[sgmb id=”2″]The current presidential election represents both a new nadir in national electoral politics and in the journalism that is covering it.
Not since the days of Yellow Journalism in the late-1800s when sensationalism dominated over factual
reporting has the press been so divided and partisan. But the added twist today is that reporters have become accustomed to tolerating lies and outright misrepresentations without being challenged.
Of course, this is a gross generalization sine the press today is not monolithic in any respect. There are print, broadcast, mainstream, alternative, blog, social and impossible-to-classify types of reporters that run the full gamut of professionalism that includes everything from formally-trained college degreed journalists to paid hacks.
But if we look at the quality of broadcast journalists that dominate the cable channels, we can see that reporters (including people who do not even deserve this job classification) today have been trained, or are unsupervised or are just instructed to just sit across from paid or ideological shills who are invited into the studios to pain out lie.
When this started is difficult to determine, but my bet is that it started after the true spirit of investigative journalism has faded, after the Watergate Scandal and the historic journalism work of Woodward and Bernstein ended and with the rise of CNN as the first 24-hour network. This also coincided with the popularity of the TV show “Friends,” which I submit introduced the emerging generation of self-absorbed, young adults who just sat on couches and accepted whatever they were told.
How else can we explain the low quality of CNN talking heads and anchors who will ask “Who should be responsible for fact checking the debates?” when referring to today’s face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
A decade or so ago, the obvious answer to CNN’s silly question would be that reporters and the debate moderator would be responsible for asking for candidates to provide some back up for their claims about the factual accuracy of any statement they make to 100 million Americans on live TV. But apparently that is too much for the CNN anchors to admit. Maybe they want Twitter followers to fact check the claims even though CNN claims to have a journalism staff of thousands worldwide.
Of course, this whole discussion omits FOX since their credibility has evaporated years ago when they helped Trump rise to the top despite his unchallenged claims on their network over the years.
Are Reporters Cowards?
So why are reporters wimps today?
Maybe its because they want to be friends with all of their sources. Maybe its because they have never been trained to ask pointed questions or maybe they come from a generation which is too timid to confront authoritarianism or rampant corporatism. Maybe they are afraid of losing their jobs or their privileged access to specialized press rooms or luncheons. Maybe they were never trained in journalism school that reporters have a greater obligation to fostering a democratic society.
This could also be part of a new, but undesirable, social norm in newsrooms which suppresses the better urges of some reporters to question authority. Or as Abe Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”
So are reporters cowards?
Maybe there is something to be learned in the journalism profession from the famed publisher William
Randolph Hearst as it relates to the current situation. Writing in the book, The Progressive Historian, Richard Hofstadter said: “There is not a cesspool of vice and crime which Hearst has not raked and exploited for money making purposes. No person with intellectual honesty or moral integrity will touch him with a ten-foot-pole for any purpose or to gain any end…only cowards can be intimidated by Hearst.”
If we substitute Hearst for Trump, maybe this whole discussion makes more sense today for reporters who are too intimidated to pursue the truth.