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.
This week I’m building on the narrative from last week on the state of journalism in this country. I’m doing it because last Sunday I finally had the time to watch all the episodes that I had DVRd of the new show The Newsroom, and I’m giddy about it.
It’s a show that is about a fictional newsroom at a cable network. Granted it’s a drama, so its characters are going to have their share of personal story lines, but when it comes to showcasing the news and a newsroom, what goes on and more importantly what should be going on – this show gets as close to right as I’ve seen anything get.
The main protagonists are a big time but unhappy anchor who gets a new Executive Producer who convinces him that news can be successful when done truthfully. So they decide to do the actual news the way it should be done, damn the PTB and the ad execs and the network CEO and other various newsroom associate producers and employees.
They set out to do news as it’s supposed to be done: screw ruffling the PTBs feathers, whether that PTB is in political office or corporate representative. Screw the whole ‘there are 2 legitimate sides to every story’ bullshit, cuz there are many cases where the opposition has as much legitimacy in their arguments as the flat-earthers did once upon a time. Screw covering the fluff simply because it is “good television”. Screw showing deference to someone simply because of that person’s status. Ask the hard questions, call them on lies and inconsistencies, press for answers. And it’s a beautiful thing that unfolds once they decide to do the actual news.
I had a debate last week with some friends of mine about The Newsroom. A few of them were disappointed at what they perceived as deference to the president, but that’s not how I viewed the program. My argument was this:
The problem with us in this country is we've become downright accustomed to our news having a political lean one way or the other, and the corporate owned news orgs have been more than happy to keep perpetuating it, and they get more brazen with every year that passes. We’ve lost, and many of us have never known or barely remember the days when the news was news and oped was oped and there was a definitive bright line between it. Throw in the tabloidesqueness of it today, and the manufactured controversy, and that's a great deal of why we've become some of the lowest info people on the planet.
The news is not supposed to care who you are or what your party is. The news is not supposed to cover certain people favorably and other unfavorably; we’re just used to that in this country cuz that’s how it’s been done for the past couple decades. The news is not supposed to give the PTB deferential treatment. The news is not supposed to gin up attacks. The news is not supposed to manufacture controversy. Any editorialization in a newscast is supposed to be clearly marked so the viewer can discern between news and oped. The news is supposed to give you the facts and the context and let the viewer form his own opinions. The news is supposed to give we the people the information we need to make informed decisions when we participate in our democracy (or a democracy considering I don’t really consider us a democracy anymore).
Now, as I said before, it is a drama, and it is done by Aaron Sorkin, so there will be some more idealistic portrayals and it will get preachy at times, as it did in The West Wing, but overall, I expect it to show what could be in this country if the journalists and news honchos did what they were supposed to be doing all these years.
Combined with Glenn Greenwald’s brilliant column last week about journalists being inept stenographers, this should be a wake up call to those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the greats: Brinkley, Murrow, Cronkite, et al… The Newsroom’s message is one that desperately needs to be heeded by the folks who bring us our news programming.
So to most of the journalists today: You’re Doing It Wrong! Want to know how to do it right? Watch The Newsroom. It’s certainly made my must see TV viewing list.
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