Saturday, February 09, 2008

Pimp my Ass--Modern Journalism as Oxymoron

I would say the death of intelligent mass media journalism came with the exit of Edward R. Murrow from CBS and his acceptance of a position with the US Information Agency, US's propaganda arm for radio broadcasts overseas

It was at the beginning of the 1960's. There was a glimmer of hope insome columnists who were termed as muckrakers--Jack Anderson was what would today be the tabloid king, and I. F. Stone, who would be today's only on a much less PR-minded level and much more objective journalism.

Walter Cronkite, pretty much accepted as the queen of great television journalism, was depicted in a documentary film about I. F. Stone, aptly named after Stone's own published newspaper, "I. F. Stone's Weekly," as an aloof establishment TV news reader who was not interested in the vagueries of digging into the realities behind a story. That depiction tainted my view of Cronkite since then--30 years ago--even though the revisionists now would haveus believe it was Cronkite's reporting from Vietnam that turned the tide of American public opinion against the Vietnam War and Johnson's actions.
I don't think so. The real great 20th century American journalists, names like Schirer, Lippmann, Reston, and many more--they're likes and ilk are gone. In the 1970's I read the Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, andthe New York Times every day--if I didn't read James Reston's regular collumn I felt like I was out of touch.

No major entity can finance the nuances of such true journalistic objectivity any more. It's really not the fault of the publishers and owners--as Murrow said when he quoted Shakespeare in a famous broadcast, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

The great journalist I. F. Stone--Izzy Stone as his comrades would have known him--would have been aghast at what has happened in modern American journalism. My good friend, Christopher Dickey, who writes for Newsweek about terrorism and just about any other relevant subject germane to us modern folks--he is not well known outside of literary and journalistic circles, within which he is highly respected if not utterly admired for his research and writing skills, and talent. But this is not popular media--this is what's left of objective journalism in the new age. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times is another example of research--muckraking if you will--and entertaining enlightening writing. But this discussion is not about how to find the great writing--it's about how hard it is for the avaerage "cool" reader or viewer to find.

The number 1 rated evening news show anchor, Brian Williams, gets advertising plus from his appearances on Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show. This isn't a bad thing, except that Williams himself represents the denoument of the evening news TV show credibility. His over-the-top sincerity delivery belies the ratings cache to which his network is pandering. Telling us there is a presidential contest is not the same as examining the truth behind John McCain, who is less the "maverick" as depicted in the mass media than a Bush clone crony who just wants that big job.

Now we come to the disgusting affair of a news reporter using inflammatory language like "pimp" to refer to the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, campaigning for her mother, Hillary's, presidential candidacy.

No matter how a news reporter may feel about the motivations or issues at hand, where does the editorial inflective become appropo? That's how far the fourth estate has dropped in thenew millenia.

Hey, I don't have a problem getting at the truth--I can dig on line to find the reporting I trust,and I know which journalists to go to--I can read the New York Review of Books and get a point of view unavailable to the average TV viewer. I know where to go, and I have the time and interest.

But what about John Q. Public who just wants his news delivered while he's choking down his breakfast toast and coffee, or reads his newspaper on the toilet because that's whenhe has the time to sit and think? Mr. Public will have to deal with today's mass-media provisions which are ratings-driven, not necessarily the truth, and definitely pandering to the least common denominator which may be moved more by how Britney's day went than whether or not our government is really serving us, the people.

Murrow's speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) for being "fat, comfortable, and complacent" and television for "being used to detract, delude, amuse and insulate us," hasn't changed things in 50 years.

The solution lies in the responsibility of the owners of mass media to require old-fashioned objective jouralism from their employees. The unfolding of events in the world should provide enough sensation that the reporting of an event will garner high ratings based on the ability of the journalist toget the story as soon as possible.

Just get me the facts--when I need a thrill, I'll go to the movies.

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