Who do we sue when journalism fails to do their job?
Yesterday, I heard a report of an on-air chat between reporters (read: “talking heads”) Charlie Rose and Tom Brokaw, where they sat around (basking in the post-election afterglow) and opined that nobody really knows anything about our President-Elect. They were somewhat mystified that anyone could get elected to the Presidency, without knowing what they think about the important issues of the day. (Keep in mind, we’re not listening to a couple of wet-behind-the-ears, 20-something bloggers here – these two gentlemen of the press have what amounts to a lifetime of experience between the two of them.) They both remarked that “we don’t really know anything about Obama.”
Exsqueeze me, but isn’t it the job of the vaunted “fourth estate” to dig down deep and discover everything about a candidate?
If there was a way to sue journalists as a class (sort of a reverse “class action suit”) for journalistic malpractice, I’d do it. Back in the day, journalists thought it was their job to act as an advocate for the people, to get past the speeches and slogans, and discover what the candidates really stood for, exposing their voting records, obscure speeches and off-hand remarks, peccadilloes, and occasionally, a scandal. I say “occasionally,” because way back when, reporters understood that some topics were off-limits, simply because they did not have anything to do with how well a candidate could perform his or her job. For instance, it really wasn’t until after his death that the public became aware that FDR was unable to walk without braces and crutches, and in later years was confined to a wheelchair, due to a bout with polio. Didn’t affect his job performance, and it was looked upon by the media as insignificant. They didn’t want to make our President look weak or frail. JFK had back problems so bad that he was in almost constant pain throughout his Presidency. Reporters didn’t care – although they should have, as he was on some major league painkillers that could have affected his judgement.
They also gave Kennedy a pass on his dalliances with a mob’s moll, Marilyn Monroe, and a bevvy of other beauties. You can argue (as Clinton later did) that it was nobody’s business but his and his wife’s. (Personally, I think that speaks to his character, but leave that alone for now.)
Today, the press seem to think that they exist solely to uncover scandals – the juicer the better. That’s bad, because they overlook substance for sizzle. What’s worse, though is in doing that, they fail to perform a vital function for We the People – uncovering the truth, especially the truth that matters.
All that pales, however, to the journalistic malfeasance committed by a vast majority of the mainstream press, when they through away any pretense of journalistic neutrality, and became cheerleaders for Obama.
When you are actively rooting for someone, it becomes difficult – if not impossible – to act as a watchdog for the public. You can’t serve two masters. This election coverage was a travesty – on the one hand, reporters who acted like rabid piranhas, attacking McCain and Palin for even the most insignificant of things, while on the other, fawning over Obama, and excusing even giant gaffes.
Journalism took more than a black eye this election cycle. They completely blew every shred of credibility.
That raises the question, “who can we trust”? Seriously. Who? The media was supposed to be the “disinterested third party” who would tell us the truth about government. No more. We can’t trust them to do so. Without adherence to a journalistic ethical manifesto equivalent to a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath, there’s nothing, really, keeping them honest. And they proved that they can’t be trusted this year with their coverage of McCain/Obama.
Can we trust the blogosphere? Yes and no. But only because rather than hiding their bias, they revel in it. Better to trust someone who tells you he has a bias, than someone who does, but claims he doesn’t. Can we trust the government? Don’t make me laugh.
Can we trust our religious leaders? There’s an irony there – the ones that are honest rarely make public pronouncements about politics, because they feel duty-bound to stay neutral (both because they feel it’s more important to minister to their flock, and because U.S. Tax Code forbids it). The ones that use their bully pulpit to harangue about politics usually have an agenda of self-promotion and a desire to acquire political power/influence for themselves.
Can we trust ourselves? Sure…but only if we are willing to listen to all input and evaluate it critically. If we don’t, we become sheeple. If we choose to become skeptics, the next logical question becomes, what do we need the media for, anyway?