless him, even Gunga Dan thinks the media is one-sided in this election.
Now, dont get me wrong. Im not one of those people who think the media has been too hard on, say, Gov. Palin, by rushing reportorial SWAT teams to Alaska to rifle through her garbage. This is the Big Leagues, and if she wants to suit up and take the field, then Gov. Palin better be ready to play. The few instances where I think the press has gone too far - such as the Times reporter talking to Cindy McCains daughters MySpace friends - can easily be solved with a few newsroom smackdowns and temporary repostings to the Omaha Bureau.
No, what I object to (and I think most other Americans do as well) is the lack of equivalent hardball coverage of the other side - or worse, actively serving as attack dogs for Senators Obama and Biden. If the current polls are correct, we are about to elect as President of the United States a man who is essentially a cipher, who has left almost no paper trail, seems to have few friends (that at least will talk) and has entire years missing out of his biography. That isnt Sen. Obamas fault: his job is to put his best face forward. No, it is the traditional medias fault, for it alone (unlike the alternative media) has had the resources to cover this story properly, and has systematically refused to do so.
Why, for example to quote McCains lawyer, havent we seen an interview with Sen. Obamas grad school drug dealer - when we know all about Mrs. McCains addiction? Are Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko that hard to interview? All those phony voter registrations that hard to scrutinize? And why are Senator Bidens endless gaffes almost always covered up, or rationalized, by the traditional media?
The absolute nadir (though I hate to commit to that, as we still have two weeks before the election) came with Joe the Plumber. Middle America, even when they didnt agree with Joe, looked on in horror as the press took apart the private life of an average person who had the temerity to ask a tough question of a Presidential candidate. So much for the Standing Up for the Little Man, so much for Speaking Truth to Power, so much for Comforting the Afflicting and Afflicting the Comfortable, and all of those other catchphrases we journalists used to believe we lived by.
I learned a long time ago that when people or institutions begin to behave in a matter that seems to be entirely against their own interests, its because we dont understand what their motives really are. It would seem that by so exposing their biases and betting everything on one candidate over another, the traditional media is trying to commit suicide - especially when, given our currently volatile world and economy, the chances of a successful Obama presidency, indeed any presidency, is probably less than 50:50.
Furthermore, I also happen to believe that most reporters, whatever their political bias, are human torpedoes . . .and, had they been unleashed, would have raced in and roughed up the Obama campaign as much as they did McCains. Thats what reporters do, I was proud to have been one, and Im still drawn to a good story, any good story, like a shark to blood in the water.
So why werent those legions of hungry reporters set loose on the Obama campaign? Who are the real villains in this story of mainstream media betrayal?
The editors. The men and women you dont see; the people who not only decide what goes in the paper, but what doesnt; the managers who give the reporters their assignments and lay-out the editorial pages. They are the real culprits.
Why? I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one: Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where youve spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power . . . only to discover that youre presiding over a dying industry. The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent. Many of your peers shrewdly took golden parachutes and disappeared. Your job doesnt have anywhere near the power and influence it did when your started your climb. The Newspaper Guild is too weak to protect you any more, and there is a very good chance youll lose your job before you cross that finish line, ten years hence, of retirement and a pension.
In other words, you are facing career catastrophe -and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway - all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.
And then the opportunity presents itself: an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career. With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived Fairness Doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe, be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.
And besides, you tell yourself, its all for the good of the country . . .
This piece is: A self-centered review of what I’ve read here daily for the past ten years.
Same Here! Shouting, cussing, and screaming at the idiots on TV. I have angrily invited numerous so-called "journalists" to the house for a good old-fashioned butt-kicking.
Yellow journalism has reached an all-time low. They're in the bank for Obama. Nearly all of them.
Might want to send it to some of the weasels on Fox as well, like Shep or O'Reilly.
Have you read this one called “Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?” Here’s the link: http://www.ldsmag.com/ideas/081017light.html
What I see as their game plan(if The Fraud wins-God forbid)
is a State supported media,like NPR, for the press and TV,
like the one that they have in Russia (Pravda style).
I think this explains the 100% backing of the news media behind the Unholy One. All their chips are riding on this
campaign. They have gone “all in”. When we win they will
be crushed and humiliated. Pray fervently and often.
Jesus Christ is our Head. Let Him lead.
“Even though he gets the bias he is far to kind to his fellow journalist that have jumped the shark and landed on the side of traitors and dictators.”
ditto to that
bump for later
I'd be happy to lend them a rope.
Baghdad Bob had a reputation for being a one-sided liar and a joke. But if he hasn’t lied, he’d be murdered.
Our journalists gave up their reputations without threat...
Thanks for the link.
Instead, it was Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats, who denied that there were any problems, who refused Bush administration requests to set up a regulatory agency to watch over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and who were still pushing for these agencies to go even further in promoting sub-prime mortgage loans almost up to the minute they failed.
The man who wrote this is a dem!!! And a journalist. Pigs are flying over a frozen pond in hell as I type. Knock me over with a feather... Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.
OUTSTANDING article by Michael S. Malone. Thanks for posting.But even more important, we are also supposed to be taught that even though there is no such thing as pure, Platonic objectivity in reporting, we are to spend our careers struggling to approach that ideal as closely as possible. That means constantly challenging our own prejudices, systematically presenting opposing views, and never, ever burying stories that contradict our own world views or challenge people or institutions we admire. If we cant achieve Olympian detachment, than at least we can recognize human frailty - especially in ourselves.
And thank you for the ping! Bookmarking - and a maximum-effort ping!
IMHO the exact reason for the extreme tendentiousness of Big Journalism, and of the Democratic Party with which it is in symbiosis, is the fact that journalists do not write to be objective, they write from the assumption that they are objective. And that is sophistry.
ping to thread about media bias
IMHO, shareholders, those that have been victims of deliberately “careless” or distorted journalism (the Haditha Marines come to mind) may well have some kind of claim against the parent organizations for the consequences of “journalistic malpractice”..from failure of appropriate editorial oversight.
Thanks very much for bringing this excellent article to my attention! Your comment that journalists write from the assumption they are objective is very true. Great post!
Aw another great read - thank you again for the Ping.
I scrunch down when I read “journalist” these days for the words “story teller” keep surfacing.
I hope that criticism will soon pass as does a toothache.
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