When I was a boy, and my father a television journalist, television news competed with newspapers more than the two or three other stations covering the days’ events. It was a time when for television news, still considered the modern-day fluff child of journalism, the competition lied between mediums.
This forced the television media to come at stories with the same integrity, fact-based reporting, and objectivity curated by print journalists. It was a time when the story was the star of the show, not the person reporting it, and certainly not their opinions of it. It was cold, cut, and dry just the way Joe Friday on Dragnet used to like it. “Just the facts sir. Just the facts.”
Somewhere along the way that all changed, and it has become the topic of conversation lately among podcasters and print journalists, germinated in part by COVID-pun intended. That’s because the pandemic shed a bright light on the level of sensationalism infesting todays’ media.
Chris Wallace, a rather straight from the hip reporter, who finally bailed on Fox News to join the new CNN+, (because one CNN just wasn’t enough), blames his father Mike Wallace and the creation of 60 Minutes for the change. I’m not sure that’s fair, as the producers of 60 Minutes seemed to make it a point to get the facts of a story straight. Even going so far as to suspend Laura Logan when she didn’t.
No, I blame the veering off from the facts and the abandonment of the trustworthiness once bestowed upon journalists, on Fox News and the dawn of the internet. When Fox first arrived on the scene, for a nano second, they strived to be “Fair and Balanced”. That was before Roger Ailes decided to throw “fair and balanced” out the window to better serve up the red meat craved and devoured by a right leaning audience. This is when “what” and “how” a story got covered began to be determined not by the facts on the ground, but by the audience watching, and when reporting became grossly opinionated.
Add to that the information overload spawned by the internet with twenty-four-hour news coverage, and sensationalism became the only way to capture people’s attention. “Extra, Extra Read All About It!” had given way to “This Just In!” when radio and television first arrived. Then it became “Breaking News!” when coverage was suddenly an hour-by-hour event. Now sadly, as one media network after another vies for attention, “Breaking News” can be anything from a European city being bombed, to the Presidents’ dog taking a shit on the East lawn of the White House.
When news coverage abandons facts and the media turns its’ back on its’ fundamental purpose-to provide a public service-becoming nothing more than opinionated entertainment, we all suffer. The internet has made it far too easy for those with nefarious objectives to infiltrate the information highway with bogus, conspiratorial messaging creating more than ever a need for trustworthy journalism yet making it harder than ever to achieve by way of belief. Unfortunately, until we the audience breaks free from our social media algorithms and journalists return to being public service shepherds of facts and truth-no matter how painful-things will only get worse.
Sadly, we have already ushered in an era where, for many of us, truth no longer matters. If we’re not careful it could easily become a world governed and shaped by personal, misguided, and overly emotional convictions and not the facts shaping its’ reality. A world void of truth and facts is a world governed by fiction and lies-there are after all only two sets of alternatives. The latter becomes a world where reality and virtuality are so blurred it morphs into life imitating art in the form of the Matrix, and we are merely confused and disoriented pawns in a system where truth versus lies, fact versus fiction, and right from wrong are horrifyingly indistinguishable. When that happens, it might be best for all of us to unplug, reboot, and start over again.
Thanks for stopping by.
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