OPINION – The discussion, as it so often goes these days, turned to the media, from fake news to the good old days when reporters were reporters, facts were facts and there was a healthy respect for both.
That was, of course, way before social media, Russian cyber interference and an intractable divide of the American public that only promises to run deeper.
The discussion was wistfully nostalgic, really, in that place in the mind that insists that the good ol’ days were far superior to what our aging eyes take in today.
Truth is, our memories embellish our yesterdays more than we would like to admit.
Don’t think so?
Go back to the old house you were raised in. Odds are it is much smaller than you remember. That old car your family used to take the Sunday drive in? It may have been good, solid American chrome and steel, but let’s remember that even though those motors were magnificent in their power and speed, they died about 90,000 miles in, averaged less than 10 miles per gallon and fouled the air with pollutants. And, you certainly could not use that old rotary dial phone to take photos, play games or access the Internet.
The same holds true for the media for the most part.
For every Breitbart, Daily Caller, Infowars, Newsmax, Blaze, Washington Times, Townhall, Wall Street News and National Review website delivering propaganda from the right, you have a Reuters, Associated Press or NPR issuing objective reports.
For every HuffPost, Slate, Politico, Intercept, The Atlantic and Salon attacking you from the liberal side you have BBC, Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg, PBS, The Guardian, ABC News and, yes, contrary to the propagandizing, CNN that offer objectivity.
Old-timers from both sides of the political spectrum and those with just a passing knowledge of the media will hearken for the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
But the thing is, Murrow may have been a stand-up guy when he toppled Joe McCarthy, but his reporting from London during World War II was often anything but credible. In fact, he drew the wrath of his bosses at CBS for playing audio recordings of German aerial attacks in the background while broadcasting his reports and Cronkite, who was once dubbed the Most Trusted Man in America, had a very obvious liberal bent.
In fact, through the Ozzie and Harriet soaked ‘50s and ‘60s, news reporting was fairly friendly. They went easy on Ike, played dumb to the indiscretions of JFK and masked the racism of LBJ.
A former colleague of mine, James Bacon, was a wire reporter during the time of JFK’s term. Normally a Hollywood reporter, Jim would cover the young president when he came west because Kennedy would often spend time with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby or hang out at Peter Lawford’s beach house where many of his dalliances with Marilyn Monroe took place.
Jim, who ran with Sinatra and the Rat Pack, took delight in telling the story of how JFK would dupe him every time they went to Sunday mass in Palm Springs.
As part of the press entourage, Bacon would always take a seat in a pew directly behind the president.
When the basket came around Kennedy would drop what appeared to be a $100 bill into the collection, which Jim duly noted in his stories, until one day when the monsignor at the church took him aside and, rather gingerly, advised him that there were no $100 bills in the collection.
Jim, in a private moment with the president, asked him about it.
Kennedy laughed, reached into his pocket and took out a $10 bill, which he then folded so an extra 0 appeared on the front, making it look like a $100 bill.
Kennedy handed him the bill, squeezed his shoulder and chuckled.
“I knew you were watching, Jim,” he said. “But I was counting on the priest to apply the seal of the confessional to my little ruse.”
It all changed shortly thereafter and we had a resurgence of the muckraking when the Watergate scandal broke that originated in the late 1800s.
Now, the term muckraker has taken on negative connotations, but originally, it referred to those who practiced investigative journalism to expose government corruption, the plight of the workingman and woman and injustice.
It disappeared in the fervor of the jingoistic reporting that flourished during World War I and World War II and held over for several decades after the troops were removed from harm’s way.
But, the lies that led us into Vietnam became grist for the news mill as a new breed of reporters began to ask important questions about our involvement in the war. There was governmental and military shuck and jive that fueled deeper probing by the news media.
By the time Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stumbled upon the nascent Watergate story the mood had changed and other reporters were inspired to rake muck during the era of lies.
The reporting sold a lot of papers and drew massive television viewers.
But it was honest, solid.
There were columnists and analysts employed to add the depth and meaning of those historical times, giving layering and explanation to the complexity of those issues. While they often take the field with an admitted bias, they also pound the keyboard with earnest. In the past, they were appreciated for their insight and many years of studying the issues and their ability to explain the nuances. Their job was not to propagandize, but to start the conversation.
But out on the fringe sat the advocacy crew, baptized in sensationalism and weaned on innuendo. And, the public ate it up.
Believing that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, the suits encouraged more and more advocacy reporting, a technique that is transparently subjective. It took a deft hand to craft, but was almost never equated to the standard objective missives that filled the morning newspaper or nightly news broadcast.
Now, however, the broadcasts and written reports – whether print or online – are almost growing exponentially in that vein with the intent to inflame rather than inform and that’s where the problem lies.
Much of it is cheap theater with few of the participants schooled in news reporting.
Rachel Maddow studied politics.
Sean Hannity is a former house painter.
Ann Coulter’s background is in law. She makes no bones about not having a news background. “I don’t pretend to be impartial or balanced, as broadcasters do,” she has said.
Jon Stewart studied psychology and applied it to a career as a comedian. He has become an icon of the left, even though his reputation, as he agrees, rests on the mantel of satire and cynicism rather than journalistic experience.
Stephen Colbert was a theater major.
Rush Limbaugh was a Top 40 music disc jockey.
None of them ever covered the cops beat, reported on the local city council or sat in the newsroom on election night. Not a one of them worked their way through the ranks to become a columnist, a shaper of opinion, a position the veterans of this business once held in high regard because if you were allowed to do a column it meant you knew your stuff and had worked long and hard in the trenches for that coveted job.
The journalistic air has been fouled by these marquee names whose voices dominate the discussion.
There are a number of able, credible reporters out there, doing their jobs honorably, who go unheralded, unappreciated for their steady work.
But these carpetbaggers who slide in through the back door have become the standard while the dedicated and hard-working ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate continue their quest for truth.
And, there are, thankfully, many of them still raking the muck.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.