Grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning complete with a copy of the newspaper is the start of the day for many Americans. Unfortunately, today the writers of those stories who so diligently seek to serve the reader are marred with the pollution of propaganda in mainstream media like Fox News.
For many it is easy to assume that all of the media lies and misleads its audience members. But this unfounded myth does no justice to the profession which seriously serves a responsible, democratic society. To a large extent, democracy in the United States owes a great debt to freedom of speech and press — and to journalism itself.
We have seen the affects of great journalism. Only a few decades ago the nation’s eyes and ears were opened to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, credited solely to two of the best journalists of that generation: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Their work was fundamental to the development of journalism as somewhat of a fourth addition to the checks and balances of our federal government. As the three branches of government sometimes fail to check one another, the media has accepted the responsibility of serving as a watchdog for all three.
Woodward and Bernstein revealed President Nixon’s crimes, including the obstruction of justice at the highest level. Without their work, would the public have ever known that our President had been committing such crimes? And is it not our right, even our duty, as responsible citizens to be aware of such things?
Most recently, the media’s dedication to cater to an informed society made prison abuse by Americans in Iraq an event for all to know. A truly democratic society presupposes the existence of an informed constituency that is able to make intelligent decisions, and it is the calling of journalism that allows for this.
Last year we saw the New York Times’ scandal involving young reporter Jayson Blair and several dozen stories he fabricated in the paper. This incident can be looked in one of two ways. Cynics will regard this event as evidence that journalism has lost its ethical basis, which it needs to survive. However, let us examine this same incident in a slightly different manner.
When the New York Times’ staff learned that the publication they wrote for had abused its readers on several occasions, what happened? Had they grown so desensitized to a lack of ethics in the newsroom that they simply moved on without a second glance? No. The staff was furious. Many were so upset at Blair’s actions that they began applying for jobs at the Los Angeles Times.
“The Blair scandal was a terrible event, but it also said something very positive about the Times, for it demonstrated beyond question the staff’s commitment to the reader,” said Editor of the Los Angeles Times John Carroll. “Certain beliefs are very deeply held … that a newspaper’s duty to the reader is at the core of those beliefs … and that those who transgress against the reader will pay dearly.”
Not all of what the public encounters from the media today is true journalism. This summer the documentary “Outfoxed” was released to illustrate this point.
Fox News is the biggest disgrace to journalism in our generation; it is about as much journalism as Dick Cheney is liberal. About the only thing more laughable at Fox News than their slogan “fair and balanced” is their motto “We Report. You Decide.” Fox News is not a news station; it is a right-wing political forum for extremists who largely misrepresent the news.
The documentary “Outfoxed” details in many ways how Fox News defies all principles of journalism. A journalist’s job, whether in a newspaper, on television or on the radio, is not to determine what angle of an issue must be reported followed by commentary of a reporter’s personal interpretation. A journalist’s only duty is to present factual information, free from bias.
Not only does Fox News fail to do this, but it floods its broadcasts with constant political jargon that is unfair, inaccurate, slanted and essentially useless. The public’s main concern is not what hothead Bill O’Reilly has to say about an issue, but what the issue is and what the facts of the issue are.
That a journalist’s audience is misinformed and misled about the information reported to them is quite possibly the worst thing any journalist would want to hear or at least, it should be the worst. Last October, the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks released a widely cited report illustrating Americans’ extensive misconception about the facts involving the war on Iraq.
The report asked respondents if there had been weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, if there were proven links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda and if the world opinion favored the idea of the U.S. invading Iraq. The results showed that 80 percent of respondents who mostly watched Fox News believed one or more of these myths, 25 percent more than those who watched CNN and an alarming 57 percentage points higher than those who got their news from public broadcasting.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a question of liberal and conservative media. “What we’re seeing is a difference between journalism and pseudo-journalism, between journalism and propaganda,” said Carroll. “The former seeks earnestly to serve the public. The latter seeks to manipulate it.”
Recently we have heard of the scandal involving fraudlent documents criticising President Bush’s role in the military by the generally credible CBS. Veteran journalist Dan Rather aired the story about the documents that a week later proved to be fake. Rather issued a public apology for his inaccuracy.
What Rather and CBS did was not good journalism. Sources were not checked and facts were not confirmed on a very important story. However, Rather was able to publically apologize for misleading his audience within a week and something tells me Fox News will not be broadcasting corrections for eight years of inaccurate, misleading, biased, unfair, unethical and useless reporting.
Many are understandably angry at the lack of professionalism that went into Rather’s story. However, good journalism can be broken down to three main elements: good research, good writing and good corrections. Responsibility is as important to the success of journalism as much as quality teachers are for a good education.
The diservice Fox News does to its audience on a daily basis is far worse than any harm CBS has caused in a week and until they step up and accept responsibility for that diservice, they will remain as this generation’s William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer advocating sensational yellow-journalism.
“Journalism can be faked and … people will react to something that sounds like journalism, but isn’t,” said Carroll.