Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Death of Journalism in America

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers. Thomas Jefferson.

To read a newspaper is to refrain from reading something worthwhile. The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter. Aleister Crowley

When I was in Journalism School learning the craft of objective reporting I was lucky enough to have a professor who actually believed that being a journalist was a higher calling, a call to watch the world and faithfully report what I saw there. I was taught that there was nobility in the reporter’s creed to be thorough but to take no side. I was taught of a stark difference between the news and the opinion pages in a paper, that there was a wall of separation greater than the width of an ocean or length of an age. I was told that we were to report who, where, what and how and leave why to the imagination and leanings of the reader. This was in another time, long ago…1975.

Out in the real world away from the safety of the classroom there had always been bias in the press. It was easily recognized by the reader and steadily denied by the perpetrators. Early on, the subtly of it allowed the deniers to convince those of their persuasion that the perceived bias was an illusion being foisted upon the innocent reporters by malcontents with biases of their own. The chorus of indignant repudiation against the accusers relied on the myth of objectivity passed down to the public by those faithful in their belief in the sanctity of journalists like my former professor.

As the years have passed the bias has grown, yet the shrill disclaimers still were hysterically inflicted on the reading public. Before long the claims of journalistic integrity became something of a contest of wills, the journalism industry and those who shared their bias would nod and wink at one another as they claimed that those who pointed it out were imagining things.

It is hard for anyone to believe it these days, but once upon a time a free press was seen as the protector of liberty and the bastion of virtue standing against the excesses of government. The founders of this country felt so strongly about it that they enshrined the press into the Constitution with the other limits placed on government by the Bill of Rights. It was this belief in the integrity of the press that has offered reporters special protections and unparalleled access around the world. This sanctuary of the written word designed to be the gatekeeper for the people in their dealings with the institutions of power.

This last couple of years a good many of the nation’s newspapers have dropped all pretense to objectivity. They have left the throne of respectability and sold their souls for the paltry sum of partisan politics. They don’t even bother to object to the charge as it has become so apparent that not only would denial be futile it would be laughable. It would be like kicking the neighbor’s dog in full view of the neighbor and trying to convince said neighbor that it wasn’t you who kicked his dog.

This week a lot of the big newspapers along with their brothers and sisters in the electronic media have joined forces with a political position to elect a government and to protect those ruling the country from the scrutiny of the people. The ethics of journalistic integrity no longer hold sway over the practitioners of this once noble craft. At least it was once noble in my eyes, the eyes of an idealist who once held the singular dream of working in the fourth estate, the guardian of freedom and justice. The people’s champion in the arena of ideas no longer holds my esteem. Journalism is just another hurdle to overcome in the pursuit of liberty. Journalistic integrity is indeed dead and it has been ruled a suicide.

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