1 There is supposedly a controversy regarding the on-the-spot hurricane reports: is it ethical for networks and news stations to place reporters and camera operators in mortal peril by having them scream into a mic while being buffeted by wind, rain and debris?
What’s the controversy? Of course it’s unethical. In addition to sending ridiculously mixed and self-contradictory messages—“I’m standing here in the storm telling citizens in the area that they shouldn’t be in the middle of this storm!”—it is also bad Ethics Chess. This stunt will continue until the first reporter is blown into a wall and sustains permanent brain damage, or is injured by a flying piece of debris that impales her, maims her, or cuts her in half. It is entirely predictable that this will happen eventually, and once it does, reporters will stop doing it. Why not stop this before a the inevitable tragedy occurs?
TV stations do it for ratings, that’s all. It’s great visual programming. It’s not necessary. Half the time, we can’t make out what the reporter is screaming, and what they are screaming is redundant and stating the obvious.
Apparently the first reporter to do this was Dan Rather.
2. What is the mission of a pundit, a talking head, a columnist? It has to be—don’t you think?—to enlighten readers, to convey a constructive, useful analysis of complex issues, to reliably filter facts and controversies through a unique view-point without so completely tainting his or her output with bias that it actively misleads.
Yesterday New York Times columnist Charles Blow issued a column titled “Soul Survival in Trump’s Hell on Earth.” This was the apotheosis of the kinds of columns Blow has been writing almost exclusively now for months; at least I hope it’s that, for I can’t imagine where he goes from here. This column, like the others, is nothing, literally nothing, but a nearly fact free exposition on the theme, “I hate the President. I really do. I do so, so much. I know you do too, and if you don’t, I hate you too. ARRRGGGGHHH!”
The headline isn’t hyperbole; Blow, if he is to believed, really thinks Americans are living in Hell because Donald Trump is President. Not because there is a Great Depression hovering over the land, not because we are embroiled in a Civil War, or the existential threat of a world war, or the daily threat of an international stand-off igniting into world-wide thermonuclear obliteration, but because a President was elected that offends the ideological and partisan sensitivities of Charles M. Blow.
How can the New York Times continue to justify publishing the weekly primal screams of this pompous, doctrinaire, and now apparently deranged pundit? Exaggerating problems and pronouncing that we are all but doomed is not a service. It is harmful. The only readers who will be persuaded by a column like this are the ones who decide that something has to be done and that it’s time to build that bomb. Moreover, when a pundit reaches the stage that Blow has, where the simple act of a government not agreeing with his views and enacting policies that he does not favor launches him into hysteria, that pundit needs a vacation. Or maybe another career.
What are Blow’s arguments that justify his diagnosis that the United States is now Hell on Earth? Is it that a major party and its supporters have set out deliberately to undermine American institutions by rejecting a national election, seeking to remove an elected President by non-electoral means? Is it that the international fumblings and ditherings of the previous administration are, as predicted, resulting in increased threats to the United States and the rest of the world? Is it that American journalism and its uniquely free news media, beyond question the app that makes democracy function, has now become, by its own abuses, so completely politicized and untrustworthy that it has become a threat to the nation, rather than its watchdog?
Nah, none of this appears to bother Blow at all; as far as I can detect, he approves of all of it. Here is his Bill of Biased Generalities that add up to Hell on Earth: Continue reading →
This comment by Humble Talent, one of several COTD entries he has made lately, has to get up today before the ick that was the Alabama Senate Race subsides, and the comment feels moot—though it would not be.
But first, my epiphany about investigative reporting…
Humble’s comment made me realize something that was right in front of my eyes, and has been for a long time, and yet I never before connected the dots. This is especially galling because it involves distrust of the news media, and as you know, I think about this a lot.
What I only now realize, thanks to Humble Talent, is that investigative reporting is virtually always partisan or agenda-driven one way or the other. It isn’t the highest form of journalism, as we of the post-Watergate era have been taught to believe. It may be the most sinister.
Journalists can’t investigate everything. They have to choose what to investigate, and when, and those choices are inevitably determined by biases and political agendas. If choices are made, and they have to be—what do we investigate, about who? When do we know we have something worth printing? When do we run it? What will happen if we do?—the choices will reflect biases, unless coins are flipped and lots are drawn.
I never thought about whether the timing of the Roy Moore teen dates stories the Post ran were timed to come out when they did. But Humble makes me think: did the Post bother to look for dirt on Jones? I doubt it. I think an editor said, “This guy Moore is horrible. I bet there’s some scandal out there that can take him down, maybe a sex scandal. Let’s dig.” The Post sees that as a public service—Moore is objectively horrible—but the “investigative reporting” is essentially opposition research to benefit the Democratic candidate. Then the damning results of the investigation were published when they were deemed to be able to cause the most chaos in the campaign.
Why didn’t this occur to me when I was watching “Spotlight”? We see, in that film about the Boston Globe’s investigation into child abuse in the Boston Catholic Diocese, how the story was held up for months as a mater of tactics and politics. The story almost wasn’t run at all. Now, why did I just assume that it was random chance that…
I’m an idiot. Was I the only one this gullible? I knew that the press could have ended JFK’s Presidency almost at will, but was intimidated out of doing so and wasn’t that unhappy about it. I knew the press intentionally kept the Clinton rape allegation from the public, for fear it would affect the impeachment outcome. I knew that CBS and Dan Rather’s investigative reporting about President Bush’s National Guard conduct was devised and timed (and falsified) to give Kerry the election.
Investigative reporting regarding politics is always politically driven. It has to be.
I am completely dedicated to the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of a free and unencumbered press. A democracy without a free press is doomed. I am also convinced that a free press that abuses its power and influence is as great a threat to democracy as no free press at all.
Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Popeye,” From The Ethics Alarms Ethics Estoppel Files: I Can Say The Republican Party Is Rotting, Democrats, But You Can’t: Continue reading →