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Monday, May 07, 2012

Whither journalism?
Posted by Jill | 6:36 AM
What happens to journalism in the aftermath of a Bush Administration official claiming that since we're an empire, we create our own reality? What happens to journalism when the view of news reporting really is the Stephen Colbert joke about facts having a strong liberal bias? What happens to journalism when in the name of balance and in search of "access", utter horseshit is treated as a counterpart of equal value to the truth? What happens to journalism when presenting a controversy becomes more important than sorting out the claims to find out what's true and what isn't?

When I was a kid, Americans largely relied on the Holy Trinity of television journalism for their news: Huntley, Brinkley, and Cronkite. You could look at the footage coming out of Vietnam and make your own decisions about what was going on, but at least you saw what was really happening. When John F. Kennedy was shot, Walter Cronkite dried his eyes and presented the facts as they were known, not premature speculation.

I'm not sure exactly when journalism went down the tubes, but there are really no news sources available anymore that provide just information and let the viewer sort it out. Ironically, the closest we have is Rachel Maddow, whose reporting does tend to lean left, but who is always inviting those who disagree with her onto her show to sort things out -- and they almost always refuse, because they know that if they're wrong, Maddow will demonstrate that they're wrong using facts instead of appeals to the reptilian brain.

There's definitely a place for opinion journalism. MSNBC's full lineup now is opinion journalism, as is Fox News'. The difference is that for the most part, MSNBC hosts' claims can be backed up with something demonstrable, whereas Fox is ALL about pulling stuff out of Roger Ailes' ass and reporting it as truth. Imagine if Fox really WERE a counterpoint to MSNBC, one in which two differing view of how things ought to be done could actually be compared to each other and argued on the merits.

Rachel Maddow spoke with David Letterman about this in 2010, explaining the difference between MSNBC and Fox News:

But even if you think there shouldn't be a place for slanted news opinion programming, there's still this problem of where to get actual news of the "Here is what happened" and "Here's what s/he said" variety. I can recommend MSNBC to my inattentive friends all I want to, but I'm still pointing them in a particular direction. But there ARE people who really do want a perspective on what's going on without the noise of left and right -- or of comedy, now that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are regarded as quasi-journalists. I've heard "swing voters" that I know express a hunger for an outlet where they can get just the facts and decide for themselves which way they lean. At one time, CNN had that reputation. At one time, CNN was the crown jewel of television news, but at some point the suits at CNN decided they wanted to be Fox News. Then they decided to add more "news-o-tainment" with more coverage of stars and quasi-celebrities such as the Kardashians. Then they decided to try to appeal to "the young set" by having hot newsbots read from blogs, which led to this immortal Jon Stewart moment:

Most recently CNN really took on the Fox News banner when they hired wingnut kooks like RedState's Erick Erickson, describing him as "right of center", which I suppose is true if you regard the center as somewhere between Dick Cheney and Ted Nugent. Then there's more recent acquiree Dana Loesch, who is only right of center if you think the center lies somewhere between Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Loesch is so loathsome she makes Erickson look like Cronkite. Some of her more recent opinions include endorsing Marines' urination on Taliban corpses, reviving the long-debunked "story" about Obama having attended a madrassa as a youth, screeching that "leftists are trying to get her husband banned from Twitter" (a fate worse then death and in fact just one more reason why I'm sick of Twitter and I'm not even on it), and demanding that MSNBC's Martin Bashir be banned from reporting news in the US because he's a "foreigner".

Jason Linkins analyzes the problem with CNN thusly, and makes a suggestion:

Here is what you are doing wrong, CNN.

For the better part of the past decade, you guys seem to treat the ticky-tack banalities of the modern world as extra-special gimcracks you just discovered yesterday. You are still reading Twitter to people, on live television. On election coverage nights, your anchors paw at "magic screens" like catnip-tweaked felines chasing after a laser pointer. You made Erin Burnett go out there, on live television, to demonstrate "the flick." Except "the flick" did not, strictly speaking, "work" consistently.

And between all the whooshing and flicking and zooming -- and, when, exactly, did the need to touch the news grow to the point that merely reading it become insufficient? -- everyone on screen is standing around with holographic weebles and political convention simulations. Anderson Cooper, representing your network's last thin shred of self-respect, stood out there on that stage and repeatedly made fun of what was going on around him. (What have you done to poor Anderson Cooper? He is now restaging the old MTV show "Boiling Points" on network television. That is where you have driven him.)

Your debates, CNN? They were a mess. You fully embraced the stupidity of reality television shows, with asinine introductions of the GOP candidates that reminded viewers of the opening credits of "Survivor." And then you asked questions like, "Deep dish or thin crust?" Over the course of a long primary season, viewers gradually grew tired of watching the debates. But they especially grew tired of watching yours.

Shall we continue? Well, there was that time we actually wanted to watch coverage of the May 18, 2010 primary coverage in Pennsylvania, and you guys were airing a Larry King interview with Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger! Why? Why in all the world?

You replaced Larry King with the insufferably thin-skinned Piers Morgan. You replaced Campbell Brown with "Parker-Spitzer." "Parker-Spitzer" was a complete trainwreck, and no one seemed particularly committed to allowing Kathleen Parker to participate in or emerge from the experience with her dignity intact. That show became "In The Arena with Eliot Spitzer." That was on for, like, a week? Now Spitzer is at Current. Surprisingly, we'd call that a lucky break.

Remember that time that Falcon Heene's transparently dishonest parents were caught in a transparent lie right to Wolf Blitzer's face, and Wolf Blitzer was the only person in America that did not instantly recognize what was going on? Or that time General David Petraeus fainted at a congressional hearing, and CNN ran a segment that was, ostensibly, a "closer look at what happens when public figures pass out?" If you recall, General Petraeus' mishap was compared to Marie Osmond's fainting spell on "Dancing With The Stars."

Do you guys recall that until you were shamed from doing so, you planned to send an army of 400 reporters to cover the royal wedding? That was eight times the number of people dispatched to cover the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. We seem to recall that eventually, it was decided that William and Kate would only merit the amount of personnel sent to Fukushima. Which was great! More people to staff that strange morning show where Ashleigh Banfield prank-calls people.

I'm sure we're leaving something out. Like the time your correspondent on the "Royals" beat, Richard Quest, was arrested in 2008 for drug possession when he was found in Central Park with meth in his pocket and a length of rope tied to his genitals. But we think we've made our point. Over the course of many years, CNN, you have made bad decision after bad decision. Your tanking ratings are not an accident. Things have gone exactly as you have drawn them up.

What's the momentum-building solution? Well here's our suggestion. What if everyone showed up for work at CNN tomorrow to find that all of the people who have been making these decisions were no longer there? What if you could free all of CNN's hard-working news professionals from the terrible grip of your toxic decisions?

Imagine indeed. Imagine a CNN populated with some of the now seemingly endless array of people from all sides of the political fence that Chris Hayes now gets to wake up in the darkness of the wee hours of weekend mornings to sit around a table and talk intelligently about important issues. Forget the Coulter-vs.-Janeane Garofalo fantasies of Roger Ailes. Imagine a CNN without Wolf Blitzer demanding an apology to Ann Romney from an unimportant liberal pundit-without-portfolio AFTER SHE HAD ALREADY APOLOGIZED. Imagine a CNN where Piers Morgan has been banished again to Britain's Got Talent. Imagine a CNN where the few sane voices on the right such as Reihan Salam could go toe-to-toe with center-leftists like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. Imagine a CNN with actual journalists who look like real people. Imagine a CNN that isn't full of moronic showbiz-bots and Washington access whores like Wolf Blitzer and John King. Do you honestly think that there aren't still kids in journalism school who actually want to get the news and report it? It isn't that there's nothing going on, it's just that the plight of returning veterans, why the job market sucks, what's really happening in Afghanistan, what happens in France now that Sarkozy's beendefeated, are ignored in favor of Kim Kardashian's latest boyfriend or who was kicked off of Celebrity Apprentice last night. There are a million journalists out there, some, but not all of them bloggers, for whom a gig at a revived, serious CNN would be a dream come true. Emulating Fox didn't work for CNN. Becoming Moron News Network hasn't worked. Why not try something else? Give the kids a shot at it. Goddess knows it couldn't be any worse.
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Anonymous The Wifely Person said...
You did not mention NEWSHOUR on PBS. Although I confess to watching NBC for local and national news, I switch over right at 6:00 (I'm in flyover land, ok?) to watch a full hour on PBS. That's about as close as he said/she said you're gonna get these days.

On the flip side, after almost 60 (not quite, thank you very much) years of being a TODAY show regular, I have left them for CBS Morning news where they actually report the news and not celebutard comings and goings during the very early hours.

I have come to the no so startling conclusion that news is now infotainment and it's deadly boring....and wrong....and spun like so much cotton candy.

We look more and more like the WALL-E people every day.

Anonymous Ahab said...
I try to avoid these sorts of problems by relying on foreign news outlets such as BBC, Aljazeera, etc. As I watch my country's news media become watered-down at best and sensationalist at worst, it's comforting that there are still good news sources in other parts of the world.

Blogger Patricia said...
Thank God you're "Brilliantly" back!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Imagine how I feel: I grew up in the days of The Murrow Boys, Edward R. Murrow's band of hand--picked journalists (when that word meant something) -- Eric Sevareid, William L. Shirer, Richard C. Hottelet, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Winston Burdett, Daniel Schorr, Marvin Kalb, etc. -- the best in journalism.

Now, I have to deal with the crap that passes for journalism. Most days, I cannot even watch the news for fear I'll put a fist through the TV set.