Remember, when you were a kid, and you and your parents would sit down and watch the television news? Remember how the major stories of the day were presented to you with representatives from both sides of a given issue, and then the story was wrapped up with a summary? Well, to paraphrase an old Don Henley song, “Those days are gone forever, and you should just let them go.”
I am a journalist by training. It was the field of endeavor I chose as I was heading off to college. My classically liberal education taught me that I was to seek out sources along both sides of the story I wanted to cover, present their viewpoints, and leave the reader (in the case of my newspaper writing days) or the listener (in the case of my days reporting for public radio in college) to decide where they came down on the issue. Of course, I had my own opinions, but I was admonished by professor after professor that my opinion had no place in my stories. My job was to present the facts as well and as clear as I could present them, and that was it.
As I was growing into that role, I began to pay more attention to what was reported in the so-called mainstream media and, more importantly, what wasn’t reported. “60 Minutes,” allegedly a show of in-depth coverage of the issues of the day, turned out to be nothing more than advocacy journalism, presenting such lopsided reporting that I failed to understand how it was not advertising. Other media seemed to be objective still, and I felt that I and the general public were getting a relatively unbiased view of our world.
During Desert Shield, I began to get a sense of the desire for slanted coverage by some segments of the population. As both pro and anti-war protests erupted on my little campus, I sallied forth with my microphone in hand to speak to both sides. I presented the anti-war objection to the Gulf War run-up: They felt it was a war for oil and not in any U.S. national interest. War was never an answer, diplomacy was. I also spoke to people leading pro-America rallies, many of them Vietnam veterans who were determined not to see the mistakes of their homecoming repeated. Our troops deserved support from a nation, sending them to enforce political decisions by force, and the nation deserved support in that choice. Having written the story and reported it, I came into the newsroom the next day to find scrawled on my copy, “Nice job … Sieg Heil” by one of the other station employees, albeit not the news department. Somehow, I was a fascist for daring to report people who actually supported Desert Storm.
In the “Mainstream Media,” I began to see the manifestation of the 60’s generation hijacking the nation’s newsrooms and pushing a less than objective view of the upcoming war, although they were careful to appear to support the troops fighting it-they too learned from Vietnam. The nearly palpable disdain for the pampered refugees from the Flower Power Generation for the people expressing support for the Armed Services and the nation who fielded them could be felt in headlines and news reports on a nearly daily basis.
The pre-internet media really abandoned any pretense of objectivity during the Clinton Administration, although there was still enough shreds of old school journalism left then to let the public see into Whitewater, the White House travel office, Vince Foster’s “suicide,” and myriad other scandals. But as impeachment loomed, the media reported tilted decidedly Left; lampooning New Gingrich, vilifying Ken Starr, and portraying Bill and Hillary Clinton as innocent victims of a right-wing smear job. It was during the 90s that I watched everything I’d be taught about the Fourth Estate being the objective reports of truth thrown to the four winds in the quest of partisan one-upmanship.
A personal anecdote from this time that, for me, was one of the first symptoms of this disease manifesting itself to me. My news director assigned me to cover a pro-life speaker at the evening’s city council meeting. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to say that I was in college at the time and was virulently ‘pro-choice’ in keeping with the orthodoxy on campus. That has since changed. In addition to my coverage, two (female) journalism students also covered the talk to give them experience in doing some reporting. The man-made an impassioned speech about why he was pro-life and why he felt abortion was wrong. At the time, I felt his speech was loathsome, but in keeping with my trade’s highest ideals, I sought to give an objective view of the issue. The two female reporters literally attacked the man, interrupting him, shouting him down, criticizing him as a zealot who hated women. To the point where I stepped in, shooed them away, and proceeded to interview the man and his opposing number. This incident is a microcosm of what occurs daily today at every level of ‘the media’ except there is no longer anyone seeking to indulge the pretense of objectivity.
What was going on during this same time is that the 60’s radicals were also hijacking the academy. Objective journalism is something that is no longer taught in colleges and universities. The professors of my training were former newspapermen, broadcast journalists, writers for the Associated Press. Men and women who had covered historical events locally and nationally for decades and brought that practical experience to the classroom.
Today, my journalism department hosts people (some with PhDs, mind you) who have little to no practical experience in journalism but boast academic focus areas. Let me give you one example we have a “teacher of journalism” whose specialties are: Rhetoric, Race, Media, Gender, Social Justice, Qualitative Methods, Political Communication, Cross-Cultural Communication. This is a faculty description right from the department’s website, mind you. Since the 1990s, the ‘journalists’ churned out of various ‘prestigious’ journalism schools have not been taught to seek out both sides of an issue and present those facts to a reader/listener. They have been taught to view their subject matter through a social justice lens and to present to the reader/listener a view of the issue based on that lens. Any opposing view is invalid and dangerous and cannot be objectively reported but must be held, suspect. We have seen the fruits of that training with ever-increasing stridency since the 2000 elections.
Although waning to the point of non-existence, the media’s ongoing power is to maintain the charade of objective reporting. Many very naïve Americans still indulge in this fantasy, although as ubiquitous as information is, it’s hard to understand exactly why. When all three major networks (four or five if you count CNN and Fox) report essentially the same thing with the same spin, using the same wording, a populace untrained in critical thought (another casualty of the academy) accept the pap fed them by the media as objective, gospel truth. This lack of critical thought and inability to ask basic questions and indulge in basic skepticism has led our “media” to be even more brazen in their partisanship and outright hostility to the views contrary to those of their collective Hive Mind. Welcome to the current information landscape and the 2020 election cycle.
So, where does this leave us, gentle reader? Well, all the news is not bad. The greatest pushback we have is ourselves. We have unprecedented access to information. Much of it is false information, some of it is outright kookery, but there are kernels of truth to be found everywhere. And I think that is what gives me the greatest hope. With the media abandoning its role as a neutral party in a free society, free citizens with access to information and the ability to ask basic questions have filled the void. Within our power, we have the ability to assemble our own objective picture of events and present them to our fellow citizens. Sites like Right Wire Report break the media hegemony simply by denying them the ability to be the arbiters of what we see and hear. We can make our own choices as free people by seeking to piece together what the facts really are.
We are witnessing the latest battle in this revolution is happening even as we speak with millions of users migrating from Facebook and Twitter to MeWe and Parler. Do not think for a moment that the advent of social media in the early 2000’s frightened traditional media outlets, just as the rise of alternative social media has the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey concerned. Not just with allowing you access to true information, mind you, but simply because it denies them advertising dollars.
There is an old saw in the journalism business that says, “You don’t argue with people who buy ink by the barrel full.” In the year 2020, I wholeheartedly disagree, particularly when you’re dealing with people for whom truth and objectivity remain beyond their means.