Journalists, We Need You. Don’t Fail Us.

Democracy Dies in Darkness, (“DDD”). Slogans that we have heard used to defend the free press and journalism from the attacks from the brutal regime of the current duly elected president of the United States of America.

DDD has been dragged out for a couple of decades and was frequently used by Bob Woodward whose newspaper has adopted it as their new, old slogan.

A free press is essential to a democracy. We have heard that over and over again and I have yet to meet anyone, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican who disagrees with that. So, I will be the first one to do so.

A free press can kill a democracy, if it is not honest.

A free press must be free. It doesn’t matter if the freedom is encumbered by Joseph Goebbels, Donald Trump, Tronc, Bezos, Soon-Shiong, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, or Andrew Brietbart. It is all bad, destructive, and contrary to the guiding principles of journalism.

A free press needs also to be a press that adheres to the guiding principles of journalism. The Society of Professional Journalists (“SPJ”) publishes their ethical standard here. Take a look and consider if any of these items ring true today. I think you will be disappointed. Very disappointed.

In their preamble to the Code of Ethics the SPJ, “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.” Read this and then read any story in just about any MSM publication.

Donald Trump is not the Grim reaper of the Free Press. Paul Krugman is. Paul Krugman once said that  

Conservatives take “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable”

I certainly do not agree with the president when he says that the media is “the Enemy of the People”, but I kinda get what he is talking about. In usual Trump fashion he overdoes it and does so in a crude and roughshod fashion. I don’t get what Krugman is talking about, yet the former is inflammatory and outrageous while the latter is acceptable in a publication that claims to hold true to journalistic integrity. The SPJ has, as one of it 9 principles, the following:

“Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.”

This is probably the most frequent issue affecting journalism today. A good journalist must keep an open mind and avoid allowing her/his opinions affect their reporting. I realize that this is extremely difficult to do. Pick any political story in this publication or any publication and evaluate it for adherence to this guideline.

Journalism today is closer to activism than true journalism. Reporters seek out stories to support a position either theirs or their editors or their readers.

The primary reason for this is economic.

Judith Miller, a former reporter for the New York Times, is discouraged by the state of journalism today, and believes that there are several factors that have led to the demise of objective journalism.

Newspapers and news broadcasting revenues, she points out, have dramatically declined over the last decade. Revenue from print media has dropped more than 65 percent over the last eight years, resulting in dramatic cuts in staff and closings of news gathering locations in order to streamline the process in the name of efficiency. Certainly not good for this once noble “estate” but an understandable economic necessary. Objective journalism is simply no longer a sustainable venture. Not only are there free alternatives, but there is no demand.

In addition, says Ms. Miller, there is also competition from the estimated 26 million bloggers resulting in alternative news sources characterized by an incredibly wide range of journalistic competency and accuracy. Ms. Miller believes that these factors have resulted in a trend away from objectivity to a simple aggregation of “eyeballs.”

To keep viewers/readers it is necessary to tailor your reporting to stories that they want to read, that do not provoke sensory dissonance by contradicting their own worldview. If you want to maintain readers who hate Donald Trump, your reporting must be carefully engineered as to avoid any hint of positivity. This is why, if someone calls for the President’s assassination, it is not considered “hate speech”, but calling someone “horseface” is. It depends not on the speech, but the speaker.

So how does journalistic advocacy translate into something dangerous to democracy?

A good friend of mine recently made the statement, “President Obama was president for 8 years and during all that time, there was not one, (His finger wagging in my face at this point) NOT ONE! None! Not a single scandal!”. As outrageous as such a statement was, the more startling fact is that this individual is NOT an uninformed voter. He was not a snowflake, not a drug addict, not a social justice warrior. But he actually believed that the previous administration was involved in no scandals. And why not, all of President Obama’s “scandals” were downplayed by the media. Or rather the media which he consumed. These were not scandals, they were “nothing-burgers”. And, the fact that there were so many of them – that was a nothing-burger too.

Well, the WaPo reported Richard Cohen’s claim that President Obama was able to “come into and out of office with not a whiff of scandal.” Obama himself claimed that he had no scandal or issues and that even the infamous IRS targeting scandal resulted in “not even a smidgen of corruption.” How could he get away with saying this? Easy. He knew that the “free” press would never dare to call him to task on it, but rather, would rally to his defense.

Recently, the NYT and more recently the WaPo published the “Definitive List” of Trump lies, WaPo claims over 5,000, CNN reported that they found over 3,000. These included such whoppers of Trump’s claim that “Trump: ‘I was on the cover of Time (Magazine) 14 or 15 times’”. LIE! – It was only 11 times.

When I mentioned, Benghazi, Lois Lerner, the NSA revelations from Snowden, the illegal surveillance of journalists, the creepy harassment of Sharyl Attkisson, the murder via drone attack of an American citizen, “Wing Man” Eric Holder’s botched gun running operation to the Mexican cartels known as “Fast & Furious”, Uranium One, and the fudged-up VA waiting list scandal,  the bungled launch of the, they were shrugged off just like Obama’s timid admission that, “There were some bone-headed decisions.” 

These are only the major ones, and unlike many of Trump’s, “so-called” lie or scandals, these occurred while the president was in office, resulted in certain of the administration’s members enriching themselves by hundreds of millions of dollars, directly supplied our enemies with material to create nuclear weapons, and most importantly – people died.

So, when does a bone-headed decision become a scandal? That would seem to be entirely up to the “free press” and consequently it depends on the Speaker and not that which is Spoken. We are spoon-fed the story-line that is consistent with the world-view and ideology of the “free press”

As I said earlier, it makes little difference who controls the free press. Goebbels, Bezos, Breitbart, Tronc – It doesn’t matter, if the press is controlled or manipulated at all, it is bad.

Some may think that this is not a problem and believe that this is OK because they happen to agree with Paul Krugman. But remember! It can just as easily be the opposite.

We need to tell the press that they need to return to the journalistic standards of the Society of Professional Journalists and go back to being journalists instead of activists.

Democracy dies in darkness, but it also dies when the light of truth illuminates only part of the story, as Pew Research concluded, “Biased, frivolous and liberal”. In this respect, activism disguised as objectivity is even more dangerous.