Commentary by James H. Shott
Not too long ago the light of truth shined on climate scientists who cheated in trying to persuade the world that its end is near when a series of emails were made public revealing their fraud and deceit.
Now, a series of online discussions between journalists, academics and others of a similar mind have been discovered in which the dialogue centered on how to manipulate the voting public, and other matters equally out of bounds. The journalists represent several media outlets, including The Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Guardian (Britain), National Public Radio, The Nation, The New Republic, Bloomberg News, Salon, and Harper’s. The emails were posted at an online meeting place, a list-serve called “JournoList.”
Some people defend the activities of JournoListers as nothing unusual. Mike Hoyt, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, asserts that the communications are normal interaction between associates. To him there is nothing unusual or improper about journalists discussing how to distract the American public from the negatives of one candidate in a presidential election. Boys will be boys, you know.
But journalism professor Jim Campbell of the State University of New York at Buffalo finds the JournoList troubling. “At one level it could be thought of as just colleagues throwing ideas out to one another, but from another standpoint it almost looks like collusion … where virtual talking points are shared and solidified in a group.” “That can’t be healthy for the country – or for the media, for that matter,” he added.
One useful tactic of the JournoListers was to distract attention from negative Obama news with some sensational charge against a prominent conservative. Someone named Spencer Ackerman, at the time on the staff of the Washington Independent, suggested to participants that to distract attention from Barack Obama’s racist and anti-America minister Jeremiah Wright, pick a conservative like “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares – and call them racists.”
Manipulating information for political and ideological gain wasn’t the only topic these folks discussed in this virtual smoke-filled back-room. They also thought freedom of the press should be done away with, because it allows Fox News to exist. Daniel Davies, a columnist at the Guardian, commented that “I am genuinely scared” of Fox because it “cannot be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation.” Imagine that: a news outlet that can’t be “controlled.” He continues: “In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework.”
We need a “legal framework” to control Fox News, while the media outlets where the JournoListers work continue to operate unfettered? That sounds both fair and constitutional, doesn’t it?
Jumping on the anti-Fox News bandwagon was Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, who suggested a more strong-arm solution to the Fox News dilemma: “[I]s there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?” This man is a law professor?
Journalists are supposed to be in competition with one another, not in collusion, formulating “talking points” with each other. It is, obviously, a glaring conflict of interest when journalists pick a side and conspire to support one candidate or one side of an issue over the others. Such conflicts are scrupulously avoided by ethical professionals.
And what a horrid concoction of arrogance and insecurity these media people have. They are so arrogant as to think their ideas are more important than those of their fellow Americans, and yet are so insecure about their ideas that they believe they have to fool the American people into supporting them.
This perverse exercise has revealed such curious creatures as journalists who want freedom of the press for some but not others, and who conspire to manage information, and a law professor who believes Fox News has an FCC “permit” that can be revoked at will.
We are witnessing another once-honorable profession abandoning its integrity and hawking a personal agenda as it takes its place in the Hall of Shame alongside climate science.
At its best, news journalism is a noble and vital profession that adequately informs the public by objectively supplying accurate information so people can be well informed in order to make good decisions. It makes a point of covering controversial issues fully, because controversial issues are the ones most in need of public discussion. It does not favor one side over another, and leaves the picking of winners and losers to the American people, where it belongs.
At its worst, it is a corrupt and dishonorable perversion that controls information on events and issues to fit an ideological agenda. It ignores stories that will damage its chosen beneficiaries and over-emphasizes its point of view on important issues and its chosen candidates. It focuses extra attention toward its opponent’s negatives and ignores the positives. All to the detriment of the country and the citizens it is ethically bound to serve. Such integrity-challenged “journalists” throw ethics on the trash heap, and reduce themselves to partisan players in the political game.
Today, it seems there is much more “journalism at its worst” than ever before.
Cross-posted from Observations