Journalism today, plain & simple

I was taught and practiced ethical journalism. For 11 years with an Internet pulpit, I have made ethical journalism my number one concern.

Surely, dear reader, there is no reason to explain, after millions of words on the state of journalism today, how media which have fallen into prostitution can harm democracy.

After a long and distinguished journalism career. a white-haired editor friend told me, “Journalism is a whore riding a black horse.” The black horse being printer’s ink. How prescient he was!

Comes John Cory of Reader Supported News with a perspective on journalism today so plain and simple I post it here for my readers’ delight. Permission to republish is “freely granted.”

Running on Bullshit

By John Cory
Reader Supported News
25 July 2010

In the 1976 film “Network,” Howard Beale explains why on the previous evening's broadcast he had announced that he would commit public suicide on the air: "Well, I'll tell you what happened: I just ran out of bullshit ... So I don't have any bullshit left, just ran out of it, you see."

That is not a concern for what passes as our modern media because bullshit comes with a golden microphone and silver-framed teleprompter. Bring your own pooper-scooper.

The media narrative of the Shirley Sherrod event began with, "racist discovered at NAACP," then promptly shifted to, "oops, my bad," and then to, "what's wrong with this White House and why is the President afraid of FOX?"

On Wednesday's ABC Nightline Cynthia McFadden introduced a segment about the kerfuffle Andrew Breitbart had stirred up. Kerfuffle? That sounds so harmless.

The NY Times ran an editorial that began: "The Obama Administration has been shamed by its rush to judgment," and ended by noting that this time, Glenn Beck was right.

Howard Kurtz gave cover to FOX and Breitbart by glossing over the whole incident and ending with, "Still, one fact is indisputable. It was Vilsack, not Breitbart, who kicked Sherrod out of her job."

Rachel Maddow on MSNBC chided the White House for continually falling for these FOX News stunts, and Keith Olbermann interrupted his vacation for a Special Comment on the whole Sherrod affair and lectured Obama about standing up to the right-wing FOX noise machine.

Let's be blunt here, the media is not interested in journalism or news or context or factual reportage; it is interested in what sells - and that my friends, is bullshit.

CNN is a slogan generating "news" organization. "Keeping them honest" is the term most often used while uttering the phrase "both sides do it," as protection against accusations of being part of the "liberal media."

MSNBC has positioned itself as the anti-FOX with its so-called "liberal/progressive" evening lineup that punches back at the propaganda of FOX. It is Keith versus Bill-O and Rachel versus Hannity or whomever she can snark and giggle at. It is the World Wrestling Federation of "I know I am but what are you!"

In other words - bullshit. Lethal repugnant odious, but oh so shiny bullshit.

It is time to re-read Gene Lyons' "Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater." It is time to remind ourselves that the NY Times and Washington Post were cheerleaders for war with Iraq and Afghanistan. The networks quivered in near orgasm over the chance to embed with troops and roll across the desert in glorious full battle-rattle. The "media" attacked Michael Hastings over his reporting on Gen. McChrystal and whined about the need for friendly access to the military, and at the same time complained that BP restricted their ability to cover the Gulf oil disaster. BP was being mean!

The truth is, had BP oil been used as a lubricant for a celebrity sex scandal, the media would have broken through the security lines and rushed the bedroom for photographs. But of course, the oil was only used to lubricate the screwing of America, so nothing to see here - move along.

Our "media news" outlets are nothing more than carnival barkers and hucksters. They are the last real manufacturer left in this country. They manufacture sensationalistic fear while selling conformity to the great, unwashed American consumer. They sell tribalism and all the products that go with it.

In other words - bullshit.

The Sherrod affair was never about racism. It was blowback for attacks on the Tea Party - that manufactured coalition of hate and anger supported by conservative corporate largesse - just like that other media creation - Sarah Palin.

All the media did was yell: Fight! Fight! Someone called someone else a racist and then someone else showed that the other someone was a racist, too, and both sides do it so - we're just keeping them honest. See?

Breitbart won the prize his kind desires most - headlines and media profile.

MSNBC and FOX got to punch and blame each other, so that's a win.

The American people lost. They lost an opportunity to have an honest discussion about people and racism, about institutional racism, about the progress and redemption of race in our society. But at least they were entertained for a while. And isn't that what it's all about, really, a little entertainment between job losses and military suicides and the 100 bank failures so far this year and, oh yeah, having to talk about that scary race thing?

One night Howard Beale ran out of bullshit. Howard Beale is a fictional character.

So is our modern media.


Frodo, reporting live said...

As Frodo read this engaging and insightful piece, he noticed something and started to ask himself a few questions? Where are the networks? Is cable the only source of news on the black-and-white? Where is the Nashville Tennessean, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlanta Constitution? Does news only occur in two marketplaces between two newspapers?

Or is it that we rail against the opinionated, and not the news itself, or those with limited resources who try to separate the serious from the "kerfuffle"?

Frodo believes that an entire generation of "communication majors," have been taught the value of hair spray, as compared to context. Concomitantly, an entire population thinks that is cool.

TOM said...

The American people are to blame for this "bullshit." If they don't know better, don't demand better, then it is as we accept it. We get the representation we vote for. we get the news(?) we accept and complain little to those producing it.

tnlib said...

BJ: I posted a link from my blog to here and to a piece by Octopus on Swash Zone.

Frodo: Newspapers are dying, not thriving, so they're becoming less of a threat. For now the WSJ and to a lesser extent the WaPo are surviving - the WSJ by becoming a right-wing dirt rag and the WaPo by edging that way (my opinion). The Constitution is still hanging in, the Tennessean growing thinner by the day but mercifullly liberal, and the LA Times becoming more conservative, if possible.

And your last paragraphy is why you see more gray haired old men in broadcasting than you do middle-aged and old women.

Tom: I think it's too easy to blame the people. They - not all - have been dummied down to the point that they don't even realize what's happened.

B.J. said...

News flash, guys: reading is dying. I’ve said it 7,436 times: Tom Brokaw says if it’s more than two paragraphs, no one will read it.

Frodo: Get out your stop watch. Tune in the black-and-white to nightly network news. Come back here and let us know exactly how much time in the 30 minutes is devoted to real news.

tnlib: Thanks for the link and, as always, your common sense and insight! (Re. spelling of “snic,” the “snick” was just my phonetic rendition of the spoken moniker.)

TOM: Welcome to DemWit. I have to agree with you and Joseph Pulitzer: “Give the people what they want.” A good example of this: visit cnn.com each day under “Latest News” and check out the headline offerings.

I am having a major computer problem: my pointer is freezing up every few minutes causing me to have to push the button on my tower and just turn my ‘puter off. I lose anything I’m in the middle of. Many days of troubleshooting and no solution. Ulcer coming along nicely. Point: If I fail to read your blog and comment or elaborate on your comments here, bear with me.


tnlib said...

I'd hit "CTRL," "ALT," "DEL" rather than turning it off via the button.

tnlib said...

I just saw a comment on another blog that said:

"I’m beginning to question whether there has ever been a golden age of bold and honest independent journalism, despite many journalists feeble memories to the contrary. Yes, most journalists love to talk about their steadfast traditions of truth, honesty, and objectiveness and how they believe it used to be that way, but has it ever?"

Aargh! Anyway, if you have to shut the thing off by hitting the button, let it sit for a good three minutes before starting 'er up again.

B.J. said...

The person who left that comment has never worked on a daily newspaper copy desk, LOL. Many people confuse “news” and “opinion.” Opinion should always be labeled as such. The problem comes when the two are blurred.

There certainly is unavoidable bias in choosing story placement within the paper, but that’s the purpose of the news budget meeting. (Which stories go on page one, which are tucked inside.)

I never had a problem with pages marked “sensitive,” either. These pages alerted the editor not to put a cancer story next to a cigarette ad or a plane crash story next to an airline’s ad. Only fair if the newspaper took the ad money not to run such a story beside an ad.

Happily I avoided what could have been my most embarrassing journalism moment. I had a half-page hole to fill with photos of starving children in Ethopia. The back shop alerted me: below the photo layout was a Mexican restaurant ad with a banner headline: “Stpe right up, hombres. All you can eat for $5.99.” That was a “sensitive” page that wasn’t marked as no one could have foreseen the situation. We pulled the photo layout, moved the paid ad up and filled the bottom with a community service ad.

The average reader even confuses editorials (voice of the newspaper), columns (voice of an individual opinion writer) and letters-to-the-editor (voice of the reader).

Enough of journalism 101. Thanks for the quote, Leslie. One word: muckrakers. BJ


Tiny said...

Remember when Ross Perot was running for president? He said we had to get shovels and clean out the barn.

The same seems to apply to media offices, halls of congress and the supreme court.

Anyone know where there's a sale on good shovels?

Katherine said...

In my view, a gargantuan crock of it is partisan politics. Every day of the week, manipulative corporate infotainment says to watch the Republican or Democratic pea under the shell. Follow it. Fix on it. Don't take your eyes off it. BELIEVE it! And then after the election: Whammo. The majority of us were screwed again. That's been going on for at least three decades now.

From a talk given by Dr. Lawrence Lessig I found out recently that the 'military industrial complex' was actually termed the 'military-industrial-Congressional- complex' in Dwight Eisenhower's draft of that speech.

Hoping that all's well with you.


Squire of Minister Lake said...

The tragedy of stupidity is that its victims are unaware of their affliction. In this case the 'victim' is most of the American population, which hasn't the energy, wit, or inclination to demand anything more than entertaining bullshit from its media. There is something terribly wrong in a country where the terms "journalist" and "Glenn Beck" are used in the same breath, something that would have driven Jefferson to despair.

Tiny said...

Never mind Jefferson being "driven to despair." The whole FAUX network drives countless people to despair! Could a big freight train even haul away all the bull shit they create in one day? Not to mention an entire week!

Everyone: Be on the lookout for any sales on great big, good shovels. We will have to start recruiting people for the Super Duper Pooper Scooper Brigade!

When we become visible enough and questions are asked, we can start doing a little (OJT) on-the-job teaching.

Loulou La Poule said...

Somewhere back in the mists of time, I noticed that I couldn't tell the difference between a news article and a feature article. I can't remember how many years ago it was, but my response was to stop reading the newspapers. Then I stopped watching television news after Bush was re-installed.

And along came that absolutely fascinating election of 2008 and I became hooked again. At least this time I know it's entertainment, not news. You're so right, BJ: we produce bullshit in America and we are our own best consumers of it.