This is a little different: I’m going to take up an entire post with the introduction to Null Pointer’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Fake News Watch 2: The Missing Mask.”
This is because the topic of his comment, the gradual devolution of American journalism into what he describes as a continuous slippery slope into complete fiction with an agenda, dovetails so conveniently with a post I was already in the process of writing. “Why not invent a source and say what you think they ought to say?” Null asks. “Then, once you are making stuff up, why not go one step further and just start printing whatever you can imagine? Who cares about the actual truth?”
The fact is that journalists increasingly do not care about “the actual truth.” They no longer see that as the mission of journalism. They see journalism as a tool for social change and political virtue, and feel justified and empowered in doing all all of what Null Pointer describes to that end.
Ted Koppel, the iconic host of ABC’s “Nightline,” has been one of the few voices from broadcast news to try to expose the damage being done by progressive media bias. His opportunities to do so to a large audience have been few: compare the number of times you have seen Koppel opine on the state of journalism compared to Dan Rather, an advocate for manipulated facts for “the greater good,” meaning Progressive Utopia. In 2019 Koppel declared that Trump was “not mistaken” in his belief that the liberal media is “out to get him”—hardly a “Eureka!” worthy observation, but one that Left continues to deny—while it holds one-sided hearings in an investigation designed to find some way to lock Trump up before he can run for President.
Recently, Koppel was a guest of NewsNation host Dan Abrams, who pressed Koppel on his past critical remarks about the news media’s anti-Trump bias, Abrams asked if Koppel still believed the media’s coverage of Trump was poor journalism. Koppel began by giving lip-service to the “brilliant journalism” still performed by the New York Times and the Washington Post on many topics (he isn’t quite ready yet to be a full-fledged pariah among his peers), but said,
I think opinion belongs on the opinion page; that’s why they call it the op-ed section. And that’s where the opinion pieces are, the columns; that’s where the editorials are, and that’s where it belongs. I don’t like seeing opinion being expressed on the front page of a great newspaper…It bothers me when I see them losing some of the criteria that always used to keep a wall between opinion and news coverage.
[I hold that when a newspaper turns opinion into news, it is no longer a “great” paper but a propaganda organ, but I digress…]
Abrams then, as several members of the Trump Posse have before when they were not on their game, admitted what is really afoot. “The response to that from some would be that Donald Trump is different, that he has to be covered differently by the media than others,” Abrams said. “What do you make of that?”
Koppel was nicer than I would have been and than he should have been, but still clear:
I think if you start drawing those distinctions, it’s very difficult to know where you stop drawing the distinction. Do you feel that way about anybody else in politics? Are we going to start picking up our morning newspaper to see who’s in and who’s out in terms of the news coverage? Again, there is a place for that, in the op-ed section. I don’t like it on the front page.
Well, we already see and hear what Koppel described, which is what Null Pointer describes in his Comment of the Day, and I suspect Ted knows it.
A legendary news broadcaster of another generation, Edward R. Murrow, expressed concern about how his platform, television, was being corrupted by the need to turn profits and hold viewers when he gave a famous speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation. That speech is used as a framing device by George Clooney’s excellent film about Murrow’s showdown with Senator Joe McCarthy during the latter’s zenith of destructive power. David Strathairn, one of our most underrated actors, played Murrow, who was also locked in a battle with CBS brass, who opposed editorializing in the news, which to them extended even to exposing McCarthy and his unethical tactics. I watched the 2005 movie again last week and was gobsmacked by how its analogies to current politics and journalism had flipped since “Good Night and Good Luck” was released.
I found myself wondering what Murrow would think today about his righteous confidence that the news media’s power would always be focused on truth and fairness—McCarthy really was a villain and an enemy of the Bill of Rights—and that power would not corrupt his industry like it has all others through history… that it would not, slowly, incrementally, find itself emulating McCarthy and his sinister tactics: innuendo, guilt by association, fear-mongering and bigotry, which is where journalism is now.
Here is Murrow’s speech as we hear it in the film. The actual, much longer speech, is here in text and audio, and should be considered as well.
This might just do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous ideas. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors will not be shaken or altered.
It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television. And if what I say is responsible, I, alone, am responsible for the saying of it.
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now — and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week of all three networks — they will there find, recorded in black and white and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.
Our mass media reflect this.
But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television, and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late…
I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us. Just once in awhile let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night, a time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey on the state of American education. And a week or two later, a time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.
Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged?
Would the shareholders rise up in their wrath and complain?
Would anything happen, other than a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country — and therefore the future of the corporations?
To those who say people wouldn’t look, they wouldn’t be interested, they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.
This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and, yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends.
Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights — in a box.
Good night and good luck.