Once, journalism meant collecting and truthfully refining information until it could be honestly presented to the public as fact. If a story could not be substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt by at least two witnesses it was not offered up by the news media for public distribution. Unfortunately, now the profession of journalism has become so corrupted and dishonest that its practice is little more than the rapid dissemination of political talking points.
For the most part, today’s journalism is defined as little more than the hurried distribution of refined gossip. Years ago when a news item or story was presented by the news media to the public it was possible to get several different points of view concerning the same story simply by reading different papers or by switching TV channels. Today, once you’ve heard the dutifully parroted talking points you know that that point of view and spin will prevail in in all subsequent reporting and, with few exceptions, will be repeated almost word for word.
In addition to criticizing the media’s being used as a disseminator of talking points, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Harsh decries the news media’s constant lying and its willingness to carry dirty water for the Obama Administration. “It’s pathetic,” he says. “They are more than obsequious, they are afraid … [They] lie about everything, lying has become the staple [especially at the NY Times].”
The President loudly proclaims that he is willing to meet with and find a way to compromise with his Republican opponents and to find a way to avoid shutting down the government.
Then in the next breath he says, “But I will not compromise on defunding ObamaCare.”
Either he is willing to compromise or he is not. On the one hand he proclaims that he is wide open to any and all reasonable compromise. Then he offers a list of subjects on which he stoutly refuses to compromise. The news media pseudo-journalists should be screaming at the top of their lungs that, “He is not telling the truth; he can’t have it both ways. Either he is willing to compromise or he is not.” But the days of journalists proclaiming and fighting for truth are long past.
Eric Sevareid, that great World War II combat reporter who after the war became a lead TV anchorman, wrote in his book Not so Wild a Dream that a news story or report should not be just a pseudo-editorial or color story. It should begin by establishing the hard news of the day. When was the last time you heard a news caster start off a news cast with hard news?
Sevareid then said that the writer should provide a description of and a feel for the scene where the story takes place. It is much like a landscape painter painting the background on a canvas before laying in the middle ground. Then with great attention to detail he paints in the foreground; and last of all he gives the painting a final flourish. In reporting on a today’s stories it has become rather common place for reporters to begin their report by dabbing in some middle ground and foreground, adding a final flourish and omitting the background all together.
Next, Sevareid says comes evaluating the people and the qualities of the persons involved in the news story, and making a determination as to their motives and whether their actions identify them as big or little people. The report or news story should close with indications of its meaning and its implications for the present and future; the purpose being not just to inform the public, but to help them evaluate the story’s real meaning and relevance.
So, it is not good enough to report on just one side of a story, juxtapose it with another side of the story and then conclude, “That’s the way it is.” At some point the writer is expected to tell the reader or the viewer what is truth and what is ”spin,” or what is simply wishful thinking well meant. Today’s journalists offer information, but few insights or understandings.
That is why Seymour Hersh is so angry and upset, because he is convinced that his comrades, America’s journalists, aren’t doing their jobs. They are refusing to challenge the lies and untruths of an Administration that he believes is nothing but one big lie. He maintains that, “Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider anymore.”
Regurgitating talking points is not the same as truth telling, especially when journalists are speaking truth to power. Once, journalism stood for reporting hard news, facts and truth. Now the profession has corrupted itself and sold its soul to creepy politicians working for the devil.
Just as only “We the People” can take back our government, only We the People can redefine and recapture the practice of truth telling in journalism.
Image: Eric Sevareid; public domain