It is said that the difference between a good approach and a poor one is measured by success. When applying this litmus to the realm of journalism with regards to its responsibility to be a watchdog for the public at large and inform it of the things its elected and appointed representatives in government are and are not doing, success is definitely the measure.
In the wake of the last presidential election, the journalism community was clearly shaken. The narrative being driven by conservatives, in particular the alt-right, was that anything that did not align with their predisposed ideas was being filtered through an element of fake news. They even capitalized upon phrase as though it was something sinister and previously unseen that they had unearthed.
Fake news is not and was not new. Agenda-driven journalism is as old as people — in theory at least — but one only has to recall reading a sensational headline about “Bat Boy” while waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store for a reminder that fake stories are not anything new.
And so as not to disparage the concerns about fake news altogether, because it is problematic, it is important to note that there was a lot of it flying around in the last election.
But its existence had not been capitalized upon in such a sweepingly effective manner than it had by the master of hyperbolic rhetoric, Donald Trump. He took it to a new level, for sure.
And what ensued was a momentary crisis of identity in journalism. Taking seriously the question of integrity, many journalists and outlets were compelled to take a step back and evaluate themselves.
I’d assert here that this was in part what those espousing the fake-news narrative had hoped for. They perhaps hoped, in vain mind you, that the step back would have lasted. Permanently. They had put media in its place and told it to stay there where it belonged.
Fortunately, upon some serious introspection, the result was the opposite. Journalists took their lumps for the mistakes, realigned their ethical standards, and then took the gloves off and went back to work with vengeance on two things.
First, fake news and its damaging outcomes on the collective body of not only journalism but the people it preys on. There is no excuse for it. And there is also no excuse for such a gullible populace, but that is a topic for another day.
Second, and more importantly, the people in power who have perpetrated upon the American people an aberration of justice that has created a constitutional crisis the likes of which the founders warned us of.
Pioneer journalist and news broadcaster Ed Morrow once lamented that “When the politicians complain that TV turns their proceedings into a circus, it should be made plain that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.”
Morrow was no stranger to critique of his work. When he stood up to McCarthyism, making it a regular focal point of his broadcasts, he was railed for — among other things — using the news platform to carry out an agenda. But if that agenda was to inform the American people, doggedly and repeatedly, that members of the American government were engaging in actions that contradicted the Constitution and threatened the liberty of not only individuals but our nation as a whole, perhaps he was in fact doing his job well.
Today, the circus in this analogy is what is currently playing out in front of us by this administration and its vain hope that it could shut down those who investigate it and report on it. Nothing is a greater threat to our democracy than the stifling or removal of the First Amendment.
By and large, the journalism community has taken its lumps, owned its shit, and is back in the fight where it belongs. Bastards beware.
See you out there.
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