American Elephants


Everything You Have Thought About Today’s American Journalism is True by The Elephant's Child

The new issue of Imprimus  features a piece from long time journalist Michael Goodwin, chief political columnist for The New York Post, based on a speech that Goodwin gave at a Hillsdale event. It is a raw and intensive look at contemporary journalism by a long time practitioner who knows his way around the media. It’s just as bad as you thought.

I’ve been a journalist for a long time. Long enough to know that it wasn’t always like this. There was a time not so long ago when journalists were trusted and admired. We were generally seen as trying to report the news in a fair and straightforward manner. Today, all that has changed. For that, we can blame the 2016 election or, more accurately, how some news organizations chose to cover it. 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. …

During the years I spent teaching at the Columbia University School of Journalism, I often found myself telling my students that the job of the reporter was “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I’m not even sure where I first heard that line, but it still captures the way most journalists think about what they do. Translate the first part of that compassionate-sounding idea into the daily decisions about what makes news, and it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that every person afflicted by something is entitled to help. Or, as liberals like to say, “Government is what we do together.” From there, it’s a short drive to the conclusion that every problem has a government solution.

Goodwin goes on to explain how today’s journalism has gone astray,  how it came about, and how bad it really is (Just what you thought, and even more).

I knew all of this about the media mindset going into the 2016 presidential campaign. But I was still shocked at what happened. This was not naïve liberalism run amok. This was a whole new approach to politics. No one in modern times had seen anything like it. As with grief, there were several stages. In the beginning, Donald Trump’s candidacy was treated as an outlandish publicity stunt, as though he wasn’t a serious candidate and should be treated as a circus act. But television executives quickly made a surprising discovery: the more they put Trump on the air, the higher their ratings climbed. Ratings are money. So news shows started devoting hours and hours simply to pointing the cameras at Trump and letting them run.

A study, Goodwin says, estimated that Trump had received so much free airtime that if he had to buy it the price would be around $2 billion. Executives realized that they had helped Trump’s rise, which made them furious, and soon they were gunning for him.

It’s a fascinating look at a failed media that can no longer perform its assigned task in the American political landscape. Do take the time to read it if you can. It has changed how we search for information. I have long believed that in the new electronic age, students need to be taught how to look for information, how to judge the quality of the information, and enough history to understand why it is important to search carefully, to be informed, and why their vote is important and needs to be well informed. We’ve been watching the education establishment disintegrate before our eyes, and the evidence from college students that they need safe spaces where they can refuse to listen to ideas that might disagree with their own.

With journalism no longer a viable source for accurate news, we have turned to blogs, judged their information and veracity, and the trustworthiness of the provider. Others have turned to social media, and Twitter has assumed an outsized role as a potential clue to future trends, currency, reach, and yet it may not have that significance at all. Combine that with our ordinary human shortcomings — impatience, laziness, reluctance to read anything long— and I suspect we are becoming less and less informed. But then I was an English major and a glutton for reading. Do any of us currently have a hunger to know and understand in an age when sheer entertainment is so pleasurable and so readily available?

Do read the Imprimus article. It will give you a deep understanding of where the media is and why, and give you armor and a nudge towards knowing more and to hell with the “journalism” profession.

(To subscribe to Imprimus, just go to the Hillsdale College website and sign up. It’s free and always informative.)

 

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