Skip to comments.Why Broadcast Journalism is Unnecessary and Illegitimate
Posted on 09/14/2001 7:02:19 AM PDT by conservatism_IS_compassion
The framers of our Constitution gave carte blance protection to speech and the press. They did not grant that anyone was then in possession of complete and unalloyed truth, and it was impossible that they should be able to a priori institutionalize the truth of a future such human paragon even if she/he/it were to arrive.
At the time of the framing, the 1830s advent of mass marketing was in the distant future. Since that era, journalism has positioned itself as the embodiment of nonpartisan truth-telling, and used its enormous propaganda power to make the burden of proof of any bias essentially infinite. If somehow you nail them dead to rights in consistent tendentiousness, they will merely shrug and change the subject. And the press is protected by the First Amendment. That is where conservatives have always been stuck.
And make no mistake, conservatives are right to think that journalism is their opponent. Examples abound so that any conservative must scratch his/her head and ask Why? Why do those whose job it is to tell the truth tell it so tendentiously, and even lie? The answer is bound and gagged, and lying on your doorstep in plain sight. The money in the business of journalism is in entertainment, not truth. It is that imperative to entertain which produces the perspective of journalism.
And that journalism does indeed have a perspective is demonstrated every day in what it considers a good news story, and what is no news story at all. Part of that perspective is that news must be new--fresh today--as if the events of every new day were of equal importance with the events of all other days. So journalism is superficial. Journalism is negative as well, because the bad news is best suited to keep the audience from daring to ignore the news. Those two characteristics predominate in the perspective of journalism.
But how is that related to political bias? Since superficiality and negativity are anthema to conservatives there is inherent conflict between journalism and conservatism.. By contrast, and whatever pious intentions the journalist might have, political liberalism simply aligns itself with whatever journalism deems a good story. Journalists would have to work to create differences between journalism and liberalism, and simply lack any motive to do so. Indeed, the echo chamber of political liberalism aids the journalist--and since liberalism consistently exacerbates the issues it addresses, successful liberal politicians make plenty of bad news to report.
The First Amendment which protects the expression of opinion must also be understood to protect claims by people of infallibility--and to forbid claims of infallibility to be made by the government. What, after all, is the point of elections if the government is infallible? Clearly the free criticism of the government is at the heart of freedom of speech and press. Freedom, that is, of communication.
By formatting the bands and standardizing the bandwiths the government actually created broadcasting as we know it. The FCC regulates broadcasting--licensing a handful of priveledged people to broadcast at different frequency bands in particular locations. That is something not contemplated in the First Amendment, and which should never pass constitutional muster if applied to the literal press. Not only so, but the FCC requires application for renewal on the basis that a licensee broadcaster is operating in the public interest as a public trustee. That is a breathtaking departure from the First Amendment.
No one questions the political power of broadcasting; the broadcasters themselves obviously sell that viewpoint when they are taking money for political advertising. What does it mean, therefore, when the government (FCC) creates a political venue which transcends the literal press? And what does it mean when the government excludes you and me--and almost everyone else--from that venue in favor of a few priviledged licensees? And what does it mean when the government maintains the right to pull the license of anyone it does allow to participate in that venue? It means a government far outside its First Amendment limits. When it comes to broadcasting and the FCC, clearly the First Amendment has nothing to do with the case.
The problem of journalisms control of the venue of argument would be ameliorated if we could get them into court. In front of SCOTUS they would not be permitted to use their mighty megaphones. And to get to court all it takes is the filing of a civil suit. A lawsuit must be filed against broadcast journalism, naming not only the broadcast licensees, but the FCC.
We saw the tendency of broadcast journalism in the past election, when the delay in calling any given State for Bush was out of all proportion to the delay in calling a state for Gore, the margin of victory being similar--and, most notoriously, the state of Florida was wrongly called for Gore in time to suppress legal voting in the Central Time Zone portion of the state, to the detriment of Bush and very nearly turning the election. That was electioneering over the regulated airwaves on election day, quite on a par with the impact that illegal electioneering inside a polling place would have. It was an enormous tort.
And it is on that basis that someone should sue the socks off the FCC and all of broadcast journalism.
Journalism has a simbiotic relation with liberal Democrat politicians, journalists and liberal politicians are interchangable parts. Print journalism is only part of the press (which also includes books and magazines and, it should be argued, the internet), and broadcast journalism is no part of the press at all. Liberals never take issue with the perspective of journalism, so liberal politicians and journalists are interchangable parts. The FCC compromises my ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas by giving preferential access addresses to broadcasters, thus advantaging its licensees over me. And broadcast journalism, with the imprimatur of the government, casts a long shadow over elections. Its role in our political life is illegitimate.
The First Amendment, far from guaranteeing that journalism will be the truth, protects your right to speak and print your fallible opinion. Appeal to the First Amendment is appeal to the right to be, by the government or anyone elses lights, wrong. A claim of objectivity has nothing to do with the case; we all think our own opinions are right.
When the Constitution was written communication from one end of the country to the othe could take weeks. Our republic is designed to work admirably if most of the electorate is not up to date on every cause celebre. Leave aside traffic and weather, and broadcast journalism essentially never tells you anything that you need to know on a real-time basis.
(Thanks for the ping -- however, even before I did a self-search, as soon as I saw the title of this thread I stopped in...)
The points are all good. And there's so much more that could be said.
Most people have no idea what goes on even in Journalism 101. Kids, aspiring newhounds, are taught that "objectivity" is impossible. Kids are taught that rather than _trying_ to be objective, the reasonable thing to do is to choose a point-of-view and deal with it. (I heard a journalist on talk radio just yesterday discussing this point.)
Also, there are serious political problems with journalism in the modern world.
The Constitution provides means for impeaching an elected politician. But our culture provides NO MECHANISM AT ALL for removing journalists who prove themselve to be scum.
(The media is controlled by businessmen and businesswomen -- (you know, the exact same way the libertarians what _ALL_ culture to be configured) and as far as the business folk are concerned, if a journalist is fulfilling _some_ purpose -- advocating an agenda, gathering info, implementing leverage -- then that journalist is going to stay around regardless of how many people hate him or her. Heck, in demographic talk, _hate_ is a _good thing_ because it translates into high "Q"...)
Remember, it was Frank Zappa who wrote the couplet: "Journalism's kind of scary/And of it we should be wary" Mark W.
That is where conservatives have long been stuck, but when you consider that journalism is provably not unbiased, under the Constitution the FCC does not have the right to allow the broadcasting of journalism. The FCC and its licensees can be sued and forced by SCotUS to desist (provided that the Administration will enforce SCotUS's ruling, something I wouldn't bet a nickel on had Gore been named president as SCoFl attempted to assure.
I am proposing a way that our society actually could and should impeach broadcast journalism en masse.
So true. TV journalism is entertainment, not truth. It was not until the Internet that I had any inkling of what the truth was. God bless America, the Internet and FreeRepublic.com.
You don't literally have to, it's true. But the demagogery of broadcast journalism, in and of itself, constitutes the sort of bad news which constrains people to watch in horrified fascination.
I've got news for you, man: "aspiring newshounds" aren't taught that "objectivity" is impossible---they know it already. This is so obvious I'm surprised you made the statement. If 100 people witnessed the exact same car crash, you'd get 100 stories about it that were completely different. The facts may be roughly the same, but each take would be different. That's the angle. Angle = objectivity.
Absolute objectivity is absolutely impossible, and even it it were possible, it would make for an incredibly boring, milquetoast piece that wasn't worth writing, reading, taping, or broadcasting. Objectivity is the angle, the passion, that each writer or broadcaster brings to his subject. News coverage is flat and meaningless without objectivity.
The mistake you make is to assume that objectivity is possible or even desirable. Every newspaper, radio station, or television station has a voice. Up until very recently, this was a given: Democrats read one paper, Republicans another, and each paper's readership was well aware of its particular slant. The same holds true today, only that in a move to increase market share, news outlets bill themselves as "objective" news sources when they're not. They're lying to your face. I'll say it again---there's no such thing as an objective news source---there never was one, nor should there ever be one. You're a sucker if you think there is. It's your mission as a consumer to filter the objectivity and get the real news. You can read more than one paper or watch more than one news program.
The problem today is that most people who make the editorial decisions and do the hiring in major media outlets are leftists---the '60s relics and their ideological children, and that's no rhetorical bullshit (I've seen it first-hand). They only hire people like themselves. Writers, reporters, etc. with political views right of socialist have very little opportunity for employment, let alone for getting their "objective" takes read or heard.
I'm one class away from earning an MA in journalism at a Massachusetts university. I know all about J-school.
Wholeheartedly agree with your whole reply. I would question the timing of the switch from frank opinion to faux objectivity; it seems to trace back to the 1830s when first the high speed press created the opportunity to mass-market. The editorial page serves the function of "positioning" the rest of the paper as being objective. Before high-speed printing, the editorial page was pretty much the whole paper, in my belief.
Tell me something I don't know.
I've made this analogy before, so this will be the condensed version:
Imagine you are a Native American 150 years ago. Imagine you complain to your tribe that the locomotives are making it possible for the Europeans to spread _their_ civilization west and _replace_ your civilization. And imagine one of your own tribe said, "Hey, buddy, if you don't like trains, just don't buy tickets and don't ride on them..."
Do you see my point? We can all choose to "not watch" -- journalists or the media in general. But we _know_ that the vast majority of people are going to be watching this garbage and it will be influencing their thinking/actions. Just as locomotives were the enabling technology (one of them) that made it possible for Europeans to replace the Indians, now media is the enabling technology (one of them) that is making it possible for our civilization to be replaced.
Problems don't go away just because we close our eyes. (I wish they did, but they don't.) Mark W.
Yeah right. As if that were ever the case.
As for my own hometown paper (the Boston Globe), the blame lies at Tom Winship's feet.