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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The House of the Fourth Estate is on Fire

“The lowest form of popular culture - lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and contempt for the truth or the reality of most people's lives - has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.” — Carl Bernstein

Lately journalism, especially in the main stream media, has taken several hits on their credibility. As example there was Brian Ross of ABC jumping the gun in reporting on the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings last year. Ross, supposedly one of ABC’s top investigative reporters jumped the gun on identifying the shooter. When he heard the name John Holmes he Googled the name “Holmes” and “Aurora” and came with a James Holmes who is a 57-year old member of the local Colorado Tea Party Patriots. Seeing that Holmes was a “right-winger” was enough for Ross to go on air and place the blame for the theater massacre on him. Of course Ross was dead wrong and his premature, biased report did immeasurable damage to Mr. Holmes, a law abiding citizen who had done nothing wrong.

As Politico reported right after Ross’ blunder:

“The report — which no other media touched and ABC News and Ross later would apologize for — drew immediate criticism from right-wing bloggers and ultimately from journalism experts on both sides of the aisle who felt that Ross irresponsibly sought to politicize the tragedy and engender controversy.”

Rem Rieder, the editor and senior vice president of the American Journalism Review, called it an “egregious blunder” that delivered “yet another blow to the reeling credibility of the news media.”

“Brian Ross lost big time and so did ABC News,” Jay Rosen, an associate professor at New York University’s school of journalism, told POLITICO. “Ross reacted and went on instinct… So strong was this instinct that it overrode common newsroom sense and any innate sense of caution that might be left in Brian Ross.”

On Fox News, Charles Krauthammer called the false report of a connection to the tea party “not only scandalous but stupid.”

Eventually ABC issued an apology to Mr. Holmes and Ross lost any credibility he had. Ross wanted to be first and did not care if he was right. He went with his gut not his brain.

Fast forward to the Boston Marathon bombing and CCN’s John King, when he inaccurately reported two days after the bombing that a suspect had been taken into custody when no such thing had happened. Once again King and CNN wanted to be first. Though not as egregious and harmful as Ross’ blunder, King lost some of his earned credibility and joined the ranks of the disgraced CBS anchor Dan Rather.

During the same week Chuck Todd may have saved MSNBC from an enormous blunder when he stopped one of the network's analysts from speculating on "the electronic trails" of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

Politico reported:

“Todd's decision to interrupt an analyst on-air shows just how cautious some media organizations have become in a week that has been defined by conflicting reports and misinformation. But the crisis Todd averted bore greater similarity to the one ABC's Brian Ross was responsible for last July, when, based off a single website, he reported that the Aurora shooting suspect may have had connections to the tea party.

On today's edition of MSNBC's Daily Rundown, which Todd hosts, NBC News analyst Evan Kohlmann started describing what he believed was one of the suspect's Amazon "wish lists" -- that is, a list of products the suspect wanted to buy on, the online retail site.”

These examples are just three of hundreds that today’s print and electronic journalists foster on the public either in their rush to be first or due to their personal, biased agenda that forces them to put forth a story that best fits their narrative. To hell with the truth — that’s someone else’s problem

Once upon a time journalists, both print and electronic had integrity. In today’s 24/7 cable news cycle the pressure to get the story first outweighs the interest in getting the story right and accurate.

Last week CBS News anchor Scott Pelley scolded the news media for what he said has been “a bad few months for journalism.”

“Our house is on fire,” Pelley told an audience at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “These have been a bad few months for journalism. We’re getting the big stories wrong over and over again.”

“Let me take the first arrow,” he continued. “During our coverage of Newtown, I sat on my set and I reported that Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school. And that her son had attacked her classroom. It’s a hell of a story, but it was dead wrong. Now I was the managing editor, I made the decision to go ahead with that and I did, and that’s what I said, and I was absolutely wrong. So let me just take the first arrow here.”

Pelley was accepting the university’s Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, named after the former CBS News president. He said that in an age where more information is available to more people than ever before, “never has more bad information been available” either.

He called last month’s Boston terror attack a particularly low point for many in the industry.

“Our nation was attacked by terrorists,” Pelley said. “I cannot think of a time when the public that we serve needs accurate, timely information more than in those moments when our country is under attack.”

CNN was widely maligned for being the first to incorrectly report that authorities had a suspect in custody, as was The New York Post for publishing photos of two men it incorrectly said were being sought by police. How much damage did the publishing of these incorrect photos do to the men in the picture?

“That fire that started on the Internet spread to our more established newsrooms,” Pelley said. “In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor. And that is the danger we face today

Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard reported:

“CBS anchor Scott Pelley said at a speech at Quinnipiac University that journalists "are getting big stories wrong, over and over again."

Our house is on fire," said Pelley. "These have been a bad few months for journalism," he added. "We're getting the big stories wrong, over and over again."

The CBS newsreader was quick to take at least partial blame. "Let me take the first arrow: During our coverage of Newtown, I sat on my set and I reported that Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school. And that her son had attacked her classroom. It's a hell of a story, but it was dead wrong. Now, I was the managing editor, I made the decision to go ahead with that and I did, and that's what I said, and I was absolutely wrong. So let me just take the first arrow here."

And Pelley said the republic relies on the quality of the news business. "Democracies succeed or fail based on their journalism," said Pelley. "America is strong because its journalism is strong. That's how democracies work. They're only as good as the quality of the information that the public possesses. And that is where we come in."

Do not underestimate the psychological shock currently being processed by many members of the mainstream media and the low-to-medium information voters who rely on them for political analysis. To them, the election and re-election of Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the office of President of the United States, was a cause, a fulfillment of heartfelt dreams.

With his Ivy League pedigree and ability to deliver a speech, Obama charmed the liberal media folk into believing that he was the one they had been waiting for, an inspiring black man on a white horse who could heal our lingering racial wounds, if only given the chance. They hoped he could change an America their progressive belief system held to be flawed by racism, history, and greedy businessmen, and by helping him do so, they too could nudge history along in a positive direction. Perhaps in their own minds making up for whatever personal flaws or unfair advantages they might have possessed along their way to the top of the media food chain. Everyone wants to believe he or she is a good person, doing good things in the overall scheme of things, after all.

So they invested themselves in making the dream come true, attaching their self-concept to his cause. This is why information that was dissonant tended to evoke a rather widespread hostile reaction. Only racists and birthers could doubt any of the official Obama narrative. The Tea Party became an object of hatred, slander, and even physical attacks when it first appeared and threatened the Great Obama Project. When the Tea Partiers inflicted a serious blow to the political standing of Obama and the Democrats in the 2010 election, taking over the House, they became an obstacle to be removed.

People react with discomfort and hostility when their self-concept, their source of self-esteem, is threatened. It is subconsciously received as a challenge to one's status as a good person.

Three serial shocks (and their continuing aftershocks) are sufficiently grave to produce a form of trauma in those who hitched their hearts to Obama:

1. Facing proof from one of their own that Obama and his administration lied and then continued to lie to the faces of the White House Press Corps through Jay Carney about Benghazi casts serious doubt on other claims of his they have supported and defended;

2. Continuing revelations of the IRS's misbehavior toward the hated Tea Partiers and conservatives calls into question which side are the good guys (see point 1);

3. And finally the revelation that all their loyalty bought them no consideration at all when it came to secretly grabbing records of their communications in AP, tells them loyalty is one way street with this guy and his crowd.

The big question now is how many of the liberal media will return to form as this process unfolds itself with more whistleblowers emerging, and with documents subpoenaed and witnesses put under oath over the coming months. To be sure some already have reverted to their default position of excuse-making support, floating rationalizations to minimize the damage: Obama is too remote and disconnected (even, it may even be intimated as a fallback concession, a bit lazy what with all that golf and partying) to have actively instigated these shocks. (Note Dana Milbank has and is a sycophantic Obama supporter)

This would be the face-saving option for both Obama and the journalists who wish to remain invested in his cause, albeit at lower intensity now that they have conceded incompetence and perhaps sloth. He has disappointed them a little, but any overestimation they may have engaged in was out of the best of motives.

But others will take a different tack. Having devoted five plus years to the narrative of Obama the good, they will be ready to follow a new story line now, because it has the ultimate virtue in the news business: it is new. If the special committees which will investigate the scandals do their job, there will many veins to mine in uncovering and telling the stories of wrongdoing. In the 1970s, nobody made a good career move defending the Nixon administration's use of the IRS against its opponents, after all.

Thomas Lifson tells us in American Thinker:

“Professor Charles Lipson of the University of Chicago shared with me his thoughts on how those in the journalistic world who think in terms of institutional survival might understand the situation they face:

How did the reporters keep from getting killed when they did stories on the Mafia in the bad old days? Answer: They had what international-relations specialists call "Second-strike capability," which served as an effective deterrent. Concretely, the Mafia knew that any strike against a reporter would lead to a devastating response, namely a whole slew of stories by newspapers on all aspects of the Mafia's local business. If a reporter was killed, all the newspapers would assign a slew of reporters to investigate and publish everything they could about the whole Mafia organization. That implicit threat kept reporters safe. In Chicago, Jake Lingle was the only reporter ever killed by the Outfit, as our Mafia is called, but it turned out that he was a Mafioso himself. (It happened in 1930, during the Capone era.)

Following this line of reasoning, the AP's best response to the DOJ's intrusion is to assign as many investigative reporters as they can to all aspects of DOJ's activities, including Fast and Furious, the Minnesota scandal involving Tom Perez, Eric Holder's life history (including an armed take-over at Columbia during his college years), and everything else they can think of. That should even-up the scales the next time the DOJ or other government agencies think about overstepping their bounds.

It might also get the AP back in the habit of actually investigating an incumbent administration that is not Republican.”

The mainstream media psychodrama that is about to unfold before us promises to be amusing and even gratifying or those of us who have been frustrated for years by the ability of the Obama organization to make its storylines stick in the face of contrary data. No doubt there will be a certain amount of "I told you so" gloating. But we should also be prepared to welcome and encourage those former inhabitants of the media plantation who venture out into the intoxicating realm of uncovering the deceptions that enabled a program to fundamentally change America to get as far as it has.

If enough members of the media see the light and join in the discovery of all the deceptions proffered over the last few years, we may see the partisan divide actually diminish, as common revulsion at the dishonesty and abuses brings people together. In a way that he never anticipated, Barack Obama finally may become what he promised to be: a uniter not a divider.”

Now the question I have for Mr. Pelley is: will he live up to his claim that the media is doing a bad job and begin to take on a more serious and accurate form of reporting in the tone that once made Fred Friendly’s CBS news the prime TV news organization of the nation or will he take his award and sanctimonious comments and return to his old ways of supporting Obama and bashing his opposition? Time will tell, but I have this felling that like the scorpion in Alsop’s fable of the scorpion and the frog he will do what scorpions (and many journalists) always do?

As one of the movers and shakers in the CBS newsroom Mr. Pelley has had numerous opportunities to present “all the pertinent news of the day. So far he has not done this. In an interview with David Brody of CBN News, Sheryl Attkisson admitted that's not her only roadblock: “there hasn’t been an appetite for the stories I’ve offered on Benghazi” to the CBS morning and evening newscasts.

According to Tim Graham writing in NewsBusters:

"I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the top executives,” she told Brody. “Jeff Fager, who’s our CEO, and David Rhodes, who’s our president, have certainly never said anything to try and interfere with the coverage. They’ve complimented a lot of my work and strongly supported it. On the other hand, every story you present as a reporter has to be bought by a broadcast, meaning not purchased for money, but you have to get them interested in it there hasn’t been an appetite for the stories that I’ve offered on Benghazi [on the CBS morning and evening newscasts] so I’ve published a lot online because there’s unlimited content space online and I’ve done a lot of my reporting there.”

She's not kidding. Matthew Balan reported CBS went more than five months without an Attkisson Benghazi report until she appeared on May 8. See the earlier report that CBS News people see Attkisson as "dangerously close to advocacy" on Benghazi.

Attkisson told Brody she’s attracted to stories off the beaten path and enjoys fighting for a story she’s worked on, and that she’s successful “more often than not.” On Benghazi, it's more "not."

So you see Mr. Pelley it’s not only CNN that’s dropping the ball on news and contributing to the fire it’s your own newsroom at CBS. You have a crackerjack investigative reporter on your staff who gets the story right and she is ignored. You cite the mistake you made on reporting on the Sandy Hook story while failing to mention anything at all about Benghazi. Is that because the Sandy Hook story contributes to your narrative on gun control while the Benghazi story focuses on the incompetence of President Obama and Hillary Clinton? Just wondering.

Keep in mind that Mr. Pelley made his remarks at Quinnipiac University on the day the Benghazi hearings were taking place and he probably was not aware of the bob-shell revelations that were coming out of those hearings. His remarks were also made prior to the revelations about the IRS and the AP scandals. So we will see if Mr. Pelley has seen the light or will he revert to the behavior of the scorpion.

1 comment:

  1. To call Scott Pelley a scorpion is a complement. He singled-handedly turned me off to 60 Minutes when he conducted an interview with a then Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The interview questions were so leading and loaded, it would make Fred Friendly turn over in his grave. I'll never forgive CBS for turning 60 Minutes into a joke. I'll never forgive ABC for what they did to Nightline. But then again any enlightened individual knows The Fourth Estate has been dead for awhile.