American mainstream media journalists are finding out that the public’s trust in them is at all-time low, and they are wondering why.
Even the Nieman Lab, a centre for journalism studies at Harvard University, took notice. What took them so long?
To get matters into context of time: the widow of Lucius W. Nieman, founder of The Milwaukee Journal, Agnes Wahl Nieman, bequeathed $1.4 million in 1938 so the university can start it. To appreciate how much it was then: in purchasing power it would be the same as about $25,807,460.99 in 2020, a difference of $24,407,460.99 over 82 years. Mrs. Nieman’s stated goal was simple and straightforward: “To promote and elevate the standards of journalism in the United States and educate persons deemed specially qualified for journalism.”
Considering that The Washington Post (and, later on, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times) broke all rules of honest journalism covering the so-called Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, no wonder that the public began looking askance. Remember that President Richard M. Nixon, the one who eventually resigned because of the scandal, did not win his office by a slight margin: landslide would be the proper description.
This is not to say that he and his administration were perfectly innocent. Absolutely not. But the way those mighty newspapers (and other media that followed them) went after Nixon at the time left much to be desired.
It didn’t help much, either, when the public found, in self-congratulatory publications such as All The President’s Men and The Final Days, that Ben Bradlee, Washington Post’s executive editor at the time, was a close friend of the Kennedy family. Not only that: he was on record as hating Nixon beyond all acceptable levels. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote the bulk of the Watergate stories (and the books, of which the first one would become a typical Hollywood movie with Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein starring).
It doesn’t help modern journalism’s cause that it seems to suffer from a collective memory loss (amnesia in a foreign language).
Examples galore. How about the fact the Washington Post relied upon a single source and viewed him as most trusted in its Watergate coverage? Not only that, that source would remain mysteriously secret until he lay on his deathbed: turns out the so-called Deep Throat (of pornographic film fame) was none other than a high-ranking FBI official with a beef against the Nixon administration.
Does history repeat itself or does history repeat itself?
Or: how about President Gerald Ford, who stepped into the Oval Office as Nixon’s vice-president, trying to get money from Congress to get Americans and some South Vietnamese out of South Vietnam before it would be overrun by the North Vietnamese communists? One Senator destroyed the plan, as well as killing the government resettlement plans for these people. His name: Joseph Robinette (call me Joe) Biden Jr.
Or how about these stories, just some dozen years old, about the World Health Organization (WHO) changing its standards to define spread of diseases (outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics) in a way that made this classification impossible? Official probe by the European Union at the time found that greedy medical experts pushed the plan through, in return for lucrative offers from pharmaceutical companies that stood to gain the most from the swindle.
Still, today’s mainstream media sing the official pandemic songs, without even bothering to at least double-check the numbers thrown at them by the authorities.
The list is almost endless, and it is rather surprising to see that it took at least some in the media so long to figure out that nobody believes them.
How about: they cried wolf too often?
Not only that: judging by Nieman Lab’s views, today’s practitioners of the trade don’t seem to get any of it. Here I must get a tad personal: I’ve been in it professionally since age 15, starting with my high school years, through the university-based school of economics, and this year makes it 62 years since the time I started.
How splendidly ignorant
Nieman Lab tries to put on a real lab coat and look scientifically. The trade, the Harvard-based scholars say, can be divided into two basic groups: traditionalists, and those who are (their words, not mine) engagement-oriented.
The former try to give their audiences all available facts and let their esteemed public chew on them and, eventually, decide what to think of them. The latter present their audiences with their views and opinions regarding the facts, and whoever does not accept these views and opinions does not belong in civil society.
Now, on surface, the Nieman Lab crowd is not that harsh, but the result remains the same: trust our views and opinions of facts, and you’ll end up being better informed as a citizen.
And, during their research work, Nieman Lab has shown the same short memory span mentioned above: according to them, it began in the 1990s, together with what they call public and citizen journalism.
Here’s a revelation: all modern dictatorships, from bolshevism to fascism to nazism (in alphabetic order), have always strictly demanded engaged journalism; in fact, that’s precisely what they called it.
To be fair to them, the Nieman lab rats used a study published in the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Megan L. Zahay, Kelly Jensen, Yiping Xia, and Sue Robinson, all of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote it.
Except: Nieman Lab accepts the study’s findings almost unconditionally.
Not only that: the opinion expressed by the so-called traditionalists raised the researchers’ eyebrows to the limit. What do you mean? Journalism’s only hope would be if the trade returned to basics? If it stopped treating its readers, listeners and viewers as village idiots and started providing them with real news again? Kidding or what?
So, here’s the newsflash: journalism is NOT nuclear science. It does not require much more from its practitioners than honesty and curiosity.
You will find neither of these qualities in journalism schools’ curricula. Perhaps because neither of them can be taught.
Until and unless journalists realize these simple facts, the trade is doomed.
Don’t worry, though: people will remain informed. For that, as today’s situation proves beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise, they do not need journalists. People will remain informed despite all the efforts to censor them. The censors claim this or that is not based on official view or official science.
Here’s the officially popular answer: so what?