On One Hand

April 10, 2010

Journalists: Stop Rolling Over For Your Detractors

Filed under: culture,media — ononehand @ 7:02 pm
Tags: ,

Journalism is an important institution in the free world. Few dispute this. Journalism is an important institution in America, too; one so valuable that the framers of our Constitution chose to codify the freedom of the press in the First Amendment.

We live in a complicated world. Few dispute this. Nobody has time to absorb information found in every corner; ordinary Americans do not have time to resolve, for themselves, the inner happenings of the titans on Wall Street or the troubled alleys in Afghanistan. Ordinary citizens do not have time to investigate potential corruption in government or the potential outcomes of current economic trends.

We the people rely on other people to gather that information for us: we rely on journalists.

People will criticize the press for doing just that. This is not a new or controversial statement. The act of journalism has been imbued with constant accusations of “bias,” since its beginning, and on many occasions in history governments as well as private institutions have tried to shut it down. The way this story is written clearly benefits the Left, or benefits the Right, a detractor will say.

That may be true. But a story is still a story.

So when I read things like this – commentary on how most people just don’t seem to listen to journalists anymore – I’m disheartened. Timothy Noah’s article discusses one broad example: collectives endeavors by newspapers, magazines and networks all over the country to explain, as fairly and precisely as possible, what has been wrong with healthcare in the United States, and what a person without health insurance goes through in America.

About 85% of American adults are currently insured (it’s a lot lower for children), so most of us do not have the experience of trying to get medical care without insurance. A lot of others may have some individual plan that they think is working great for them, but haven’t gotten sick yet and hadn’t tried to use it, at which point they may find it less of a good plan than they expected. Our own healthcare costs are inflated by uninsured people who use expensive, late ER-care to treat conditions that should have been simpler, but ultimately can’t pay their bills and pass the costs on to us.

So for those of us who aren’t in the know – we benefit from having someone else to tell us what uninsured people go through, and we benefit from having independent parties, who are members of neither the health insurance industry nor government, mediate the conversation and bring us facts about what we pay because the system is broken.

People in the media know that the Republican party has been lying for approximately 16 months on healthcare. Exaggerations and politicking are strangers to no party and to no issue, but it is also a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s healthcare reform looks like what Republican Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts, It is a bona-fide FACT that Republicans in Congress worked hard to get their moderate members to oppose a bill that was, ultimately, exactly what they had always been asking for (See Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins). It is a bona-fide FACT that the Republican plan for healthcare failed address most problems with American healthcare, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s clan is close to the minimum amount of intervention required, far less than progressives wanted or advocated.

It’s a bona-fide FACT that most people polled on the healthcare bill don’t even know what’s in it, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that most people, in general, remain largely ignorant to the inner workings of business and government. It’s a bona-fide FACT that Barack Obama has cut taxes for most Americans since becoming president, and a bona-fide FACT that he has no plans of increasing taxes on the vast majority of Americans beyond what they were when he assumed office. It is a bona-fide FACT that a lot of voters form opinions, not on facts and information, but on how often they hear a certain sound byte, or on vague and general sentiments they see coming from the political party or pundits they trust.

This is not to their discredit, it is just how people process information when they are bombarded with countless, contradictory bits of information every day, and they have no time to do a thorough investigation for themselves. They try to find the “middle” of what they are hearing, or they find someone they trust, and take sides. They come to see anyone who tells them what they don’t believe (even if it’s the truth) as the enemy.

And the Right has, for years, been running against the media when it comes to truth on healthcare, immigration, the military and Wall Street. If you can’t come up with a clear and cohesive argument as to why you should should get to hang on to power and privilege to everyone else’s detriment, run against the media instead, and tell people that the media is lying.

Journalists need to speak up for themselves. Their institution is crumbling. The way to re-gain the public’s trust is not to suddenly try to side with your detractors and question even for yourself whether you are trustworthy – and hope then that your detractors will look more favorably on you.

Journalists need to insist, firmly, that they know how to tell the truth from a lie and that they have no incentive to perpetuate the wrong side. Liberals do not pay the media, corporations do. So when they public information that insults or damages the reputation of corporations, there’s no reason for it to be fabricated.

What we’ve had, though, is a timid, frightened and trembling media run away from itself, fearing detractors.

They hire opinionated pundits and columnists when they don’t trust their reporters; a liberal to praise Barack Obama, and a conservative to damn their very own reporters.

They think that somehow, taking a small step to the Right – which translates to talking less about what uninsured people are saying and a little more about what Republican congressman are saying – will put them in the clear or help them find the perfect center. They think that following the polls will work.

Sadly, politicians, who are often accused of bending their views at popular whim, aren’t nearly as poll-driven as reporters, who scatter like flocks of pigeons when Gallup or Rasmussen comes chasing. And what happens is that voters, also, try to find the mushy middle. If the media takes a step to the Right, the voters will take a step to the Right, and and then the media will take a step to the Right trying to keep up. Even the Right-leaning media will take a step to the Right.

News to CNN: Fox is still going to accuse you of being “the liberal media” no matter if you report the facts straight or if you uphold Ronald Reagan as the second coming of Jesus. Same for network news and MSNBC.

My advice is to stick to your guns. If you weren’t lying when you said all that stuff, then for heaven’s sake act like you weren’t lying and defend yourself. Run a clean, clear and professional news operation, consider all sides, and tell the truth. Hit back at Fox, hard, and hit back at Conservative lies about who journalists are and what they do.

This country depends on it.

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