BY R.L. SCHREADLEY
Is it not the responsibility of the press, when conveying charges by public officials — or anyone else for that matter — to make an accompanying effort to assess them for accuracy or to obtain a rebuttal? ... The line between authentic news dissemination and propagandizing by governments, self-seeking individuals, and special interest groups has been badly blurred by the intervening half century of refinements in public-relations techniques and TV newscasts on which 90 seconds constitute major play.
— “The Paper, a history of the New York Herald Tribune,” by Richard Kluger
Are the “mainstream media” in America too liberal, and is this political and cultural bias reflected in their reporting of the news? You bet your life they are. And it does affect reporting of the news.
I have long pondered why this is so. You would think that print and broadcast journalists, of all people, would be the last to fall in line with conventional thinking, with toeing a party line, with echoing the often banal proclamations emanating from on high — from the White House, from Congress, from the editorial pages of major newspapers, from the anchor desks of network television newsrooms, from (God help us!) Hollywood.
But they do. Not all of them, of course. There are still many, many honest and respectable men and women employed in the journalism trade. (That is what Tom Waring, my mentor at the old Charleston Evening Post, always called it: a trade, not a profession.) But there are those in what might be called the commanding heights of the trade, I think, who have been schooled and indoctrinated to work as faithful acolytes in a higher cause, the hard task of “transforming” America into something unlike what it is or ever has been. They have been taught that this is the right thing to do. The president has said so. Chances are their college and university professors said so, too.
A lot of this has to do with human nature, I suppose. Everyone wants to succeed. Almost everyone wants everyone else to succeed, to be treated fairly, to enjoy an equal status in life, even if this means making it harder for the naturally gifted or the harder working to achieve their goals. (And isn’t this, at bottom, what many so-called progressive social programs are all about?)
If one’s boss leans left, it seems only natural that those he hires will lean that way too, however independent-minded they deem themselves to be. This is not as intellectually dishonest as at first it might seem. Many presume (something a journalist should never do!) that because someone achieves a high office, even the highest in the land, and receives the acclamation and rewards that go with it, that he or she is necessarily more prescient than anyone else when it comes to the day to day things he must do to govern a country or manage a successful business.
There is an old adage that speaks to this: The fact that someone is an expert in one thing (e.g., running for office) there is no reason to think he is an expert in anything else. As someone very wise once said, the nearer you get to Olympus, the clearer it becomes there are no gods there. Not in the White House nor in the boardroom, either.
These days, the mainstream media, collectively, are seldom thought of as unbiased purveyors of the news. Newspapers no longer are the only game in town. The electronic media have an advantage in getting the news out first.
A newspaper’s advantage, though, lies in getting it right and putting it in perspective. Some succeed in this and some do not. The industry as a whole is not thriving. A daily newspaper in no longer published in some major American cities.
There are many things, many follow-the-leader things, I do not like in print journalism today. I think destroying the line between news and commentary is harmful to the integrity of the paper, its reporters and its editors. I do not, except in extraordinary circumstances, think it wise to give front page placement to “soft” news and features. I cringe when I see paid ads on section fronts. (I know this last will not sit well with those who sell or purchase advertising, and I know too that without advertising no newspaper could survive.) I believe, though, that everything has a place, and that in a newspaper only news belongs on the front page.
Is liberalism writing “30” (the end) to print journalism?
No, but conformity to bad journalistic practice very easily might in the not too distant future.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.
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