What journalists do: My thoughts

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, informs us “a journalist who just passes along what is said is a fancy stenographer, failing at the task of truth telling.” That in a nutshell describes where journalism has gone off the rails and why it’s audience represents only one segment of society.

When I was a cub reporter with the Oberlin College student newspaper, my first assignment was to cover a talk by the poet Stephen Spender. I was asked to take notes so that people not able to attend would get an accurate idea of what he said. I certainly was not expected to judge or evaluate Spender’s presentation.

Later I became a sports editor. The closest I came to “truth telling” was writing a headline that told readers the extent of the victory or defeat. The story itself was a recapitulation of the events of the game or match told without editorial input. Today sports stories rarely report on the game itself; instead they purport to tell us what the victory or defeat means, taking away our pleasure as fans coming to our own conclusions.

When it comes to politics, journalism today is agenda driven. What that means is that the newspaper’s point of view on all major topics is pre-determined. All a reporter needs to do is fill in the details that support the paper’s view. If that’s truth telling, my name is Bill Clinton.

If you need evidence, consider the revelations that discredit the New York Times from being an objective source of information on the issues of the day.

With the election of Donald Trump, the Times resolved to focus on the assumption that he stole the election with help from Russia. “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’ current executive editor. I would question that conclusion. There was no collusion, but the Times reportedly gained 600,000 digital subscriptions telling its readers daily for more than two years that the evidence was mounting. Mission accomplished.
Today, Baquet has decided to shift to another story: racism. His goal is to reframe the entire history of this country to make it a function of slavery. They want us to believe that the history of the United States of America began with the arrival of the first African slaves at Jamestown in 1619. Slavery taints all and cannot be erased. Not even reparations will satisfy.

It’s easy to see how this game plan accomplishes the Times’ current political agenda. It not only appeals to the descendants of slavery, but it enables the Times to undermine black support for President Trump, which could be a factor in the outcome of the 2020 election.

What should newspapers do?

In its long history on this continent, newspapers evolved from being a voice for owners to express their views on the issues of the day ala Ben Franklin to becoming a platform for political parties, which meant tarring opponents with whatever calumny was handy. In the early 20th century reformers sought to hold papers to a set of principles that included separating news stories from opinion. That was the prevailing ethic until Watergate—the expose of President Nixon’s involvement in trying to undermine George McGovern’s campaign by planting false evidence in a Democrat campaign office.

After that, the big newspapers got swelled heads, feeling their job was not just to report on, but once more to influence the outcome of the issues of the day. If that means reporters inserting their views in news stories, so be it. If that means having an agenda which all stories on a topic such as climate change or tariffs have to adhere to a set position, so be it.

Professional journalists should not just be stenographers, but neither should they couch a news story to follow a political agenda failing to report facts that conflict with those that support the company’s view.

Jill Abramson, Baquet’s predecessor at the Times, wrote a book, Merchants of Truth, in which she argued that newspapers are kowtowing to advertisers in the face of declining revenues. What has turned things around economically for some has fast news distribution via social media, using Twitter for example, to release partial stories ahead of print publication. The danger she sees is a lack of oversight and a rush to judgment. That is exacerbated when the paper has an admitted agenda.

In a democracy, readers ought to be given adequate information to make up their own minds. Newspapers should provide a balanced coverage of the issues, such that reporters tell us what people say on both sides of an issue without editorializing. If they want to express their own opinions on the issues, save it for their personal Twitter account. The arrogance of those who think they are in possession of the truth contributes to the public’s distrust of the media. Fox has it right: their job is to report; ours is to decide.

The Chorus of Media Critics Grows

Yes, Donald Trump has attacked CNN and other media for publishing ‘fake news,’ and yes, the mainstream media has responded with rightous indignation that anyone should question their integrity. But the question of the hour is whether people inside the media are listening as fellow insiders have started to join the chorus of critics?

The latest to question the media’s treatment of the president is Ted Koppel. Speaking in an interview with Marvin Kalb at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the former ABC anchor noted that the ‘liberal media’ has become part of ‘the resistance.’ “We are not the reservoir of objectivity that I think we were,” he stated.

Koppel also believes the New York Times is committed to making sure Trump is not re-elected.

Koppel’s comments echo those of former 60 Minutes correpondent Lara Logan who argued in an interview in February that the media has “abandoned our pretense, or at least the effort, to be objective.” She accused reporters of becoming political activists and even “propagandists.”

“You read one story or another and hear it and it’s all based on one anonymous administration official, former administration official,” Logan stated. “That’s not journalism. That’s horseshit. That’s absolute horseshit.”

Logan in turn echoed comments of former New York Times editor Jill Abramson whose book “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts” accused the New York Times and Washington Post of lowering editorial standards to compete for Internet traffic. She decried use of “somewhat misleading headlines to gain clickbait and scale audience” in an interview.

Abramson noted a study that “showed that the main reason all people––not just Trump supporters or conservatives or Republicans––give for lack of trust is perceived political bias.”

When asked how bias manifests itself at the Times, Abramson pointed to “tweets of reporters, which are very loaded. It manifests itself when those reporters go on MSNBC and CNN and appear on panels with partisans and the questions they are asked are very loaded.”

As a subscriber to the Washington Post, I find questionable references to Trump throughout the paper, including in book reviews and the Sports section as well as editorials posing a news stories. By questionable, I include claiming he said things he didn’t say or taking his comments out of context as well as ad hoc references that assume the readers agree with whatever criticism is being levied.

If insiders like Koppel are disturbed by this trend, isn’t it likely that average readers—not just conservatives like myself––notice that the media has taken on the role of an advocate rather than an impartial observer? That would help explain the continuing drop in newspaper circulation––a phenomenon that has been going on for several decades and may be exacerbated by the media’s apparent commitment to lead the “resistance.”

Instead of getting their backs up whenever the President attacks a media organization or an individual reporter, what would happen if the media in reporting that attack examined whether the President might have a point? Perhaps readers would start to trust the media a little more. And, what would happen if the media took the long view––i.e., what if they started thinking about the next six or ten presidential elections and whether they will still exist or will have gone underground as part of some sort of counter revolution that they had a role in creating? Something to think about.

Identity Politics Gone Insane: The Case of Elizabeth Warren

More evidence of Elizabeth Warren’s fraudulent claim that she is Native American has come to the fore in recent days. She self-identified as Native American thirty years ago on her Texas Bar Association application and also later on her official listings at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. Some accept her excuse that she thought she was Native American, but why didn’t she attempt to verify whether she was or wasn’t? The fact is she would continue to be getting away with a lie today had not others challenged her.

It appears that Warren sought to use this myth to enhance her status and advance her career. She wanted to be seen not just as a woman, but as a Native American woman. There is an academic construct called ‘intersectionality’ that increases a person’s status if she is a member of more than one oppressed minority. It appears that Warren’s use of her fake identity, rather than the merit of her academic accomplishments, earned her prestigious jobs and high salaries. She then built on that resume to gain the nomination of the Democrat Party for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts––a position she holds today, a position some might argue she does not deserve. She further has the gall to think she should be the Democrat Party candidate for President in 2020!

Focus on the distinction between identity and merit as the basis for hiring and promotion. While minorities and women were discriminated against in the past, that doesn’t justify giving them a free pass today. When equal opportunity is no longer the standard for advancement in a society, the door is wide open to new forms of discrimination. There is strong evidence that has been the case in academia for decades. People who hold conservative views have an inordinate hard time getting jobs in the social sciences. Some people have admitted they had to hide their beliefs until they had tenure track jobs because they knew prejudice, not merit, determines hiring in academia.

Identity Discrimination Now Found in the Business World

Favoritism based on identity has now been extended to the business world as well as in the news media where to be charged of an act of malfeasance by a minority is tantamount to guilt, especially if the person is a white male.

To be very clear, I also would challenge the notion that a non-minority—i.e., a male Caucasian––cannot be objective, impartial and fair in the fulfillment of his duties whether as a policeman, school and college instructor, or as president of the United States.

Democrats who wish to preserve the notion of equal rights for all citizens—something embodied in our Constitution––ought to make it clear that they do not support Warren’s candidacy for president or that of any other candidate who feels qualified because they are a member of a minority group or because they believe minorities deserve special treatment apart from merit.

Where’s the Hatchet? The Washington Post’s final attempt to derail Kavanaugh

Friday, October 5: As Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination fight nears its final hour, the Washington Post made one last attempt to derail his confirmation by digging into Kavanaugh’s past. I expected the front-page story entitled “The rise and reckoning: Inside nominee’s circles of influence,” to bring out last minute hatchets finely honed in order to decapitate the candidate. What a let down!

The Post must have assigned their top investigative reporters. I can imagine them spending overtime hours on the phone with every last person to ever cross paths with Kavanaugh from high school to the present. They state their conclusion upfront: Kavanaugh had a circle of “friends, loyal and true . . . [who] made it their business to buff and defend Kavanaugh’s reputation.”

Okay, I thought. Let’s hear examples of how his reputation needed buffing and needed to be defended. The juicy details must follow. But they don’t. There are no juicy details. Oh, one high school student who was teased says, “Brett was a jerk.” Wow! That disqualifies him right there. Is there more? Well, there’s a female Yale student who says he was a sloppy drunk. But did he try to ‘get into her pants?’ Apparently not, because the story moves on with zero reference to such behavior on Brett’s part.

There are references to things boys do as they become men: “a bar fight, groping attempts to get somewhere with women, perhaps worse.” But is anyone quoted saying that Brett did those things? Apparently not with the kind of conviction that the Post needed. The best the reporters can do is attack Brett’s “community”––people who attend prep schools and colleges like Yale. In other words, children of those who achieved some measure of success in American society, as if that should be sufficient evidence that he’s not qualified to serve on the court.

That in the final analysis is why the media and the Democrat Party hate Brett Kavanaugh. He is on the wrong side of the divide they have created and militates against their narrative that America is the land of the unjust. If America has been constructed on a foundation of racism, sexism, and the rest of the Left’s complaints, then anyone who is near the top economically and socially needs to be knocked off their pedestal.

Kavanaugh, not surprisingly, believes in the foundational values embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The Post and the Democrats do not. It’s as simple as that. The Post could find no hatchets to throw at Kavanaugh other than he came from a family that made it, and that expected a great deal of their son. He excelled––graduating first in his class in high school, as a Yale undergraduate and at Yale Law School. For shame. He has to be stopped.

On behalf of those who are not currently in the upper echelons of our society who would like to attain those heights, let’s hope Kavanaugh is confirmed because the kind of society he’d like to preserve is one where you’ll have a chance on your own merits to become the best you can be. You do not have to reside at the bottom accepting charity in return for your loyalty to the Democrat Party.

Brett Kavanaugh is not a perfect human being. There is no such thing. Did he go through normal growing up experiences? Yes. Did he ever go too far? Probably. Who can say they never did! Do you want to appear before a judge who has never made mistakes, who has no experience with pushing the limits? I’d hate to be the defendant before a judge who pretends to be perfect and denies he (or she) ever did something they wished they hadn’t done.

So the attempted hatchet job reveals more about the Post than it did about Brett Kavanaugh. It shows us their bias against people who send their kids to prep schools, who hold conservative views, and who have friends who they support and who support them.

Time to move on to the rest of the paper. Or maybe I’ll just skip the stories and go right to the crossword puzzle. That can’t be imbued with political ideology, or can it?

100 Swan Song Editorials

The American newspaper industry has responded to an appeal for 100 newspapers to write editorials on the same day attacking President Trump for being critical of the news media. This act is an admission of the extent to which the national media has lost power and credibility. It may just be their swan song––a last minute attempt to regain status and authority. My bet is that it will fail. It will fail to sway any members of the public who aren’t already Trump haters and it will fail to restore the national media’s position as the arbiter of right and wrong in America. That horse left the stable years ago and is not coming back.

Why do I claim the media has lost its power? First, you need to concede that once upon a time everyone counted on newspapers for national and local news. Even with the emergence of radio and TV, newspapers held their own, funded by advertising, as the primary source of not only in-depth coverage, but by reporting on a greater number of stories each day than the broadcast media.

The handwriting signaling the end of their monopoly came with cable TV. Now people could hear about breaking news immediately and didn’t have to wait for the morning or afternoon paper to learn about it.

P.S.: Yes, there were afternoon newspapers. In my hometown––population 20,000 there were morning and afternoon newspapers until well into the 1960s.

But the largest nail in the newspaper’s coffin was the arrival of the Internet. The Internet is cable TV on steroids. It not only enables people to learn about breaking news within seconds, but it offers both scope and depth of coverage from a variety of official and unofficial sources.

The newspaper industry responded slowly and poorly. Why? Because of the huge capital investment required to produce a daily newspaper. That’s why newspapers have shut down and some dailies now publish twice or once a week, and why all but a few major newspapers print many fewer pages than they did just a generation ago. Union domination of newsrooms also made it difficult for newspapers to adapt.

Newspapers found they had to compete by offering web versions. Some have been able to charge subscriptions; many find they lose more money doing so than offering free access and selling ads on those pages. Either way, newspaper websites are not the only source of news. Millions rely on other sources. Some of those are poorly vetted and over time followers figure that out and abandon those outlets.

But that’s just the structural story. The rest of the story is that what was once an industry where views varied widely from conservative to liberal, has on the national level, pushed aside the conservative outlook, and united to become not just the reporter of news, but the maker of news created on behalf of a liberal-left ideology.

Consider how papers like the New York Times and Washington Post transformed their editorial outlook of the CIA and FBI. In the 1960s, both papers were highly critical of those agencies, seeing them as emblematic of a nascent police state––above the law and accountable to no one. Today, however, those papers love those agencies because they did exactly what they were accused of doing in the 1960s. They took sides in a national presidential election, acting outside the law on behalf of one candidate to the detriment of the other candidate. Further, their illegal and unethical behavior continued after the election to the extent they tried to subvert the Trump administration. They created false evidence, suborned perjury and leaked classified information to the news media.

I don’t think I’m being naïve in suggesting that the national media today is different than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Yes, some media organizations in those days had greater access to power than others and they used their power on behalf of certain parties and candidates. The difference is that there was competition in those days. The fact that 100 newspapers today (out of 1200+) are willing to act in unison is testimony to the lack of competition for viewpoints and scope of coverage, which is why subscription numbers are down and editorial pages are not read by the majority of subscribers.

One hundred editorial writers will be claiming they are defending freedom of the press. This self-indulgent, holier than thou, attitude doesn’t fly with me. Mr. Trump’s criticisms focus on the reality that some media are out to get him, and he has that right. It’s called free speech.

The President’s criticisms have not resulted in any reporters being personally attacked, or newspaper offices being bombed or burned down. (The incident in Annapolis had nothing to do with national politics.)

The national media is mad, but they are not telling the truth about why they’re mad¬––which is that millions of Americans agree with the President. Long before 2016, millions came to view newspaper coverage as biased against them. They read stories that made the average American out to be deplorable, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and a despoiler of the environment. How many of you like being attacked on a daily basis without the chance to defend yourself?

Newspapers have not learned the lesson that they don’t represent the majority of Americans. Acts like 100 editorials attacking the President make that clear and will likely hasten the day when the number of dailies sinks below 1,000.