Sunday, 27 April 2003
|1509 - Journalism and its practitioners|
I've been accused a few times lately of hating all journalists and everything they stand for. That's not quite it.
I view the profession of journalism and those who practice it in much the same way as I do the profession of the law: while there are some good people involved in it, the profession itself has destroyed its own good image. There are too many in the field who believe that the highest good is served by getting the story, no matter who has to be hurt or destroyed in the process, to believe that the profession as a whole is as valuable to society as it might have been in the past. Put simply, there are too many would-be Woodward and Bernsteins out there, with no sense of ethics to balance the equation.
To make matters worse, there is no check on their abuses. Unlike the law, one need not acquire any specific training, nor pass any qualification tests, in order to be a journalist. One need merely be able to write, or look good on camera, enough to draw in an audience. The law has been skewed so far in favor of journalists that those significantly damaged by a crusader bent on destruction almost never get redress for their ruined lives. News media only publish corrections when forced to, or when it doesn't mean anything significant, and never with the same prominence as the first, erroneous or misleading, report. For that matter, news media organizations have managed to get a court to rule that they have no duty of accuracy in their reporting!
The journalists reading this will argue that it's all the fault of those nasty, eeeeevil big corporations that run the media. Perhaps, perhaps not, but the result is indistinguishable from the viewer's perspective: who cares if it's wrong because the writer had an axe to grind, or his corporate boss? The slanting is the same either way, and the end result is the same: the viewer is misled by the information provider.
Once upon a time, the media had a passion for getting things right, top to bottom, no matter where it may lead. If it still did, the profession as a whole would be due some respect. As things stand now, however, all it's earned is contempt, just as has the law. While there are good people working in both, the profession as a whole has a stain that will be extremely hard to eradicate.
Tom Clancy expressed it perfectly, in Executive Orders:
"Why should I trust you?" Laurence Zimmer demanded. "You're reporters." That remark broke through Plumber's demeanor hard and sharp enough to cause physical pain. Had his profession sunk as low as that?
Yes, indeed, it has. Until the profession of journalism realizes it's not nearly as well thought of in the public mind as it thinks of itself, it won't get any better. The days of Edward R. Murrow are long, long gone, probably never to return.
current mood: disappointed
For that matter, news media organizations have managed to get a court to rule that they have no duty of accuracy in their reporting!
I find it ironic that you'd use this as an excuse to berate journalistic integrity, since the 'news media organization' in this instance was the Fox News Channel, which has been criticized since its launch by journalists across the industry for being less about journalistic integrity and more about jingoistic propaganda. Their "fair and balanced" claim is laughable to anyone that understands real journalism and watches their news coverage.
The other problem is that truly fair journalism is, by conservative definitions, "liberal"; it doesn't draw automatic conclusions and it fairly represents both sides. And since conservatives typically have been content with the way things are and liberals are the ones calling for change, liberal movements actually make a story because there is movement. This lends the media to carry stories about liberals more because liberals get out and make noise and therefore stories whereas conservatives tend to be less politically active. The idea of conservative "political action" is joining the NRA, and "Local Man Joins NRA" really doesn't make a good story.
The media did give substantial coverage to the various allegations against Clinton; regardless of this, they were still demonized for not demonizing Clinton. How dare they actually attempt to preserve journalistic integrity by not taking a side? (Yes, there were some media elements that took sides, but overall there was a pretty fair coverage given.)
"The media" got demonized for getting the story wrong and playing up the sex aspect. That aspect might sell paper and get viewers but missed the point. Whether or not a politician's pants were down was not the actual issue. Seemingly lost in noise of the sex angle was the actual matter of perjury. It is unfortunate that the lie was not the issue, but the subject of the lie made the issue. The resulting black eye looks self-inflicted.
Well, a real news organization shouldn't play up anything beyond the scope of what the news is; unfortunately TV news organizations tend to do this, which creates lower standards for TV journalism than for print journalism. I think this is really the fault of the structure of our economy and of television; if cable news just portrayed what facts they had to report and didn't play anything up, they'd go out of business because people would get bored and stop watching. The sex aspect got played up on TV because it was the more ratings-driven aspect--this is the natural result of news media in a capitalist economy and on an entertainment-based medium.
The perjury issue did get reported on, though, and got better coverage in print than on TV. If anything, you could only blame the print media for not playing up the perjury angle like the TV media played up the sex angle--but if the newspapers had done this, they'd only be stooping to a lower level. Newspapers tend to have better standards of reporting, in general. (This isn't to discredit TV reporters entirely; there's a lot of pretty damn good ones out there, but it's just a format that lends itself to sensationalism.)
Besides, I don't think the point was really lost that much--I don't think the issue was as much that many Americans didn't understand that he was being accused of perjury, I think it was that many Americans didn't care if he lied about his sex life. The perjury issue still came up, but it's ridiculous to assume they'd report that he supposedly lied without reporting on what he supposedly lied about. In fact, it seemed pretty well understood that the sex angle was coming up so much because it was the centerpiece of an investigation into whether he'd lied; if it hadn't been for the lie, none of the sex would have gotten the attention it did in the first place. I think most Americans understood pretty well from everything that he lied, but they just didn't care because they didn't think what he lied about was worth removing him from office.
So, basically, yes, the sex angle did get more play than the perjury angle, but that's because of the economics of TV reporting, and I think the fact that he was being accused of lying still got covered enough that people understood it. It wasn't as simple a thing as "people weren't aware that he lied and if they were, he'd have been impeached properly", and people seem to believe that tend to hold the media responsible for that not happening, when it ended up being more complicated than that. It's not right to say the perjury issue "got lost" because people were still aware that that's what he was being accused of.
Had the media chosen to just pulverize the perjury angle into people's heads, to play up to no end the fact that Clinton lied and crucify him for it, he might have been removed from office. But would this have been any more right than what they did do? No, it wouldn't, at all.
I guess my point is that yes, the media isn't perfect (TV people who call themselves 'journalists' can sometimes make print journalists embarrassed to go by that name), and yes, they overplayed one end of things, but the people who criticize them tend to also demand that they should have overplayed the other end, which is just as wrong.
Oh, and this also occurred to me: Conservatives of various sorts played up the sex issue themselves. There were a lot of people who would go on about how Clinton had disgraced the Oval Office because he'd taken blowjobs in it, which kind of put focus on the sex thing. They'd repeat it everywhere they could. The media reported on this because it was there to report. If there's blame being assigned for the sex angle getting so much attention, it should go to this sometimes-vocal group of conservatives as much as anything.
Holy Nielsen Ratings, Batman.
I started commenting on this, and then I couldn't stop. Look at me go! I goed! A lot!
I agree with you on some things, and on other things, I did the not-as-much-agreeing deal.
Full details may be retrieved from my own vastly superior journal
. Reservations taken, business-casual dress preferred.