You turn on the nightly news hoping for some valid information. Possibly something you really need to know delivered by seasoned, investigative journalists on whether the Russians might actually be partially responsible for the election of Donald J. Trump, and if so, what Putin and his henchmen expect to gain from the deal? Or maybe something that will clarify why Jill Stein has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and other battleground states while, at the same time, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has just surpassed the two-million mark and some perfectly credible and intelligent poll-watchers are talking about the need for the Electoral College to overturn Trump’s election, because, at the very least, there are just too many unanswered questions?
That’s what you hope for. What you get is a superficial rundown on who Mr. Trump has not picked for several cabinet offices. A process John Cleese has compared to a pirate captain picking his band of cutthroats. But, like a gunfighter with sand in his eyes, broadcast news, where most Americans go for their information, stumbles forward, as though this election of a billionaire headline-seeker from Manhattan who refuses to release his tax records or put his businesses in a blind trust and praises the governing style of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as being business as usual, followed by an in-depth analysis of how well the stores did with their day-after-Thanksgiving Day sales and what might happen on the newest big sales day in America, the Saturday that follows the day-after to be followed by “Cyber Monday”….blah, blah, blah, blah.
Your value as a customer appears to be far more important than your status as a citizen. At least that’s the way it feels, doesn’t it? Hasn’t the importance of markets superseded national interest, and isn’t the media just going along to get along? They would be better off just giving the first five minutes of their show to John Cleese and letting him talk.
Maybe it’s just me. There’s this thing that happens, you see. It’s not uncommon, I’m not sure that it has a name, so I’ll call it a “thing.” It takes place when people who have been doing something for a very long time look back over their years of endeavor and begin to complain about how much better the profession was twenty or thirty years ago. For me, this led to discussions with other broadcast journalists about whether the perception is real or imagined, the argument being that our observation is hindered when viewed through the mist of time. Perhaps everything looks better in retrospect? Or maybe not?
Cronkite is dead and all the pretenders to the throne are coming up short. Not because they can’t do the job, but because the business parameters of the job have changed. At least it feels that way. This is what happens when profits trump journalism (pun intended) and the best intentions of kids coming out of journalism schools are dashed upon the rocks by broadcast news operations thoroughly co-opted by promotion and sales departments as ratings become all-important, driving real journalists away from a once-beloved profession where they are increasingly seen as a danger to profitability. I’ve had more than one conversation centered on the question of whether anyone would watch a real newscast if someone had the gall to put it on the air.
To date, no one has. Even PBS is now running ads and is therefore under a degree of pressure from the companies that support their broadcast, whether they’ll admit it or not.
Fear of the truth, even a little fear, benefits authoritarians, tyrants and bullies, who seek to trivialize anything that questions their motives. Don’t take it personally America, you thought it was the truth but it’s only business. According to the AP, “PolitiFact checked 77 Trump statements and found that 76 percent of them were Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire. In other words, for every four statements Donald Trump makes, only one of them is true, according to the site.”
No, Virginia, climate change is not a lie invented by the Chinese, there were not “thousands of people” celebrating the attacks of 9-11 in New Jersey, most whites are not killed by blacks, and on and on and on. The Washington Post reported in November of 2015, “Trump has lied so many times about so many things during the past week that it’s difficult to keep track of all of them. But it doesn’t matter whether one focuses on Trump’s attitudes about crime or American Muslims or trade policy. He lies about all of these issues. And he will continue to lie as long as it works for him.”
And he has. His latest big lie, unsupported by any factual information is his contention that “millions” voted illegally in the presidential election. Not true, and he is being called out by the media on this latest big lie. The problem, is that it took them so many months to get here. In the beginning, they thought he was a political joke and they let him get away with rhetorical murder. Now that it’s too late, they’re finally telling it like it is. Donald Trump is a liar.
One of the smartest people on political talk tv, Fareed Zakaria, dared tell it like it is when he called Trump a “bullshit artist.” Pretty sure he did it only once. I can only imagine the execs at CNN spitting out their Sunday morning coffee as they watched Zakaria giving his audience the unvarnished truth. Good God, we can’t have that. Not on cable tv.
What have we come to when the truth is seen as liberal raving from the left and lies on the right, driven by a massive FOX/Limbaugh media machine, are viewed as common sense? Is that an environment where progressive thinking has even half a chance? The truth, is that it’s a brand of insanity, or at the very least, mass hysteria.
The fact that only the Electoral College stands between Donald J. Trump and the presidency has already been lost on most major broadcast outlets who are moving forward with their time-tested credo of give the people not what the need but what they want, and your ratings will rise! The country will suffer in the process but remember, it’s only business.
Journalism should be a quest for the truth, not white noise designed to placate advertisers. It’s a key to our democratic way of life. That being the case, we should all be eager to turn on the network news each night for a daily perspective on what’s really happening. A daily dose of the truth. Instead, we see otherwise excellent journalists being forced to do a dance of false equivalency, presenting both sides of an issue as though they carry equal weight, even though one side is obviously false and should be called out and crushed for being rhetorical blather. If you have no need for objectivity whatsoever, you can always turn to FOX or right-wing talk radio. The lefties can get pretty carried away too, but to say they are comparable to the right would be a false equivalency to the max.
Whatever you do, don’t read a newspaper or watch France24 or Euronews tv, because you’ll be amazed at what’s really happening out there. Journalism should be a clear light, the enemy of tyrants, bullies and liars. In this new age of false equivalency, downright fake news on the Internet possibly assisted by the Russians and Orwellian “newspeak,” we are surely threatened by its demise.
Or perhaps I can’t remember things all that clearly anymore. Perhaps Cronkite going to Vietnam to see what was happening for himself and then coming back and telling us it was time to release ourselves and the Vietnamese people from the ongoing indentured hell of that war – perhaps this is all illusory? Maybe Ed Murrow, never held the witch-hunting demagoguery of Joe McCarthy and his right hand man Roy Cohen (Trump’s mentor) up to the light of day which helped end their assault on decency? Maybe Dan Rather and Sam Donaldson didn’t refuse to be intimidated by any number of public officials? Or maybe I’m right. Maybe there has been a sea-change in the way news is gathered and presented and maybe that’s why it all feels like nothing more than just so much white noise. Nothing more than an irritant to be avoided.
However, there may be an even bigger question. For network news outlets to provide the truth would mean telling millions of Americans not only about the political crisis we currently face and the potential danger it represents to the Republic and the world, it would also mean admitting that nearly half the electorate voted to make it happen.
Strangely enough, the Europeans seem to be more worried about our current situation than many Americans are. Just as they were more worried when they advised George W. Bush against launching his military misadventure in Iraq, leading to the formation of ISIS, and a host of other problems. Probably because they are better informed.