Tag Archives: Journalism

Dump The Surrogates, Cut The Crap

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.


Where Are The Reporters?


A couple of moments that marked my former life as a broadcast journalist include a member of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team” telling me, “I love you guys individually, but I hate you collectively.”    Another happened when a former member of the Los Angeles City Council left the microphones clustered atop a lectern, walked over and proceeded to cuss me out for demanding an answer to a question he didn’t care for.  I didn’t care for being cussed out and continued to demand an answer to my question.

I recall these incidents and others with pride as badges of merit for doing my job, trying to get legitimate answers, a little honest information for the people I worked for,  the people in our viewing audience who depended upon me and others like me to find out what the hell was actually going on.

All of this would be pure braggadocio, were it not for the fact that I was far from being the only reporter who would, at times, bite down and hang on like a pit bull if I felt someone was dodging a question that deserved a real answer, rather than the circular verbal shuffle now being employed by the likes of Donald Trump.  Repeatedly.  And every time it happens I wonder what happened to American journalism?   When did hair and makeup become more important than holding public officials accountable, more important than getting it right?  When did we backslide into becoming the country of the big lie?

An incident that bears mentioning happened at the Century Plaza Hotel in the early 80’s.   It was long ago and I don’t recall who the member of Congress was that showed up at a news conference, only that he was from a state that is largely rural.   I do recall that he began delivering a “good ole boy” spiel that was full of bunk.   We listened, shaking our heads and looking at one another in disbelief until a reporter from the Los AngelesTimes could take it no longer and interrupted with anger, saying (paraphrased), “You don’t really expect us to believe any of this nonsense, do you?   Where do you think you are?   Who do you think you’re talking to?   

Reporters are accepting answers from Donald Trump that Trump himself would never accept from contestants on The Apprentice.   They sometimes talk about things without having even a basic understanding of their subject, like knowing the difference between an email account sitting on some company’s server with that same company providing securty and a private server in one’s own home, with any number of possible functions and security provided by who?   Some friend of a friend who took a computing class at the local community college?   Apparently Mrs. Clinton, has no idea.   Reporters should, if they intend to continue reporting on it.   Was Mrs. Clinton’s problem that she had a private email account or was it the fact that she had gone completely off the range with a personal  server set up in her home doing God knows what while circumventing federal oversight and securty?

Why don’t reporters follow-up anymore, demanding an answer to something Trump has dodged by issuing a non-answer, which he  does again and again – which is why the American people have literally no idea of how he actually feels about anything?   It’s frightening.   This guy actually has a shot at becoming President of the United States, and his positions on critical issues change from one day to the next.   He’s done it on assault weapons, abortion and Muslims entering the United States.   And now he will be forced to do it again on his idiotic claim that there is no drought in California, as the reservoirs are drying up and avacado orchards are being cut down to stumps.

It is, it seems, impossible to pin Trump down on any given issue, or so we’re told,  which leads one to believe he has no firm conviction about anything.  He’s cutting a deal, the biggest deal of his life, to be the most  powerful person in the world and there is far too little accountability from the press with pundits complaining that it’s so hard to nail Trump down on an issue because he’s so skilled at doing his verbal shufffle.

Come on now people, its time to do your jobs.   Mexico, will never build a wall on the border.   The United States cannot simply carpet bomb our troubles away in the Middle East or deport eleven-million undocumented people whose families are now interwoven into our national fabric.    We are not the Saudis, we do not punish women for having abortions and anyone to tells you these things is treating you like a pack of dummies.   You should be outraged.

Do some fact checking.   Do a little  journalism.  Please.  There’s so much at stake.

A passage from the movie-version of “All the President’s Men” comes to mind. Washington Post Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee, is rousted out of of bed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who tell him there may be electronic surveillance of their work on the Watergate story,  that lives may be in danger, and that they made a mistake in their coverage of grand jury testimony,  giving ammunition to those who want to attack the paper.   Bradlee, listens to the reporters and says-

“You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.”

Journalism matters.

The News Biz – Who Are You Gonna Believe?


I’ll tell you up front that this will be one of those “when I got into the tv news business” stories.  If that’s a problem for you, too bad.

When I got into the business of television news reporting,  which at the time was generally regarded as a legitimate form of Journalism, it was understood that anyone who knowingly manufactured information  was out on his or her ass.   The same, but to a lesser degree, went for any reporter who failed to corroborate information before putting it on the air.   You might not be fired for it, but at the very least there would be serious consequences for dragging the validity of an entire news organization into question.

Standards for the reporting of news on television and radio were taken  very seriously.   We were upholding the public trust, on both the local and national levels.  If we lost that, we lost everything.

It’s fascinating that we are now in a time when there are high-profile apologists for both Brian Williams and more recently, Sabrina Rubin Erdely of Rolling Stone.

No need to wonder why the news biz has lost its credibility.

Who are you gonna believe?