This goes beyond Kelly Ann and her “alternative facts.”
There was a time, not so very long ago, when there were no so-called “surrogates” espousing biased views on almost every cable network and Sunday morning news show originating in the U.S. You know they are biased. You know exactly what they are likely to say, so why bother?
Surrogates are a huge waste of time except for network executives who care more about ratings than in doling out valid information to an already dazed and confused public. A hazardous condition made worse by the presence of surrogates.
The people who own and run the cable shows like the biased blather because it is more exciting than a collegial exchange of valid information. Excited yammering draws more viewers and gets higher ratings than calm, measured discussion by journalists, scholars and intellectuals, doing their best to be objective in the pursuit of keeping the public informed rather than misinformed.
No so very long ago none of these surrogates would have gotten on the air. Anywhere. They would have been regarded for what they are, public relations (pr) people, who are being paid to promote a product. Not so long ago we would have said, “If all you want is to promote a product, then buy some air time for your ads.” Not so long ago, if their politician bosses wanted to make a point, they would have been forced to release an official statement or to go on camera themselves and be held accountable at a real press conference, closed to all but the legitimate press, where they would have been obliged to answer questions from real reporters.
Not so long ago, lies were not tolerated. If a politician told an obvious lie, he or she would be called out on it. If they dodged the question again and again, then reporters would back one another up, demanding an answer to the question again and again, until the politician gave an answer that made sense or he or she gave up, leaving the news conference in disgust, cursing the media for being unreasonable for demanding the truth. It was a sure-fire way of exposing “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” (Thanks to Al Franken).
Mostly, the press doesn’t do that anymore. Over the years, they have become more akin to Victorian ladies and gentlemen, far too proper and soft to take off the gloves and go after self-serving politicians and pr-people, leaving us with a confusing toxic soup bubbling over with various ingredients, including but not limited to, pundits, journalists, politicians, surrogates, pr-people, actual experts, scholars, bloggers, Russian-influenced operatives, lobbyists, fake news promoters, aunts, uncles, and friends of friends.
Not that long ago, it would have been unthinkable to hire a former politician or government insider to fill the job of a journalist or news talk show host. It would have been seen as knowingly poisoning the profession and risking a loss of public trust. Difficult to imagine? Well, that’s the way it was. Upholding the public trust was paramount, and if not exactly paramount, then at least having enough power to push back with vigor when the sales department complained about a given news item hurting the ratings and maybe losing an advertiser.
Is it any wonder the public’s respect for the press is low? Or, pardon me, it is no longer “the press,” it is now “the media,” and far less dignified than in the 60’s, when we were viewed as watchdogs and the ultimate protectors of the public’s trust.
Not so long ago, accuracy was all important. You were allowed to get something wrong once. You would be yelled at, ensuring you understood the serious nature of your infraction, but that would probably be it. Screw something up two or three times, and you were out. Fired. Gone. Simply put, not worthy of the profession and its intractable need to uphold the public trust through accuracy.
Not that long ago, that’s the way it was. What we have now, is media soup, and the misinformation, disinformation, general confusion and lack of respect it spawns.
It will be up to the media to fix this. Government isn’t likely to try, and if they do, it will be done in a manner that is to their advantage, making it easier for them to avoid the truth. That is to say, making it easier for them to lie.
The question then, is how to motivate commercial broadcasters and cable tv outlets to change their greedy ways, putting the public trust above profits. Therein, lies the rub.
Dumping surrogates and cutting the crap would be a place to start, along with cancelling the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Those of us in the press aren’t supposed to be quite that chummy with politicians, advertisers and their lobbyists. We’re supposed to be adversarial. Enemies of alternative-facts, not grinning party-goers, accepting whatever blather the politicians and corporate hacks might hand out turning our positions as serious journalists into an evening of good-natured fun with the enemy.
They still need us a whole lot more than we need them. Something else that’s been forgotten as infotainment and profits have overtaken hard-bitten journalism and the respect that it commands.