A friend sent me the link to this article on MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19113485/ It details political activities and donations by reporters for a variety of media outlets. Bill Dedman of MSNBC doesn’t take anyone to task for these actions per se, but it does illustrate why America has such a distrust of all new outlets.
Several things in this article struck me. Some of the attitudes expressed by those questioned for the piece truly amazed me. Take for example Ann Goldstein’s comment (she’s the copy editor for the New Yorker Magazine): “I’ve never thought of myself as working for a news organization.” Say what? You claim to inform the public, yet don’t consider yourself part of a news organization? I find that a rather amusing, if utterly lame, attempt to deflect the charge. In fact, in my opinion, it is an outright admission of bias in the publication, one purporting to be “informative.”
There is also the bit from the MTV “news” reporter. Now, I will agree that MTV “news” is anything but. Gideon Yago, the MTV correspondent, summed it up nicely: “I would never qualify what we do as journalism.” That is certainly so. MTV has never been shy about showing its political colors and affiliations. They may cry to the heavens that they honor “equal time and fairness,” but it’s just so much hogwash.
What I find troublesome is that while everyone claims to be “fair and accurate” in their reporting, they almost immediately qualify it with a “no regrets” type statement. Added to this, many of these people are editors, who control what gets on to the air or in print, or are field reporters covering very sensitive, or highly debated issues. They are in a position to not only frame debate (and “facts”), but to influence that debate. As we are a society that is so busy, beyond work, that we rarely have time to do any real research into an issue on our own, that we rely on being spoon fed information from the outlet of your choice.
Of course this is nothing new, and not exclusively an American thing. Even icons of the journalistic world have been guilty of this. Some have even gone so far as to advocate activistic journalism. Walter Cronkite anyone? He has publicly stated that if a reporter, or anchor, or what not, sees something he/she feels is against the best interest of the nation, then they have a “duty” to use the bully pulpit of the anchor chair (or reporters pen), to change that policy.
This crosses an important ethical line IMO. When a journalist goes from reporting the news, to influencing it, or worse making it, then they have crossed over from being reporters to being players. This makes the “unbiased” claim nonsensical, and even fraudulent. They have ceased being journalists, and become advocates or activists.
Now, not all those who can’t help themselves are giving money to candidates and political parties or PACs. Some just do it through their jobs. Candy Crowley’s coverage of the Kerry campaign in 2004 anyone? She might as well have been a paid PR consultant to the campaign for all her cheer leading on CNN. Now, it may have been professional ambition that did it. If Kerry had won, she would have become CNN’s WHite House corespondent, a plum job with lots of face time. Instead Dubya won, and John King got the slot. Oh well…
I am encouraged by the repsonses of the various news outlets, in many cases totally banning any sort of political donations or activism. I am disappointed that most of these rules are recnt, in the past 4-5 years. Even so, it shows that the top echelons of the news establishment are taking these things, and the potential of what’s going on, seriously.
Read the article people. Read it, and think about it. Then the next time you watch the news, read a paper or magazine, or listen to the radio, or read something on the Net (especially this blog!), think about the premise of unbiased reporting.