Monday, January 27, 2014

It's simple: Report what they do, not what they say


A bit of a preface: Throughout 50 years on and off in journalism, I have been very conscious of attempting to remain objective and adhere to the concept of fairness. This went so far as I still won't join clubs or organizations just to maintain at least the appearance of objectivity. As a result it has taken a long time to come to the conclusions here, to violate basic ideals drilled into me during my journalism education and experience.

Last week there was a news story about Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell outlining all the ways he planned to block any program advocated by President Obama and the democrats in general. It took me back to something I was attempting to make some sense of during the craziness before the government shutdown last fall.

One morning during that period while wrestling a puppy and trying to maintain at least some of my own morning routine,  as I usually do I turned on the TV news.  Accidently I went to the Fox news channel instead of CNN or MSNBC, but didn't realize it.  Mostly it is on and I am going through web pages and sites I watch without paying much attention to the TV.

But as I was scrolling down facebook it began to dawn on me that all the shutdown reporting was about republicans and tea party people saying how awful the president is because of the conflict.  After a time it began seeping into my consciousness and drew a little more attention.  There was no logo on the screen but I began questioning whether I had turned on Fox by accident, and when I checked which channel I was on, sure enough, I had. It amazed me that even considering all the criticism of that news network, they made so little effort to report objectively, and that made it so easy to recognize what network I had blundered onto.



This was purported to be news, not one of their talking heads features, when it was just one long diatribe against the president.  Whew. Given Fox news does that, it seems to me that news is then weighted three-fourths against the president.  That's because while Fox makes no excuses for what they do, the more legitimate press in an effort to show fairness in reporting gives equal time to the president and to the wackos in the House of Representatives who have stalled the government.  Equal time.  But, in the process they give legitimacy to people like Michelle Bachman who said at the time the whole thing is indicative we are in the Christian end of days. Since the Nixon days it has bothered me that in the effort to be fair, the press lets all kinds of weirdos speak and thus gives them credibility.

I recall day after day editing stories about Nixon and Watergate and the coverup and knowing all those people were lying.  Who could believe no one knew about something as outrageous as burglarizing Democratic headquarters or the cover-up that followed.  And day after day, I had to allow those lies to go into print. At the time it came out that part of the Nixonian political philosophy was that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes truth. People throw around the term Nazi these days to point out anything they don’t like, but that philosophy was actually first promoted by Hitler's public relations guy Joseph Goebbels who really was a Nazi.

Nixon's gang was just a small group of out-of-control political criminals.  Today's batch is even worse because they are not really violating any laws and thus have a mask of credibility.  We have people actually running our government like members of congressional science committees who insist the world is only 6,000 years old, that climate change is some sort of media plot, that Obama is bringing us to the end of days, and their ventures into women's rights and anatomy;  people who stop the government in its tracks and then blame and confront a park ranger over following orders they forced into creation.

And, the press gives them credibility by granting time on camera equal to what  responsible members of government receive.  I've attached a couple of internet memes on the subject here that help explain the issue.  Though it goes against every ideal ever learned in journalism school, perhaps it is time to let intelligence take hold and report what is really going on.  There is a way to do that without going too far overboard.  Most of what gets reported, is what I call lip flap, people talking, often saying little of consequence.  In my own work, and when I am able to work with others, an easy choice is report what people do, not what they say.  And, if they are doing nothing, like John Boehner was doing in not allowing a House vote, report that.  Not what he says, but the fact that he is not allowing that vote.

Republicans are whining the president will not negotiate.  Report the history of that.  How many times have GOP representatives refused to negotiate and if they do they don't negotiate in good faith.  It wasn’t too long ago that in another confrontation, every step the president took toward the republicans in an effort to reach a compromise, the GOP took a step backward away from him with a new demand and eventually nothing was settled. Why would someone enter new negotiations given that history?  Several people have likened it to Lucy pulling the football away every time Charlie Brown goes to kick it.

In the end it is almost childish.  The stand is against affordable health care.  This is law: it was passed by both houses of Congress, signed into law by the president and confirmed by the Supreme Court.  Then it was the main issue in the last presidential election which the president won by more than 5 million votes.  It is the law of the land.  GOP lost.  Accept it and move on.  As one pundit put it recently and I wish I could remember who, they lost so what did they do, they kicked the ball into the woods.

Still according to McConnell it will come up for a vote again this year. There is so much going on, so many serious issues to address, why even bother to report  a wacko threat to kill the affordable health program, especially now that it has survived its rocky start and is working for millions of people, many of whom never had health insurance before. It would be an interesting story to search the number of column inches devoted the web site's startup difficulties  and now to how many are devoted to its successes.  Where is the fairness in that case?

Every day on those news shows I see the wackos spouting off anything they can think of that goes against the president, yet offer little in the way of a factual basis for the charges. We have even had one political candidate saying the president should be executed. In my old civics class that was termed a crime, yet this guy maybe got a stern talking to by the Secret Service and that's all. Of course we don't know because in the interest of fairness we heard that he said it, but not what the consequences were.

All this fairness effort by the press and TV (they are two different entities) does nothing but attempt to fool the public into thinking the opposing views carry equal weight. How is it that something like 97 percent of scientists involved agree the climate is warming and at least partly a result of human actions carries equal weight with Donald Trump who says it is a liberal (read commie pinko radical) hoax?

I may be something of a Pollyanna here but I think the majority of Americans are intelligent enough to see through all the lies upon lies that the speakers hope will become truth. What remains is for that intelligent majority to do something about it, and to demand better and maybe some unfair reporting from the enabling news media.


The American Revolution had its roots in non-traditional reporting, just go back and read Thomas Paine for an example. The Thomas Paines of this century will be found on the internet, where fortunately reporting is not bound by the fairness doctrine

2 comments:

  1. Tim, I came to blogging thru academia rather than journalism, so I had somewhat different standards. But I began checking the journalist standards out. I concluded that pretending to be neutral is the real lie. Just because someone doesn't support a party or candidate with money, doesn't mean their heart is neutral. Writers should disclose their bias and then write however they want and let the reader choose what to read.

    My personal preference is to try to be objective and offer evidence for what I saw. But I see nothing wrong with other folks using their blog to write their opinion. It's up to the readers to figure it out.

    Fox, though is a different story. They call themselves 'fair and unbiased' so that's hardly declaring their allegiance. But their viewers are getting the news they want to hear. And the comments I see on some so called liberal blogs are just as mean and personal as anything Fox does.

    Got here through your intro on the FB Alaska Bloggers Group. Good to meet you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Steve, I couldn't agree more. Attempting objectivity is not achieving objectivity, there are just too many nuances of it. It is one reason I liked the now old "New Journalism" of the 70s. The writer interjected himself into the story allowing him to give his experience with the subject and expose his non-objective thoughts as well.

    ReplyDelete

Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

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My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

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I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

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3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

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You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

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Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

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A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

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How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

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