As a former newspaper journalist, who covered government, I am perplexed and baffled by the last few weeks as we have watched the American media and the American president debate the place of the press in our joint endeavor of our American experience.
For those who take the time to study history, the relationship between our press and the elected leaders have always been that of a give and take, back and forth, love and hate. Presidents from the earliest days of our nation have expressed their concerns about media coverage they have felt to be detrimental to the relationship and the experiment.
That is in essence what it was, up until current day, a relationship between the doers and those who were tasked with watching the doers to make sure they were on the straight and narrow path.
Now, that relationship is not as necessary, the media gatekeepers have been usurped by the advent of the internet and social media, allowing leaders to carry their unedited message straight to the people. At a time when the normal news delivery platforms are struggling, this adds even more tension for media to fight to stay relevant.
I think the constitutional charge for the press by the founders is to seek out and expose excesses which break the laws of our great nation, our states, our communities.
That was why our founders gave us freedom of the press, so that leaders may be held accountable to the people. I think that is the badge of honor that anyone who has carried a press card in their pocket wears.
Unfortunately, in this world of 24-hour news brought on by cable and now the internet, sometimes, it looks like the need to feed the beast in that open drain, outweighs good journalism. Also, there are many now credited with being journalists, who are not.
Probably, my standards are different than some of my former colleagues but I have never believed in use of anonymous sources. If they won’t go on the record and stand behind what they are saying under the light of day, then I question their ultimate motives. Also, every effort must be made to have both sides revealed in the story before it is taken to the people, so that the news recipient can decide the truth for themselves. There is nothing I hated more than writing the words: “After repeated attempts, …. was unavailable for comment” or something similar. Sometimes though that is what you had to go with when someone simply did not want to provide a “No comment.”
Today, often “expert” opinions are provided as facts for a story. Cable news brings on a panel of paid or unpaid talking heads, generally with a majority on one side of the issue and one on the other to provide an entertaining forum on whatever story premise they are putting forward. It doesn’t matter whether the story has any legs to stand on, just whether it will make a good debate for a television segment. I may be mistaken, but that is why I think there is such a bad taste in the mouths of the American people in relation to their respect of what journalists do. I think news for entertainment brought on by the need to fill endless broadcast hours started putting the nails in the news media coffin years ago.
Do I consider journalists the enemy of the American people? No, but sometimes I consider us our own worst enemies. I have lived through the media coverage of more presidents than I care to count, I have never seen the level of media animosity and focus on negative stories tied to a president expressed in the first 30 days of a presidency. I have seen headlines and reports that have no relevance to anything President Donald Trump has said or done while in office but yet the president has been connected in some way. That is simply stretching it a bit folks. I don’t blame him for his response, in his shoes, I might have considered doing something similar. I am reminded of the story of the boy that cried “wolf,” when something comes up and we really need the American people to listen, will they? At this point, I doubt it. They are tuning out by the millions.
In answer to my opening question, is 24-hour news good for the American experiment. In my humble opinion, no, it is not. Providing the news that keeps our democracy strong takes time and often feeding the media beast results in sloppy reporting to meet a deadline. Will our experiment continue? Yes. Will the role of the press continue to lessen? I hope not, but the current course doesn’t look good.