The other night while watching the evening news, I suddenly realized I was being played! The news anchors and journalists I had invited into my home to report the news were instead relentlessly pelting me with their biased opinions. I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley, who reported the news and left their audience to form their own opinions about it. In contrast, I found the news coverage on this particular evening to be covered by a thick haze of the personal biases and opinions of the journalists. The news came second to their personalities and their interest in swaying me to think like them or more likely their corporate sponsors. Instead of news my home was being infiltrated by propaganda.
Some may say calling network news propaganda is a bit harsh or hogwash, but what else do you call it when a news network moves beyond reporting the news to telling people how to think about the news? Of course, in this day and age of rating numbers, sometimes injecting the news with controversial biases and opinions adds a certain amount of entertainment value to the program. We have become a society so addicted to being entertained that unless a news program is anchored by a flamboyant personality titillating us with spicy nothings and unholy shock value we are quick to change the channel. Television ratings have become more important than the news, but unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop with television; the same can be said for the print media as well.
Commercialization of the news, whether it is broadcast or written, is a major problem in America. It is unfortunate, but journalism in America has become the mouthpiece of corporate America and the playground for journalists not above selling their souls for sensationalism, book deals, and star status. The saddest part of all this is the American public has become enablers of this atrocity. In an era, where the public is poorly read, and lack of rationalization, common sense, and probing thought are often thought of as inherit American liberties, the absolute truth becomes what the powers in control, political or corporate, tell the people they should want it to be. That means rather than simply reporting the news and allowing people to draw their own conclusions, nationwide surveys/polls are often conducted on behalf of the networks to determine the interests, beliefs, and opinions of the public so the news can be written and reported to reflect those interests, beliefs, and opinions. In a commercialized world, you give the customer what he wants even if it means injecting the truth with opinions and biases and then shamelessly selling it as news.
It is a sad commentary on American journalism, but many journalists today will do almost anything to promote themselves or make a name for themselves in the eyes of the public. It is sad because we are talking about highly talented people with the journalistic tools to make people take notice without being unethical or outright lying. However, too many talented journalists can’t seem to negotiate the line between being a journalist and a celebrity. It is sad when such talent allows their celebrity to overshadow and even destroy their credibility as a journalist. The list of journalists who have traded their journalistic credibility for the fleeting sensation of stardom includes such notables as . . . .
- Brian Williams (NBC News): Embellishing the truth to make himself look bigger than life;
- Dana Milbank (Washington Post): Inventing and taking quotations out of context to support his viewpoint;
- Stephen Glass (The New Republic): Creating fictional sources and events in articles and presenting them as the truth;
- Sabrina R. Erdely (Rolling Stone): Reporting a story as true without corroboration; and
- Network News (Fox News): Reporting news that is often filled with the personal opinions and biases of the reporters.
In her book, Stonewalled, Sharyl Attkisson speaks to the influence of corporate America on today’s news. Along with her views on the commercialization of the news media as a whole, she outlines the role/job of the journalist. She says the role of the journalist is to understand that unless the story is an editorial, the journalist should avoid opinion. Being a journalist herself, she makes it very clear that the job of the journalist is to be free of the influence of political as well as corporate interests. She goes on to point out that the ultimate accomplishment for a journalist with strong personal opinions and convictions about a story or issue is to deliver their account of the story in such a way that it is absent of personal biases to the point that no one really knows where the journalist stands.
Following such common sense guidelines in reporting the news was once held in the highest esteem by reporters. The only journalists who ignored such principles were those who had sold out their craft to the sludge of vanity writing and yellow journalism often found in grocery store gossip and shock tabloids. Of course, there are many highly ethical and credible journalists in the profession, but the number who are willing to take chances with their professional credibility seems to grow almost daily. Why? The reason may lie in the very fabric of American society. As a society, Americans have become intellectually lazy and smitten with all that is celebrity. Americans today believe more in the celebrity of the journalist than they do in the truth he/she is reporting, and often they are only interested in the truth when it fits into their individual beliefs and biases. If the news does not neatly fit into their personal belief system, they do not want to hear it, think about it, or talk about it. Most Americans today are more interested in having their beliefs and convictions affirmed by the news and being entertained by the news than they are the truth, and since the news is big business, the news media delivers what the majority of Americans want. As a result, there is seemingly no shortage of journalists willing to do whatever it takes to become the darling of the masses and see their names in lights even if it means taking shortcuts to get there.
So what can Americans who are tired of hyped up, commercialized, celebrity anchored news reporting do? First, they should never depend on one source for their news; they should change the channel often and listen to other news reports, and they should not rely on just one source when reading the news. They should not rush to judge or form an opinion when a sensational story is blasted across the headlines; they should give the article or news report a few days before making up their minds. It is also wise to use common sense and take everything read, heard, and seen in the news not with a grain of salt but with a box of salt. Americans need to ask if the journalist is reporting the news or is he reporting his opinion of the news – there is often a big difference. Remember, most television reporters at the national level are personalities who have been hired to read the news to the public because of their looks, image, voice, and charisma in front of the camera. Therefore, be careful not to accept what you see and hear in the news as the gospel until you have had time to corroborate the story with other news sources. Finally, remember although most journalists are good solid people interested in getting at the truth and reporting it honestly, there are others who are more interested in a star on their dressing room door. Reporting the news is big business and what is heard and seen on the news is often what is in the best interests of the corporate sponsors who pay big money to get the spin they want on the story. The NEWS is a business out to make a profit, and unfortunately sometimes those profits dictate the truth America sees, reads, and hears. Responsibility for the truth no longer lies with the news media; it lies with the American people who must be willing to ask, “Is this the real truth, or is it their truth?”
©Jack Linton, April 12, 2015