Eighteen-year-old Tyler Jarrell, of Columbus, Ohio, was killed Wednesday evening when the Fire Ball ride he was on at the Ohio State Fair broke apart in mid-air, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said. Seven people were also injured in the incident…The victims were transported to local hospitals and at least three are in critical condition.
On all the news channels I saw, including CNN, HLN, ABC, Fox and CBS, video taken by an onlooker was frozen at the moment the ride broke apart. As HLN’s cheery Robin Meade put it, “We’re not going to show the rest of the video, because it’s graphic and disturbing.”
Wait, Robin: YOU saw it. The producers saw it. Why don’t I get to see it?
I posted the unedited video above. It’s not any more graphic than this…
…and people paid to see that scene. But never mind, the silly hyper-protectiveness isn’t the ethics issue.
The ethics issue is that this is how journalists convince themselves that they can withhold information, or distort it, change it or spin it for our own good. No, I don’t grant them that privilege, or the role. The job of the news media is to let us know what happened, as thoroughly as they know it. Today it’s some people flying off of a malfunctioning fair ride, yesterday it’s that a President of the U.S. might have raped someone. Tomorrow it might be, oh, I don’t know, this story, which had barely nicked the news networks as of yesterday.
I don’t trust these people to decide what it’s healthy for me to watch. If they want to give warnings, fine. I want the news, the whole news, and nothing but the news.
This episode reminded me of the recent article in which Andy Robinson interviewed the six former Public Editors of the New York Times for the Columbia Journalism Review. Among the questions about anonymous sourcing and testy newsroom relations, Robinson asked, “Is the Times a liberal newspaper?”
He also asked, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
Kidding! But I digress.
The most revealing response, for me, was from Arthur Brisbane, who explained,
“It’s a staff of New Yorkers. These are people who mostly live in the New York metropolitan area. They are highly educated, and most of them are eastern seaboard products from a kind of worldview and life experience point-of-view and come from the world Donald Trump just kicked in the butt. And they were not conscious themselves of this fact because people like you don’t get it – how the world sees you. You get what you see and it looks correct to you.”
Translation: The Times isn’t liberal, it’s just put out by people who are smarter and better educated than you peasants, so it sees things as they really are.
This is how journalists really think. To be fair, it’s how most professions think: lawyers think they are the smartest people around, so do doctors, professors, scholars and, sadly and absurdly, artists and entertainers. It’s all arrogance and hubris, and an attitude that is a catalyst for unethical conduct. In my experience—it would be nice to have better data on this–while all the professions have inflated opinions of their own wisdom and intellectual prowess, the gap between what journalists believe is their intellectual superiority and their actual abilities is unusually and dangerously large. No studies seem to support the argument that journalists should be able to tell the rest of us what we can know about, or justify their self-anointment as public censors. On this graph, showing the range of IQ’s for various occupations, journalists don’t even appear, in part because many of them are wash-outs from other fields:
I’m not even sure where they fit in on the graph: “Creative occupations”? Speaking from personal observation, none of the sharpest tacks in the various academic boxes I occupied became journalists. Few of the journalists and future journalists I have known are brilliant or even close to it, and when I have dealt directly with reporters and journalists in interviews or coverage of projects I was involved in, I have usually been stunned at their carelessness and inaccuracy. I have often written that the more you know about a subject, the more horrified you will be at any article you read about it in a newspaper. It is as true as ever.
Since there is scant evidence that journalists are better qualified to decide what the public can and should know than the public itself, and considerable evidence that they are substantially biased, arrogant, unethical, soaked with hubris and no brighter than a convention of realtors, they should confine themselves to providing facts, and letting us do the filtering.