Freedom of the press is an essential mainstay of our republic, specifically cited in the First Amendment prohibiting Congress from making any law that would abridge it. The “press” originally referred to the earliest newspapers, magazines or even pamphleteers. Nowadays, it would fall under the general category of “media,” including 24-7 cable-TV and Internet streaming.
This confounds or at least dilutes the definition of a “journalist.”Reporters at the New York Times certainly regard themselves as journalists, a term that used to carry a measure of prestige. Broadcast news people are a kind of journalist. Editors of newspaper opinion pages are considered to be journalists as are their local and syndicated columnists. Does the term apply to TV talking heads or radio talk personalities? How about freelance podcasters?
There’s nothing wrong with journalists expressing their opinions, biased or not, on an editorial page or in a broadcast commentary. But there’s a vital distinction between reporters and opinion columnists. Under the theoretical canons of the profession, reporters are obliged to be objective and fair, dealing in facts not their personal opinions. Undoubtedly some are, I’ve even known some, but far too many aren’t. When they disguise an editorial as an unvarnished story on the news pages, they become dishonest, unethical, and untrustworthy journalists.
That’s not just my view, most of the public agrees. A recent Gallup poll found that only 7% of Americans have “a great deal” of trust and confidence in mass media television, radio, and newspaper reporters to convey the news fully, accurately, and fairly. 27% have “a fair amount,” 28% say they “don’t have very much,” and 38% have “no trust and confidence.”
The breakdown among partisan groups is especially revealing. 60% of Democrats have a great deal or fair amount of trust in journalists while 86% of Republicans have not very much or none. 71% of liberal Democrats have a great deal or fair amount of trust. Only 9% of conservative Republicans say that. The conclusion is obvious. Democrats, especially liberals, trust partisan, liberal journalists who echo their own bias.
The journalistic profession has long been dominated by those on the political left who favor Democrats and spin the news accordingly. The New York Times could just as well be the public relations agency of the Democratic Party, along with the Washington Post, L.A. Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NPR, MSNBC, and, locally, the Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera.
Even reporters and editors who imagine themselves to be fair, see the world through their subjective lens. Perfect objectivity may be a goal but it is unobtainable. In practice, objectivity is subjective. We are all the product of our beliefs, perceptions, experiences, and biases that ultimately filter through. And a newsroom with like-minded liberal colleagues reinforces that mentality. Such journalists lack the self-awareness to recognize their bias. You might say the same thing of a conservative newsroom but there are very few of those in the elite, major media.
Other journalists are purposefully biased. Carole Simpson was a Black weekend anchor on ABC News’s World News Tonight with an obvious liberal bias. She spilled the beans one day at a Washington Forum covered by C-SPAN when she proudly exclaimed she was “someone who got into journalism in the 1960s because we wanted to change America.” In later years, she went on to teach journalism at Emerson College in Boston. Likely as a role model for the next generation of liberal journalists.
An oft-repeated maxim of liberal journalists and college journalism instructors goes something like this: “The job of journalists is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I doubt many of them know the source of that quote, much less its original intent. It was coined in 1902 by Finley Peter Dunn, a political satirist who actually believed that journalists should do no such thing. He put those words in the mouth of a fictional, curmudgeonly Irishman he created, “Mr. Dooley,” whose sarcastic rant (translated from the original Irish brogue) proclaimed: “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterwards.”
(An obvious irony oblivious to liberals is that the income taxes imposed inordinately on the comfortable by our welfare state are the source of revenues for myriad government programs that comfort the afflicted. Successful people who become financially comfortable through talent, skill, and hard work are worthy of praise not “affliction” for that.)
Through Mr. Dooley, Dunne was, in fact, damning the journalists of his day for their bias and presumptuous sanctimony in picking winners and losers, advancing their political agenda and editorializing in the guise of reporting. Like today’s liberal journalists who redefine millions of aliens that cross our border illegally merely as “migrants” and fail to fact-check Biden when he absurdly claims our border is secure.
The term “noble journalist” is an honorific exclusively reserved for colleagues on the left. If I had to pick a noble journalist it’d be Ernie Pyle, a patriotic battlefield war correspondent who sent home moving accounts of “dogface” infantry soldiers during World War II. Pyle was killed in action by enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa. By contrast, “noble journalists,” so anointed by their peers, were those who publicly opposed the Vietnam Nam War and advocated for a U.S. withdrawal, like CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.
Ethical journalism, however you define it, is an indispensable element of a free society. But journalists aren’t philosopher kings with superior knowledge and credentials to judge morality, justice and public policy. And they’re seldom experts about the topics they cover. They’re just people with a public platform and an opinion, mostly a liberal one, in an industry competing with other media businesses for circulation numbers, Nielsen ratings, Internet hits, and advertising revenues. They’re also careerists seeking acclaim and advancement by chalking up scoops, exclusive interviews, and awards like Pulitzer Prizes.
In the late 19th century, “yellow journalism” was rampant, resorting to sensationalism, exaggeration, one-sided advocacy, and disregard for the facts to gather attention and readers. The inherent liberal bias of most journalists was bad enough in the 1960s, and it’s only gotten worse, accelerating during the Reagan era, and rising to stratospheric levels in their treatment of Donald Trump. When he dubbed their biased reporting as “fake news” that was the last straw and the fraternity of liberal journalists went completely bonkers.
Journalists who regard Trump as the personification of evil threw even their pretense of fairness out the window. They rationalized that his counterattack on the Democrats’ progressive order and agenda — that mirrors their own — made it their duty to take him down. Reasoning that the ends justify the means; lying, exaggerating, sensationalizing, and distorting the facts about Trump and others on their hit list became standard operating procedure. To be sure, there were enough valid criticisms of Trump to make resorting to these unethical tactics unnecessary. These same journalists who claim their profession is “noble,” are simply practicing today’s form of ignoble yellow journalism, which may explain their loss of public trust.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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