Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why The Media Fail Us

I just received this joke from a reader:

"A Harley biker is visiting the zoo in Calgary , Alberta when he sees little girl leaning into the bars of the lion's cage. Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The biker without hesitation runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the biker brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly. A CBC reporter has watched the whole event.

The reporter addressing the biker says, 'Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I've seen a man do in my whole life.'

The Harley rider replies, 'Why, it was nothing, really, the lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and acted as I felt right.'

The reporter says, 'Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, you know, and tomorrow's paper will have this story on the front page... So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?'

The biker replies, 'I'm a soldier in the Canadian military and a Conservative.' The journalist leaves.

The following morning the biker buys the paper to see if it indeed brings news of his actions, and reads, on the front page:

My reader may seem to be a bit harsh but is he? Take a look at this excerpt from an article that was sent to me and you decide:

  • "You see, journalism is the solution. Real journalism.

    Walter Cronkite would end his news show by saying "And that's the way it is." And millions of Americans agreed. They knew that Walter Cronkite had just told them the way the world was. That's why he was called "the most trusted man in America."

    And what Walter did is a lot different than what passes for reporting the news today: Reporting the arguments going on about the way the world is... and going no further than that.

    So, here's the solution to this whose-universe-is-right war:

    The news media - and not the opinion side, but the reporting side - must start reporting which side's argument is correct... and stop reporting only the argument between the two sides itself.

    The inability of the media to act as "the umpire" - the referee - between the two sides of our political "reality fight" is as astoundingly detrimental a development in our civic culture as the freedom corporations now have to spend as much as they want to influence policy development and election results.

    I'm not going to get into how the news industry got to this place. But I know it can't stay here. Because the only way American can return to being governed by a political establishment that - while they may disagree on some things - essentially lives in the same universe is for journalism to become journalism again, the way our Founding Fathers intended it to be.

    Imagine a future America in which - no matter how artfully one side used language to lie about the other side's position - our journalists didn't just interview those making such fanciful claims but called them out for being liars! Imagine how you would feel if that was what you saw on the news!

    To those journalists who say "I can't call people liars when I report on them," I say "It's called fact-checking. Try it. You'll like it."

    Imagine if the evening news didn't just report the debates going on in Congress - (as if the debates were news just for being debates... news because "people not getting along" has become newsworthy in unto itself)- but reported that "In today's debate on (fill in the subject of your choice), Senator XXX lied about what would happen if this bill was enacted."

    My God, the world of politics would be turned upside down!

    We, the people, act as if we have no choice but to tolerate the greatest country on Earth (at least as we see ourselves) being governed by people acting like 10 year old's having a never-ending school yard fight.

    "I'm right, and you're wrong." "No, I'm right; and you're wrong." "No, I'm right; and you're wrong." "No, I'm right; and you're wrong."

    Makes me want to throw up. And - to be honest - so does most of the coverage I watch (not counting reporting from some, like Rachel Maddow, who are starting to present lies as lies).

    We, the people don't have to tolerate this. We can demand better. And if we don't get it, then we really can stop paying for the poor quality news product we're currently getting (and which companies like The New York Times want to start charging us for).

    To all of those media executives who wonder how to get people to pay to read their newspapers or watch their news programs, if you would wake up and realize that you should give people the news they really need... that you should return to the job of being the umpire... the referee... that helps we, the people tell who is telling the truth and who isn't... you would start attracting paying customers again!

    You would be giving people news they would pay for, because it would be news that helps them have better lives... by helping our government function the way it was intended to function... by giving people the civic education they need to be informed citizens.

    It would truly be news "that is fit to print".

    I wrote an essay after Walter Cronkite died, which I will offer here in closing. I met Mr. Cronkite twice. And I swear he must be turning in his grave, as he sees how little his beloved profession is doing to fulfill its civic education role in American society today, a role which the Founding Fathers thought was so important that they enshrined the right to a free press in the Bill of Rights.

    I sincerely hope that this spirit of civic education returns to the profession of journalism. I can promise its leaders that we, the people will reward you for returning to this higher standard of public service.

    And that's the way it really is."