Welcome to You're Doing It Wrong, a weekly column taking the Powers That Be (PTB), especially the media and talking heads, to task for poor information and poor framing.
I'm so pissed I could spit at the so-called 'journalists' these days. I was trained as a journalist and did some work in news writing and reporting several years ago, so it chaps my hide when I see the pap that gets called news in these modern times.
People go into the field of journalism, generally speaking, to report what's going on around the world or in their locales. They don't go into the field to be lackeys and stenographers for those in power. The folks that budding journalists are inspired by (at least it was that way when I entered the field) are folks like Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Unfortunately these days, those aspirations get doused somewhat quickly, I think for a myriad of reasons. It's not completely the actual journalist's fault some of the time; it's hard to make a living and they've got to do what they've got to do, and the Editors and Producers for print and broadcast carry a lot of the blame. But it is shared blame to be sure. I'd like to think that Murrow and Cronkite would be ashamed at the state of journalism today. Fourth Estate my heinie!
To this end, Glenn Greenwald had an excellent column this week titled "Inept Stenographers".
A common criticism of establishment journalists entails comparing them to stenographers, on the ground that most of them do little more than mindlessly write down and uncritically repeat what government officials say. But stenography is a noble and important profession: they’re the court-licensed officers who, with astonishing speed and accuracy, transcribe the statements of all witnesses, lawyers and judges in judicial proceedings. If establishment journalists were to replicate actual stenography, it would be an improvement on most of the work they produce.
A confession in yesterday’s New York Times reveals that even the stenography produced by our nation’s most esteemed media outlets is anything but accurate: rather, it’s contrived and distorted by the very people whom these media outlets purport to cover adversarially. The article describes how many American media outlets, including the NYT, give veto power to the Obama campaign (and, less so, to the Romney campaign), as well as political offices generally, over the quotes of its officials that are allowed to be published...
The excuse given by journalists for why they agree to this is the same one they haul out every time they try to justify their equally subservient practice of allowing political officials to hide behind a protective wall of anonymity. We have no real choice, they claim, because if we don’t agree to their demands, then they won’t speak to us at all, and it’s better to have anonymous/doctored quotes from them than none at all (the NYT yesterday: reporters agree to quote-approval powers because they are “desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists”; ”It is a double-edged sword for journalists, who are getting the on-the-record quotes they have long asked for, but losing much of the spontaneity and authenticity in their interviews”).
Really guys? 'We have to or they won't talk to us'? Gimme a break. Then don't talk to them, There will be other ways to get a story, and if you've got a story that's good, don't even bother with selective quotes from the PTB. Screw 'em. If the major media today stood up and gave a collective ignore to the PTB hen they acted this way, believe me, it wouldn't take long for the PTB to change; they are dependent on the media as the media thinks they are on them.
If you're a journalist, grow some courage and be the watchdog you are expected to be. That Fourth Estate for which part of the First Amendment exists to protect. Do you think the Founders meant to protect the PTB after what they went through with King George? No. So start doing your damn job folks! No one said it would be easy. If you're a journalist, you should be able to call a source and ask them to go on the record, and if they balk or want approval for their quotes most of the time, you should be able to say "Thanks but no thanks then. Good day." If you can't do that, and you consider yourself a journalist, or an editor, or a producer, well, You're Doing It Wrong, and you're screwing the public out of information as well.