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In a free and democratic society we have four pillars, branches or what has also been termed estates. One of course is the judiciary, another is the legislative branch, yet another is the executive branch (president, prime minister or both in some cases) and finally we have the news media. The news media, and the journalists working in that field, often called the fourth estate, are of course not elected as the populace elects their political leaders or representatives. They are private actors in the society whose product, the news, is consumed and supported by the general public. But, a free press, albeit a non governmental entity or industry, is intended to act as a form of check and balance upon the others. That is why historically the general public usually has had a degree of trust in what they read or hear from journalists. An implied level of ethical reporting. A proverbial guard dog if you will, keeping an eye on what is going on and speaking truth to power when and where necessary. At least that is the theory and how it is suppose to work.
There was a time when the main stream media actually did their job, and politicians were often kept in check by the press, the truthful press to be more accurate. The Washington Post and it’s reporting on Watergate back in the 1970′s comes to mind. But today we have something else going on. Today we have many in the main stream media pandering to and aggrandizing politicians (and other prominent figures) not out of respect but for personal gain of some kind. Those that do come forward with information about corruption, wrong doing, malfeasance or even simply question the health of a politician are ostracized and or fired. That is exactly what happened to Mr. David Seaman, who was a contributor to the Huffington Post, who dared to raise health questions regarding the current democratic party presidential candidate.
And when the media is not firing it’s reporters or journalists, they certainly apply a heavy hand of self censorship. An example is Ms. Caryn Elaine Johnson, better known to you as Whoppi Goldberg, who co-hosts an ABC television talk show. I have to say that while Ms. Johnson is an extremely talented comedian and I have enjoyed many of the films she has made as well, I do not always agree with her political leanings (but like everyone else, she is entitled to her opinion). However, in a recent broadcast, Ms. Johnson did question the motivations and agenda regarding some recent political reporting (more like gossip to be honest about it) and was promptly cut off by the program’s producers. The main street media did not pick up on it, but many in the alternative media certainly did. Apparently asking some mature logical questions about the main stream news media is not to be tolerated, even from their own.
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed.
If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.- Mark Twain
Which leads me to explain that the recent news coverage (if you can call it that) of the current US Presidential Election is really what got me thinking about all this. I mean, the news is a business, I do get that. And with that said, I also do realize that sex sells. In fact, some element of sex or implied sexual references has been a staple of the advertising industry for years. Put a photo of a naked woman on a billboard splashing some brand of cologne on a guy and I guarantee you that it will catch the attention of 100 percent of the heterosexual men seeing it, and some women too. But, when does it cross the line in terms of journalistic coverage of public figures, including politicians? When does it become trite and downright childish? Should we perhaps question the motives or agendas regarding some of this coverage, and is it too much?
MSM News As Tabloid Entertainment, Not News
As an example of main stream media nonsense, Bruce Jenner decided one day he wanted to become a woman, and he (or is it now she?) was celebrated in a very positive way by epic proportions in the main stream media. I remember when his photo (he was a he back then, at least I think so) was on a cereal box after becoming a winning Olympic athlete. Now he / she looks like my ex-wife’s Aunt Lucy (sorry, I just cannot get my head around it, and by the way I happened to like Aunt Lucy). And in the political spectrum, Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner got caught with his pants down (literally) sending photos of his family jewels supposedly to an underage girl. However, Jenner’s wiener (or now lack thereof) got months of news coverage and publicity of various kinds. Weiner’s wiener was in the news cycle for less than a few days. In fact, it was not that long ago and has pretty much disappeared altogether (I am not complaining it no longer is in the news cycle, by the way). But the point is that the main stream news media wants to fill your head, and your time, with titillating gossip, rumor and nonsense. Such so called news is nothing more than an intended distraction from the more important things they should be spending time on, but are not.
Now, I do understand and get the fact that some personal activities of political figures certainly can be important in the sense that it reflects upon judgment issues, and therefore the publics right to know and or at least decide what it means. Former US President William Clinton was caught getting his equipment polished by an intern in the oval office of the White House (and I do not refer to his golf clubs). I remember at the time, European reaction was so what? He’s a man after all. True, and I did not have such an issue finding out the guy was a heterosexual (with a libido of superman if some of the other stories are to be believed), but rather it was an issue of judgment and respect. Is such an activity appropriate, even with your own spouse, in the office, regardless of what time of day? Kinky perhaps, but appropriate?
Imagine if you will the Pope deciding to cut a hole in his papal throne chair in order to convert it into one of those portable commodes so he can take care of two kinds of business at the same time when giving an audience. I know it sounds ridiculous and crude, but there is a point to be made. Sex is after all a human need and bodily function as is relieving one’s self in the restroom. The question is: should it be done in the same place you work or at least meet visiting dignitaries? That is the issue when deciding if the item is worth the time and effort to report, or not, maybe. It’s about the judgment of the person in question.
One reason that cats are happier than people is that they have no newspapers.
- Gwendolyn Brooks
In any event, getting back to the press, regardless if we are talking about print media, television, radio or in today’s world of digital, the news is a business or part of some other private corporate entity in business to make money. Salaries need to be paid, journalists need to eat and pay their bills too just like everyone else. However, as I already did mention, journalists are afforded a degree of respect because it is assumed they are unbiased, or that they try to be unbiased, and are indeed reporting the truth. When journalists become shills or hacks for a particular politician, celebrity, company or product, then the integrity and trust of that office, if you will, becomes an issue. We all know that politicians are adept at lying, or at least bending the truth, but when journalists do it, it becomes a very serious problem for the society. It is no longer the news, but rather propaganda or even advertisement really. We expect that sort of thing under a dictatorial or even one party government, but in a free democracy?
However, it does seem that public has already voted with their eyeballs on this matter, rejecting the main stream media with a vengeance. A recent September 2016 poll by the Gallup Organization claims that 94 percent of Americans do NOT trust the main stream media, although this varies by degree of trust. Roughly 30 percent say they have some confidence in the main stream media whereas 60 percent profess hardly any confidence at all. And this cuts across all age groups with older Americans especially indicating a newly found drop in confidence as well. Ms. Claire Bernish goes so far to call 2016 the year Americans stopped trusting the establishment altogether (http://thefreethoughtproject.com/poll-2016-year-americans-stopped-trusting-establishment-media/). She also goes on to write that confidence in banks has fallen from 49 percent in 2006 down to 27 percent in 2016. In addition, faith in the US congress in 2016 has dropped to 10 percent (no real surprise there).
Perhaps of surprise to some is where Americans especially are now going to for news. The Internet of course has indeed changed a large number of ways we communicate, shop and obtain information, including news. Recent statistics show that 40 percent of Americans overall get their news on-line, be it on their home or office personal computer or other device. While there has been a steady trend in past decades showing an increase in viewer-ship of television news, coupled with a decrease in readership for physical print media, digital media is now catching up to the statistics for television. It has been reported that 38 percent of American Adults get their news on-line versus 20 percent that still read physical newspapers. Not surprising, younger Americans rely heavily upon the Internet for news and represent the lowest readership of print news.
Device preferences are changing as well, with more inclined to get the news on their phone. The statistics show that 54 percent of Americans obtained their news on a mobile device (phone or tablet) back in 2013 and now that number is 72 percent in 2016. In just 3 years, that represents a roughly 50 percent increase. Social media is another new contender also with close to 70 percent of Facebook users accessing news via that platform. On average and overall, its reported that 62 percent of American on-line users get their news from social media.
Print media has been complaining in recent years that they are losing readership (and revenues) to digital media. More recently television news viewing has been dropping (especially among the younger generation) also to the gain of digital news as well. However, I do not think one can simply blame the technology. There is something else going on and that something else is trust, or lack thereof. In defense of journalists everywhere, I think it important to also realize journalists are human, with their own ideas, interpretations, experiences, prejudices and political leanings. I do not think news consumers expect journalists to be, well, non human. However, as television newsman Dan Rather once said, if you are going to knock out a public street lamp on one side of the street, it is important to do it on the other side as well. In other words, you have to be fair and balanced. You need to give equal time to all sides and investigate diligently with an open mind (Ironically Dan Rather was fired from the main stream news media for not taking his own advice, so take from that what you will). But in short, journalists need to report the truth, even if it is a truth they themselves do not like for whatever reason. Entities such as WikiLeaks have been embraced by the public with such enthusiasm for that very reason. People are hungry for the truth and are tired of lies and propaganda.