Misadventures in Journalism: journalism ethics and other oxymorons
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But Tripp's motivations -- betray a friend, embarrass the president and feed Ken Starr all at once -- dovetailed with Isikoff's -- get the scoop -- so it was off to the races. Well, kind of. But any barking the press did was more than drowned out by the howls of approval coming from government, shareholders and, of course, the press itself.
Enron was universally seen as a net-positive for society, one of the paragons of the New Economy and hence praised to high heaven by any number of press folk, many of whom had only a passing knowledge of economics. Certainly there was no push from the local, state or national government, or the Houston Chronicle it would have been seen as a betrayal of civic pride , or the Washington Post, or the London Times or CNN or any other organ that might reasonably be expected to check the organization out.
In fact, it wasn't until a couple of reporters within the specialty business media if memory serves, a Wall Street Journal and a Fortune magazine reporter started a looking at the balance sheets and b asking some questions like "Uh, how are you guys making any money? Not long after that, Enron disappeared into a puff of smoke, and deservedly so. Up until that point, Enron had been championed as a glorious place to work, full of smart people well compensated, on the vanguard of a new way of thinking about the business world, a cleaner and better form of company very much a part of the technology revolution.
And a company that contributed not a few dollars to journalists' k plans. Point being is that the media - especially but not exclusively Big Media - thinks of itself and markets itself as smart and skeptical, due to its self-described unique mix of institutional knowledge and access. But in this case, the media was decidedly late to the party because it could never seem to bring itself to question its assumptions - it was, instead, lazy and incomplete in its understanding of basic economics.
This is my biggest problem with the media right now: Not that it's skeptical to the point of being cynical, but instead that it's skeptical to the point of being cynical about a limited number of subjects, and what's more, apparently utterly disinterested in the very subjects it seems to detest so much: Business, foreign affairs, the military, Christianity or religion in general.
On the other hand, it's incredibly credulous when it comes to government, entertainment, education, environmentalism, NGOs like Amnesty International, education, and, above all, journalism itself. These are the subjects in which only token questioning is allowed and only the most tepid of rebuttals are included. Very much like Enron and other vaporware firms weren't questioned back in the late-'90s, except by only the wettest of blankets. I would love the press if it lived up to its self-image as skeptics interested in exposing the truth. But it repeatedly shows itself as being both naive and cynical and extremely limited and shallow in what it considers to be worthy of its time and efforts.
Looked at that way, it's no wonder a bunch of smart people with extraordinarily lowered barriers to entry have stepped in to provide the service the media claims to be delivering. Actually, the question that Fortune reporter Bethany McClean asked of Enron was more like, "Do you guys actually do anything besides buy contracts cheap from one of your off-the-books partnerships and then sell the same contracts marked-up to another of your off-the-books partnerships? But for all McClean's good work, Fortune itself was a little late to the game -- two years earlier, her own editors had crowned Enron "the Company of the Year.
The MSM is the mob in the Bible. Late to the party, doesn't have its facts straight and very vocal to the end and then is silent when it is all over. Posted by: rsmythe at June 6, PM Permalink. Good question. But I really don't think it's an "anti-learning bias. To be sure. It's a bad thing in that it helps make too many news reports more superficial than necessary. And, oddly, the one thing that might have made it useful -- the old reporter's tendency to vent against elites and side with ordinary folk -- seems to have been entirely co-opted.
Now we're not only viewed as ignorant, we're seen as arrogant elitists, too. And thanks, Jay, for pointing out the nature of supply and demand to Hewitt. Pay was lousy when margins were pushing 40 percent and penetration was pushing 90, too. It is no wonder, when presented with a story whose truth is more complex than the neat absoluteness of the catechism, that a reporter's loyalty lies with the religion rather than the truth.
Why do virtually all media references to Bernard Goetz written after omit the salient fact that his attackers were armed? I would suggest that it is because journalists' loyalty to the "afflicted", the four youths he shot, took precedence over loyalty to the truth -- if indeed journalists have any respect for honesty whatsoever.
Whatever you think of Goetz, the difference between "the man who shot four armed youths" versus "the man who shot four youths" is significant enough that to report the incident as the latter reaches the level of "outrageous lie", even if it does "comfort the afflicted". Under the aegis of "Comfort and Afflict", then, the purpose of journalism is to tell outrageous lies to serve a political agenda.
As a frame it explains every media scandal since the invention of online fact checking.
It also explains why reporters exposed as liars act so incongruously nonplussed, even innocent, as Barbara Stewart's bewildered reaction to her fake seal hunt story aptly demonstrates:. No, not the malicious kind, but that other kind of fabrication, the kind that serves the very purpose of journalism: afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. What could be wrong with that?
You can just imagine poor Barbara, sitting in the same Starbucks she wrote her fake story, the Boston Globe letter bearing the elaborate language of "You're Fired! It's about baby seals! Having no loyalty to the truth, journalists honestly see nothing wrong with lying, and are shocked when those lied to take exception. If journalism is advocacy then we media consumers have no need of it but of some other profession, defined by some other word, which requires truth-telling.
In the meantime you journalists should consider the possibility that your dishonesty violates your own twisted code, as to your audience you are the comfortable and your lies the affliction. Jay, This is an important and central chapter in your ongoing demystification of the fossilized news church you write about.
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After accounting for the narcissistic, false heroism of Woodward and Bernstein and Bush's decertification of the press, however, there is another part of the media environment still left to be addressed. I'm just a year older than yourself and I also have very formative memories of the Watergate hearings. I was raised in a deeply Republican midwestern family and to this day, my mom thinks Dick Nixon's country did him wrong. Naturally I was rooting for Nixon to be exonerated. As the hearings went on, I was increasingly impressed with Republicans on the committee, such as the Republican Senator from Tennessee, who demonstrated an actual interest in the facts as well as a protectiveness of Nixon.
Republicans like him allowed me to maintain at least a modicum of self-respect as a Republican. Nixon was revealed as a lawless tyrant. How could that be a pro-Republican party value? In the early seventies, influential Republicans were ashamed when their leaders held themselves to be above the law, even if they felt the degree of wrongdoing was exaggerated in fact, just the opposite proved to be true.
Based on the MSM's PR stage for convicted Nixon stormtroopers like Liddy and Colson this last week you'd never guess that moment in history had occurred. For today's Republicans, truth stops at the party's edge. The cult of party personality requires rallying around a lawless tyrant caught red-handed. Mark Felt has a character flaw because his loyalty to the tyrant wavered while the tyrant's attorney general was busy destroying evidence.
My point is the one Stephen Colbert made on the Daily Show the other day: the problem today is not that the media lacks the credibility to take on lawlessness within the government, our problem is that today THE TRUTH lacks the credibility to get anything done. If Liddy and Colson and Noonan and Buchanon were intentionally trying to position the Republicans as the party of lawless, tyrant-friendly, totalitarians, they couldn't be doing a better job.
For Republicans, the truth and respect for the country don't have enought credibility to require withholding support for the cult of Nixonian tyranny. Stalin was popular too. Maybe that should give Hewitt pause when he equates approval ratings and profits with ethical standards. He and his fellow apologists for tyranny might want to start drawing slightly finer distinctions in this area. I realize the regular practice of corporate law same goes for the Powerliners requires that be done in your spare time. During Watergate, the truth eventually led to Republican shame and return to the rule of law.
Today, truthful exposure of a lawless executive run amok simply leads to more and bigger lies. Raging right alongside the myth of Woodward and Bernstein, we have the seething victim complex of the ruling party that THEY are the heroes unjustly shot down by the falsity of unscrupulous media bias, that ANYTHING coming from the press that criticizes a Republican is biased on its face because it criticizes a Republican.
These myths are of a piece.
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Demythologizing the heroism of the Washington Post also requires demythologizing the Republicans' quasi-Nazi interpretation of media coverage of the TET offensive as the stab in the back that plunged the US into decades of moral darkness, that Watergate was a Democratic conspiracy to undermine a great American hero, that Nixon's documented crimes can just be politically wished away and it will be so--away from the light of Nixonian tyranny and Ford Administration support for Pol Pot.
Thanks to people like Colson, Noonan, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and McLellan, as well as full blown fascists like Liddy and Coulter, the truth doesn't have the credibility that it once had. Would staying longer and killing millions more Vietnamese have prevented mass murder in Cambodia? That's Noonan's calculus. Mark Anderson's post reminds me of a small comfort I have heard more than one journalist refer to lately -- the fact that in the most recent one of those perpetual who-do-you-respect-least surveys that are so beloved by pollsters, while journalists indeed were indeed consigned to the region of lepers, they still outpolled lawyers by a country mile.
Department of full disclosure: Forty years after the fact, it still gives me cold sweats to think how close I came to going to law school.