A Crisis Of Journalism

A piece written by Eric Alterman, entitled “Altercation: Why Journalism Isn’t Really Covering The Threat Of Fascism,” published in The American Prospect, is well worth your attention. To wit-

“Two phenomena are occurring at once that make it difficult to see what’s actually happening in real time. The first is that the Republican Party has committed itself to an orthodoxy made up of bald-faced lies, racism, the encouragement of political violence, and the purposeful undermining of democracy. The second is that the ongoing existential crisis of journalism is making it impossible to report the above clearly.” -The American Prospect

Another, essential piece of Alterman’s argument, is that mainstream journalism has been, and continues to be, guilty of accepting an “unending avalanche of lies” coming from both the Republican Party and right-wing media. He points out, bringing additional clarity to the situation, how devilishly clever Roger Ailes was, when he hired a few respected journalists like Brit Hume and Chris Wallace, to front for a stable mostly filled with extremist hacks, bringing at least a modicum of credibility to an otherwise journalistically vacuous operation. And with that folks, we were off and running.

I was struck by these ideas, in that I, and others who reported on the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, were, for what may have been the very first time, forced to pay attention to, and thereby give credence to, the tabloid press. Publications like The National Enquirer, were making headlines by writing checks to sources for information nobody else was able to get, because none of us in the mainstream media would engage in “checkbook journalism.” But the Enquirer would and did, and it paid off with several major scoops that left the rest of us wondering if the world wasn’t changing on our watch. Which of course, it was. We were covering a trial wall-to-wall, because it was getting a big number while occasionally getting scooped by the tabloid press, which, prior to Simpson, none of us would have given any attention whatsoever.

Wall to wall coverage of the same story every day with the same anchors and the same guest commentators. It was the invention of punditry and the tabloids had become players with and in the mainstream. The Rubicon had been crossed.

There is obviously more to it, various cultural and professional dynamics were and still are involved, but I was there when some of this got started and I agree with the assessment that we are now in the grips of a legitimate crisis, with infotainment and “putting on a show!” to drive the ratings taking precedence over all else while the newspaper business, where most of our actual “news” comes from, dies a not-so-slow death before our very eyes.

Building a news broadcast by putting story value and content first appears to be at the very least somewhat neglected and at times even ignored, making one wonder if any of those who understand broadcast journalism’s obligation to uphold the public trust are still in the business, allowing Fascism to become acceptable and in some corners, even attractive, to a misinformed, disinformed and generally bamboozled general public.

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