Saturday, February 4, 2017

Will the Real Journalists Please Stand Up?

There is a profound struggle unfolding before our very eyes for truth, integrity, wisdom, authenticity, and a higher good versus toxic polarizing propaganda that propels the suicidal path we have been on into overdrive. May we see what is happening and act. ~ Molly
A historian notes that objectivity, carried to extremes, stands in the way of a crucial American tradition in journalism: calling out lies and liars.
Waud, A.R. "An Armed Neutrality." Engraved by G.H. Hayes. p. 291 in Beyond the Mississippi by Albert Richardson. Hartford, Connecticut: American Publishing Co., 1869.

In these revealing first 10 days of the Trump presidency, as we were tasting the bitter cup of what this train wreck of an election was going to mean for democracy in the United States, I had one brief moment of respite. It was when The New York Times, in a headline on the day after the inauguration, virtually shouted, “With False Claims Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift.” There it was, right out there in the supposedly opinion-free purity of the front page. False! My doorstop of a Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary has several definitions of the word, including “untruthful, lying, dishonest.”
A lesson learned! Away with Iraq-era "factually inaccurate" whitewashing. The news of the day was that the president was a liar. 

Welcome back, genuine journalism and journalists. You are repeating an honorable history. The very first American newspaper was published in Boston in 1690 by a printer and bookseller named Benjamin Harris, a little trifle of three 6-by-10 inch pages that he titled Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestick. Among his stated reasons for the enlightenment of his Boston neighbors was to cure “that spirit of lying, which prevails amongst us.” That did it! The governor and council of Massachusetts, stung by such “reflections” as well as the fact that Harris hadn’t applied for an official license, shut him down immediately. Luckily, Trump doesn’t have that kind of power, at least not yet.

Predictably in the aftermath of the Times’ story there was a great deal of public hand-wringing on how the “media” should handle the unprecedented situation of a president who had proven over and over during the campaign that “truth” was whatever he was proclaiming at the moment, regardless of facts. And he now had a press secretary and a “special counselor,” i.e., Minister of Propaganda Kellyanne Conway, to conveniently present “alternative facts” supported by no evidence whatsoever. To call them outright “lies,” however, struck some publishers and network executives as violating the impartiality with which news was to be presented.

But here’s what one newspaper owner-editor in the earliest days of our republic had to say on that subject:

“Professions of impartiality I shall make none. They are always useless and are besides perfect nonsense when used by a newsmonger; for, he that does not relate news as he finds it is something worse than partial… and he that does not exercise his own judgment, either in admitting or rejecting what is sent him, is a poor passive tool, and not an editor.”
 That was a Federalist partisan, William Cobbett, speaking in the midst of bitter political warfare during which no one, not even the most exalted, was safe from calumny. The opponents of the Federalists were “Republicans” — no relationship to today’s party of that name — and here is what Benjamin Bache, one of their editors, wrote at the time of Washington’s retirement: “If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington… If ever a nation was deceived by a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington.” And that attack didn’t run from the shelter of an “editorial” page. No such thing existed until later.

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