OPINION – I have a friend in the business who is one of the least controversial, fairest people I know.
A kind, gentle soul, he recently posted something on his Facebook page that was, by today’s standards, incredibly mild.
There was no name-calling, there were no accusations, and there was no malice; just a simple statement.
The first comment to pop up?
“I wish you journalists would make as much fuss over…”
I’ll let you fill in the blank.
The point isn’t about whom the troller was referring to, because it could have been anybody from Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Barack Obama to Alex Rodriguez, Natalie Maines or Clint Eastwood. The point is the target the barb was fired at.
You see, journalists are walking around with giant bullseyes on their backs right now.
If I had a dollar for every Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapshot post railing about the media or journalists and how they are covering this election unfairly, I could afford a modest estate on a small island off the coast of Spain and all the paella I could eat.
I understand this thing we call “media” is open to a wide and varied interpretation.
To some, it includes websites created and propagated by the various political sides or organizations. Some believe what they read on these sites. Of course, some people also believe the tabloid stories about alien lizard babies invading planet Earth in an effort to overtake humanity.
That skepticism overflows to the mainstream media, which is tasked with presenting a daily report of events. God forbid these reporters present something that does not fit into a particular side’s political doctrine. If they do, they are excoriated by a public that is immersed in the most intensely partisan race in generations.
People are angry, and anger leads to irrationality.
I have seen criticism of the media for simply showing a clip of a candidate speaking their own words in front of a crowd, unedited and fully within context. I have seen people flail about wildly if a reporter presses a candidate for an answer. I have seen them flatly try to bully the analysts, columnists and op-ed writers who are simply trying to open a dialog.
Heaven forbid if any investigative piece reveals flaws in their candidate. Then it becomes an attack, a conspiracy, and is labeled cheating, lying, dishonest reporting.
It’s to the point where anybody with a laptop thinks they can report, analyze or comment cogently on the news of the day.
I’ve got news for you, you can’t.
Believe me, over the years, I have looked at enough resumes to judge, heard enough job applicants tell me they thought they’d try out reporting because “everybody tells me I write good.”
My friend who had the rude remark posted on his Facebook post is a longtime journalist. He has a solid reputation and is credible, honest and fair. He is not the exception in this business either. I can honestly say I have run into only a few publishers, editors and reporters whose ethics and credibility were questionable.
The thing is, once they are found out to be frauds, they usually disappear from the business, because journalists are pretty good at policing themselves.
There are unscrupulous outlets as well that specialize in lies, innuendo and misleading information. Those are the ones who will post altered photographs and publish well-crafted “articles” describing events in a misleading manner without context or meaning. They prey on the laziness of a public that refuses to fact-check and swallows any disparaging news about their opponent hook, line and stinking sinker.
But if you are talking about legit news outlets that are there day in, day out apart from the election cycle, you will find almost none of that, which is why we see so many snarky remarks and potshots taken by drive-by critics who are usually too cowardly to attach their true names to their comments. At least we in the business put our names to our stories, opinions or analyses.
So before you go slamming somebody for their opinion or accuse them of being some part of a greater conspiracy to challenge your particular beliefs or candidate, think about this: how would you feel if somebody walked into your place of business and started bellowing incoherently about what a lousy butcher, baker or candlestick maker you are?
Our skills and our integrity are tested on a daily basis, no matter which profession we practice. Do we make mistakes? Sure. Who doesn’t? But is there some grand conspiracy among the trained, legitimate, credible media to make your candidate – whoever it may be – look bad? No. To think otherwise is delusional.
There are ways to check if what you are reading contains bias.
First, are the sources always institutional? Are the people quoted in the story almost always exclusively people in a position of authority? Are they elected officials? Spokespersons? High-ranking officials from within a specific agency? Are the sources diverse? Are there opposing viewpoints?
When it comes to opinion pieces, is context offered? Is the viewpoint consistent with the writer’s previously stated opinions? Is the language loaded in a manner that is misleading, pejorative or unfair? Are the facts offered in defense of an opinion accurate? Are opinions stacked with double standards? Is the piece an honest attempt to initiate or forward the conversation? Or is it laced with playground name-calling and vitriol?
I like to believe that most people try to do their best and that we all have a sense of decency, even if it is buried somewhere deep inside, that may be overtaken occasionally by passion or ignorance but nonetheless exists within us all.
There has been a lot of irresponsible talk about conspiracies from the left and the right this election cycle.
I put about as much faith in conspiracy theories as I do in coincidence: both are highly improbable and, quite frankly, impossible on the levels suggested.
Credibility and honesty is out there, and I think most people are aware of it when they see it.
They just get wrapped up in denial when they fail to acknowledge the danger in the prejudices and darkness within themselves when exposed to the greater light.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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