The Sad State of Journalism

 

“Among the many firsts, last year’s election gave us the gobsmacking revelation that most of the mainstream media puts both thumbs on the scale—that most of what you read, watch, and listen to is distorted by intentional bias and hostility. I have never seen anything like it. Not even close.”

So said Michael Goodwin, the chief political columnist for the New York Post during a presentation at Hillsdale College. The speech was adapted for the Imprimis publication, June 2017. I think his comment reflects the attitude of many conservatives. I believe that many of his observations describe this newest wave of fake news, distortions and biases demonstrated by the national press.

One of his first comments suggested at least one origin for sensational and glamorous journalism: Watergate. He says,

Ever since, young people became journalists because they wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, find a Deep Throat, and bring down a president. Of course most of them only wanted to bring down a Republican president. That’s because liberalism is baked into the journalism cake.

He also points to a line often used during his tenure at Columbia University School of Journalism: “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” He suggests that this phrase became distorted to mean that every person afflicted must be helped, and that afflicting the comfortable meant “endless taxation.” With these kinds of distortions, the groundwork was laid to support an increasingly liberal bias.

Then Goodwin brings us current with reflections on the media’s coverage of Trump. As much as the media detested him, they began to cover him more and more often during the campaign, because their ratings improved. And with the growing publicity, more people were attending Trump’s events. Suddenly, the man who had no chance of winning was in every headline, on television and in the newspapers. The media began to realize what they had done: the very person they despised was one of two people running for president, and they were helping him with free publicity. And they were furious. As a result, Goodwin explains,

Day in, day out, in every media market in America, Trump was savaged like no other candidate in memory. We were watching the total collapse of standards, with fairness and balance tossed overboard. Every story was an opinion masquerading as news, and every opinion ran in the same direction—toward Clinton and away from Trump.

Given the details of Trump’s background, tough scrutiny of him could certainly be justified. Goodwin quoted the New York Times media reporter:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalist tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

Goodwin’s response was direct: don’t. You shouldn’t cover a story where you can’t be objective. “Go cover sports or entertainment.”

But the editor of the Times, Dean Baquet, wouldn’t have agreed with Goodwin as he explained during his interview at the Nieman Lab. He believed the Times reporter, Jim Rutenberg, had given everyone permission to report the news in a fresh way, referring to his own past experience with the controversial Swift Boat story [that focused on discrediting John Kerry during his presidential run]. Baquet said,

I think that he’s [Trump] challenged our language. He will have changed journalism, he really will have. I was either editor or managing editor of the L.A. Times during the Swift Boat incident. Newspapers did not know — we did not quite know how to do it. I remember struggling with the reporter, Jim Rainey, who covers the media now, trying to get him to write the paragraph that laid out why the Swift Boat allegation was false…We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, ‘This is just false.’ We struggle with that. I think that Trump has ended that struggle. I think we now say stuff. We fact-check him. We write it more powerfully that it’s false.

He is essentially blaming Trump for journalists’ contemptible and unethical behavior.

Goodwin responded to Baquet’s comments:

Trump was challenging, sure, but it was Baquet who changed journalism. He’s the one who decided that the standards of fairness and nonpartisanship could be abandoned without consequence.

Since the Times sets the standard for newspapers nationwide, we can be quite certain that most newspapers are following this unethical direction. Partisanship and opinions are now part of the journalistic norm. Trump is frequently called a liar. Barack Obama, in spite of the many times he “misspoke,” never was.

One other point I’d like to make is about journalistic ethics. They still exist in theory. You can find one list at the Society of Professional Journalists. Three noteworthy guidelines to journalists are:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of the work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

Another resource is the Ethical Journalism Network.

I’ll end with Goodwin’s closing statement:

If I haven’t made it clear, let me do so now. The behavior of much of the media, but especially The New York Times, was a disgrace. I don’t believe it ever will recover the public trust it squandered.

Do you think there is way back, or better said, a way forward?

There are 75 comments.

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  1. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    I think that this to’ing and fro’ing about the mainstream establishment media gives too much credit to their self analysis.  They are economic entities, after all, and will suffer the consequences of their atrocious lies.

    These charlatans are in league with the amoral Democrat Party, and most irresponsibly, are actually driving the bus.  Trump is giving these imbeciles just enough rope to hang themselves; witness Comey’s implosion.

     

    The way forward, there is no backward for these troglodytes, is their replacement by trusted sources.  Can we spell Duranty?  Can we spell Hinderaker?

    • #1
  2. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Susan,

    I have a copy of Imprimis and I just read the article. If this isn’t a watershed statement about the entire journalistic profession it really should be. The entire profession needs to take a good look at itself in the mirror. They need reform from the top of the Times building down to your local news affiliate. They should be so lucky as to have a Dutch Uncle like Michael Goodwin lay them out in such classic fashion. The should take every word to heart and try to do something about it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #2
  3. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    What was untrue about the Swift Boaters?   A bunch of vets who were their at the time told the truth about a pol who was clearly exaggerating his heroism.  What is wrng with that?

    And Sue, no one remembers today that the media MADE Trump.  Scott Walker had strong words on immigration, Rand Paul on putting America first, Carly Fiorina on jobs, Bobby Jindall on OCare, etc etc.  All these superb candidates were ignored because the MSM WANTED Trump to win.   Trump was seen as the only candidate whom HRC could defeat.

    It was forseeable, and some of us foresaw in these blogs, that the MSM would turn on DT the moment he sewed up the nomination.  As they did.

    How delicious that she was the only candidate HE could defeat!

    • #3
  4. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    This is all a good thing. The media was always in the tank for the left. Just in a settle way, morning, noon, night, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, next decade, next century. It was accumulatory, but still fooled enough people into thinking they weren’t being lied too. Trump changed that. They felt the need to militarize to stop him. This removed the mask for evermore for all Americans. Now the field is somewhat level. If they shift and cover a Republican fair it is a plus for us (we know they won’t do that). If they stay the course, every story they do gets a handicap in the American mind. The more over the top the bigger handicap. Sucks being a “journalist” now, or never Trumper for that matter.

    The tail of the dragon still doth swish, and it is still dangerous. This is why we must ridicule it at every turn, Alinsky like.

    • #4
  5. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    What was untrue about the Swift Boaters? A bunch of vets who were their at the time told the truth about a pol who was clearly exaggerating his heroism. What is wrng with that?

    And Sue, no one remembers today that the media MADE Trump. Scott Walker had strong words on immigration, Rand Paul on putting America first, Carly Fiorina on jobs, Bobby Jindall on OCare, etc etc. All these superb candidates were ignored because the MSM WANTED Trump to win. Trump was seen as the only candidate whom HRC could defeat.

    It was forseeable, and some of us foresaw in these blogs, that the MSM would turn on DT the moment he sewed up the nomination. As they did.

    How delicious that she was the only candidate HE could defeat!

    Doc,

    I think it is clear that it was Kerry lying about the Swift Boat incident. Kerry also lied without a second thought about the Iran Deal. He deceived Congress and the American people about the protections written into the deal (dropped in the final version) and the obvious intent of the Iranians. Ben Rhodes confirmed that they got the deal by lying. This wasn’t a “deal” anyway. It was a major Arms Treaty that should have required 2/3 consent of the Senate just as Senator Cotton said.

    With all of this as obvious as anything could be the MSM simply ignored it and blindly helped the Obama Administration push it through. Some fifth estate, some concern for getting the truth to free citizens so they can make an informed decision. Mr. Goodwin is too kind. The media needs to be horse whipped for this.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
  6. blood thirsty neocon Inactive
    blood thirsty neocon
    @bloodthirstyneocon

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    What was untrue about the Swift Boaters? A bunch of vets who were their at the time told the truth about a pol who was clearly exaggerating his heroism. What is wrng with that?

    And Sue, no one remembers today that the media MADE Trump. Scott Walker had strong words on immigration, Rand Paul on putting America first, Carly Fiorina on jobs, Bobby Jindall on OCare, etc etc. All these superb candidates were ignored because the MSM WANTED Trump to win. Trump was seen as the only candidate whom HRC could defeat.

    It was forseeable, and some of us foresaw in these blogs, that the MSM would turn on DT the moment he sewed up the nomination. As they did.

    How delicious that she was the only candidate HE could defeat!

    The Swift Boat comment gets to the problem of contemporary journalism:  facts. These journos had no evidence with which to question the Swift Boaters. You can’t say a large group of veterans is lying about their service without any evidence. Journalists should only make claims they can back up with verifiable facts. If that decreases the sexiness of your report then so be it. We need verifiable facts, not spin.

    • #6
  7. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Susan Quinn:

    Do you think there is way back, or better said, a way forward?

    {{Sigh}} . . . . There may be.   But I don’t think we’ll see it any time soon because the left is entrenched in the institutions that mold young minds and sends them off into society to further spread the resultant derangement.

    • #7
  8. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Susan Quinn:

    I was either editor or managing editor of the L.A. Times during the Swift Boat incident. Newspapers did not know — we did not quite know how to do it. I remember struggling with the reporter, Jim Rainey, who covers the media now, trying to get him to write the paragraph that laid out why the Swift Boat allegation was false…We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, ‘This is just false.’

    Well, part of the problem was that the Swift Boat allegation wasn’t false.  First, because it couldn’t be “false,” because the opinion of Kerry’s fellow Swift Boat officers that he was unqualified to be President couldn’t be false because it was a matter of opinion, which could not be false by definition.  Second, because the opinion of Kerry’s fellow Swift Boat officers was based on factual information that was proven to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And third, because the anti-Swift Boat narrative in the media was so hysterical and so self-evidently ridiculous that nobody was going to take it seriously no matter what.  So I suppose that would have been frustrating for the LA Times.

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    The idea of this originated with Woodward and Bernstein is a bit of an overstatement. I think it goes back a little further than that and can really be pegged to the rise of broadcasting.

    Before radio most journalists toiled in relative anonymity. But broadcasting created the celebrity journalist. When the reporter becomes as famous, or even more famous, than the person they’re covering the dynamic changes.

    • #9
  10. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    EJHill (View Comment):
    The idea of this originated with Woodward and Bernstein is a bit of an overstatement. I think it goes back a little further than that and can really be pegged to the rise of broadcasting.

    Before radio most journalists toiled in relative anonymity. But broadcasting created the celebrity journalist. When the reporter becomes as famous, or even more famous, than the person they’re covering the dynamic changes.

    Hence we come full circle back to Duranty?

    • #10
  11. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Susan,

    I have a copy of Imprimis and I just read the article. If this isn’t a watershed statement about the entire journalistic profession it really should be. The entire profession needs to take a good look at itself in the mirror. They need reform from the top of the Times building down to your local news affiliate. They should be so lucky as to have a Dutch Uncle like Michael Goodwin lay them out in such classic fashion. The should take every word to heart and try to do something about it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    I read every copy of Imprimis, for good reasons.  You’re absolutely correct, Jim.

    • #11
  12. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    I agree with EJHill about broadcasting making a huge shift in journalism.  It eventually turned journalism into info-tainment.

    Another huge shift came about because of the G.I. Bill.  Universities all over America went into a booming growth mode as soldiers went to use their government assistance to achieve college degrees.  This growth prompted universities to expand their offerings of degrees.  Journalism first appeared as a specialization within a degree in communications.  The first journalism degrees were awarded in the mid-1950s.  By the end of the 1980s all entry-level jobs in journalism required a degree in journalism.

    Of course, running all the journalists through college means giving all of them a solid exposure to Leftist indoctrination in the Colleges of Communications of American universities.

    • #12
  13. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    The way forward ?

    The complete collapse of the legacy media.

    When all journalism is clearly identified as either conservative or Leftist, the result will be a common acknowledgement by even low-information voters that they cannot trust any single source and need multiple sources of information.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Trinity WatersHence we come full circle back to Duranty?

    I’m not sure of that. Walter Duranty could have walked down any street in America and be completely anonymous. Now print journalists have their mugs all over television.

    It’s also why the true investigative journalists in TV are producers. They do the leg work and the talent comes in for the interviews.

    • #14
  15. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Susan Quinn:One of his first comments suggested at least one origin for sensational and glamorous journalism: Watergate. He says,

    Ever since, young people became journalists because they wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, find a Deep Throat, and bring down a president. Of course most of them only wanted to bring down a Republican president. That’s because liberalism is baked into the journalism cake.

    He also points to a line often used during his tenure at Columbia University School of Journalism: “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

    Is there anyone reading this thread who was listening to Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s and didn’t hear the great man say these very things over and over on his radio program?

    Rush also correctly spelled out the motivations of the post-Watergate journalists: to wit, “to change the world; to make a difference” – clearly a progressive bias undergirded their vocational worldview.

    It’s nice of Mr. Goodwin to have finally figured out what we ditto-heads understood as catechism 25 years ago. But what took him so long?

    • #15
  16. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    There’s one more thing Goodwin mentions in his Imprimus article, words that have special meaning to the NeverTrumpers who still slink and hiss among us.

    Goodwin quotes John Podhoretz’s mom, Midge Decter, who said, “you have to join the side you’re on.”

    I subscribe to both Commentary and The Weekly Standard. But I’d sure feel better if I thought those two magazines were firmly on my side.

    Maybe that’s why I’m also a charter subscriber to American Affairs.

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Trinity Waters (View Comment):
    The way forward, there is no backward for these troglodytes, is their replacement by trusted sources. Can we spell Duranty? Can we spell Hinderaker?

    That works for me, TW! I’d like to see them get more mainstream exposure.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Susan,

    I have a copy of Imprimis and I just read the article. If this isn’t a watershed statement about the entire journalistic profession it really should be. The entire profession needs to take a good look at itself in the mirror. They need reform from the top of the Times building down to your local news affiliate. They should be so lucky as to have a Dutch Uncle like Michael Goodwin lay them out in such classic fashion. The should take every word to heart and try to do something about it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    I’d love to see that happen, Jim. I was so aghast at the statement that Baquet made; it was so inane, so clueless and self-serving.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    What was untrue about the Swift Boaters? A bunch of vets who were their at the time told the truth about a pol who was clearly exaggerating his heroism. What is wrng with that?

    I suspect that they thought all those bets were lying. I mean, they were contradicting the honorable John Kerry, after all! The way Baquet stumbled around addressing that story was so sad. They wanted the story to be false and couldn’t figure out how to make it so.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    EJHill (View Comment):
    The idea of this originated with Woodward and Bernstein is a bit of an overstatement. I think it goes back a little further than that and can really be pegged to the rise of broadcasting.

    Before radio most journalists toiled in relative anonymity. But broadcasting created the celebrity journalist. When the reporter becomes as famous, or even more famous, than the person they’re covering the dynamic changes.

    Excellent point, EJ, and you should know. Thanks for pointing this out; it makes perfect sense.

    • #20
  21. Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Mollie Hemingway
    @MollieHemingway

    Susan Quinn: We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, ‘This is just false.’

    This is such a telling admission by Baquet. If what the Swift Boat Veterans had said was false, it would have been easy to say so. That they wanted to say it was false and struggled with how to do so is precisely … how you get Trump.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    Of course, running all the journalists through college means giving all of them a solid exposure to Leftist indoctrination in the Colleges of Communications of American universities.

    OMG–hadn’t thought of that, MJ! The picture keeps being filled in–to our dismay!

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Freesmith (View Comment):
    It’s nice of Mr. Goodwin to have finally figured out what we ditto-heads understood as catechism 25 years ago. But what took him so long?

    In all fairness, he didn’t say he just realized this point; he may have stated it as a point to be made for those who hadn’t thought of it.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mollie Hemingway (View Comment):
    This is such a telling admission by Baquet. If what the Swift Boat Veterans had said was false, it would have been easy to say so. That they wanted to say it was false and struggled with how to do so is precisely … how you get Trump.

    His comment blew me away, Mollie. I wonder if he realized afterward what he had actually said? Probably not. Sigh.

    • #24
  25. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Freesmith (View Comment):
    …the NeverTrumpers who still slink and hiss among us….

    Forgive me, but that metaphor strikes me as… uncivil.

     

    Susan Quinn: Do you think there is way back, or better said, a way forward?

    Historically, the media bias thing is not new at all.  When our country was born, the Founders started founding newspapers that were self serving and read by members of their own factions.  Therefore I’d say the idea that the media is supposed to be “objective” is a pretty modern invention.

    So this means “the way back” would not mean making the press more credible but making people more skeptical, right?   The “way forward” would involve teaching readers how to engage in critical analysis while encouraging engagement with multiple sources including those with which they are uncomfortable.

    The good news is that markets have now provided multiple outlets so multiple viewpoints can be accessed.

    Another problem, however, is that the consumers of news are just as biased as journalists and often most interested in buying only what they want to hear.

     

    • #25
  26. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Mollie Hemingway (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, ‘This is just false.’

    This is such a telling admission by Baquet. If what the Swift Boat Veterans had said was false, it would have been easy to say so. That they wanted to say it was false and struggled with how to do so is precisely … how you get Trump.

    In the Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill controversy, the people just after the hearings believed Thomas.  The MSM worked over the next year to convince people that Thomas was lying.  In the same way, they have worked since 2004 to convince people that the Swift Boat Vets were lying.

    When the MSM is not pushing an agenda, they’re frequently lazy.  Some of you know that I’ve written a history of GPS.  It’s astonishing the nonsense I read about it.  A common theme is that GPS started out as a military only system and Reagan opened it up after the Korean airliner was shot down.  The fact that the 1974 GPS development plan mentions a civilian signal in the clear, and that civilian receivers were being sold in 1982, is ignored.  People do no original research; instead, they copy incorrect stories.  Annie Jacobsen’s book on DARPA was a Pulitzer finalist in history.  She claimed DARPA invented GPS when they played no role in the 1973 origins of it; their role began a decade later.

    • #26
  27. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    Annie Jacobsen’s book on DARPA was a Pulitzer finalist in history. She claimed DARPA invented GPS when they played no role in the 1973 origins of it; their role began a decade later.

    The lack of fact checking for a Pulitzer finalist disturbs me much more than skewed columns in newspapers.

    • #27
  28. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Susan Quinn: Do you think there is way back, or better said, a way forward?

    Presupposes there was some ethical past in journalism. The press has always been hyperpartisan. The press is owned by individuals who have an agenda to peddle. So they peddle on a daily basis. Think of it as paid political advertising without the warning labels. And as for the economics of it – for Bezos, the WP is pocket change. For Carlos Slim, the NYT is pocket change. Advancing the agenda is everything.

    • #28
  29. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Do you think there is way back, or better said, a way forward?

    Presupposes there was some ethical past in journalism. The press has always been hyperpartisan. The press is owned by individuals who have an agenda to peddle. So they peddle on a daily basis. Think of it as paid political advertising without the warning labels. And as for the economics of it – for Bezos, the WP is pocket change. For Carlos Slim, the NYT is pocket change. Advancing the agenda is everything.

    I agree entirely.  The press is most dangerous when people aren’t capable of discerning bias and extracting usable information from articles… when they actually think there’s not an agenda.

    Personally, I tend to find individual writers more or less credible.  I don’t mind bias per se, but I lose faith when I see lots of intellectual inconsistencies or blatant twisting of the obvious.  If I “trust” a journalist, I’ll look for his/her byline and give more weight to his/her information.

    • #29
  30. blood thirsty neocon Inactive
    blood thirsty neocon
    @bloodthirstyneocon

    I’m still in favor of implementing a policy that punishes news outlets for publishing reports that are later proven false (a high standard). For each false report, kick their WH correspondent out of the daily press briefing for 2 days. If there’s a widespread press protest over this, just end the press briefing. There’s nothing in the constitution that mentions the press briefings, much less that all journalists are entitled to participate, regardless of their adherence to journalistic standards.

    • #30

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