Will Journalism Save Our Democracy?
This seems like an edgy question. Of course they would, wouldn’t they? After all, the First Amendment is a cornerstone of our Republic and protects the free press. Doesn’t it?
There is deeper question than the title of this blog. Is journalism today a moral profession?
The dictionary defines moral as “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.” We are left to ourselves to define right and wrong behavior or goodness or badness of human character. In other words — it is what you or I say it is. That seems to sum up where we are.
I once considered journalism as a career. I took a couple of courses in junior college, but it did not resonate. My wife and I once attended a live recording in Los Angeles of PBS’s “The Advocates,” which aired from 1969–1984. While there we met the strident Washington Post columnist, Jack Anderson. He wrote truth to power. I mentioned my interest and he told me, “Be an advocate.” In other words, don’t be a reporter, or as I sometimes call them, recorders. As an advocate, he meant to write opinion.
As for my question about morality, I grew up in a Christian culture, but I am not talking about the Ten Commandments. I am not talking about The Beatitudes, though there is a lot to be said for those. I am talking about recognizing good, bad, evil, and lies and reporting it as such.
I will not be discussing Fox News. The best that can be said of them is that they are amoral. I would argue they are also immoral. I need no more evidence than the fact that Fox News requires their employees, including on-air talent, to be vaccinated. Yet, they are a megaphone for anti-vaxers and anti-maskers. They are killing people. They were in lockstep with Trump while president, and still are. In that they share a common trait — immoral. But they also function under the umbrella of the First Amendment.
What to make of the rest of the MSM (mainstream media)?
The rub on the MSM is the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The MSM seems to love bad news. Always remember, other than PBS and NPR, they are for-profit, and ratings fuel the message. Readers and viewers were off the charts during the Trump presidency. They reveled in those ratings.
Don’t ask me why we love to consume bad news. Don’t ask me why “The Apprentice” was so popular, watched by millions who loved seeing someone fired. I never watched a second of it, and not because of Trump.
The MSM also loves close presidential elections, regardless of a candidate’s morality — see 2016 presidential election — the closer, the more suspense, and the more viewers/readers.
To be clear, the MSM always beats up on whomever is president, no matter which party. I have a theory about that, but that is for another blog.
I am asking the question in the blog’s title because the need for responsible and moral journalism has never been more important in my lifetime.
Our country is at a crisis. Our republic is under attack, and not just from outsiders like Putin’s puppets and bots.
I would argue that the MSM should be THE line in the sand between saving and losing our democracy. So far, they are not.
We know what side Fox News is on. What to make of the rest of the media — the beltway press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and MSNBC, just to focus on the heavy hitters.
These heavy hitters took Trump to task during his presidency, though I would argue that they also helped create him and put his message out no matter what he said. Trump was good copy. Still is. Is that a moral issue? That is the recorder (I might say steno pool) and bystander aspect of journalism. It took a long time before they used the word “lie” and “Trump” together, settling for words like falsehoods or misstatements. Lie was edgier and it took the New York Times the longest to use it. Who can forget “alternative facts”?
(See also my previous blog: How We Got Here — Media Edition.)
I remain a two-party person, but not when it is the Trump party. I long for the Republican Party of the second half of the 20th Century when we argued policy differences. Some fine republicans populated both the House and the Senate. Even the party of Newt Gingrich was not this bad, and I despise Newt Gingrich.
Thirty years ago I would have said there are more similarities between the parties than dissimilarities. This is no longer true. It is not even close.
· Is it not yet clear that one party wants everyone who is eligible to vote, vote — and the other party does not?
· I believe that one party (warts and all) gets up every day and for the most part tries to do what is best for all of us. The other party does not.
· One party supports the Voting Rights Act. The other party does not. See recent votes in the House and Senate. In 2006, sixteen current Republican senators reaffirmed the Senate’s support for the Voting Rights Act. What changed?
· One party wants to govern. The other party wants to rule.
· There could not be a greater contrast between the presidencies of Trump and Biden. One man is moral, or tries to live his life morally. The other was and is immoral.
· One party participated in the January 6th insurrection. The other did not.
· One party bends to the will of the voters and electors. (See Gore concession in 2000 and Clinton concession in 2016.) The other party does not.
· The large majority of one party believes Biden stole the 2020 election.
In 2013, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann co-authored a book titled: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. They put the fault for the stalemate in Washington squarely on the Republican Party. Other than a few instances, the MSM blackballed that book. Norman Ornstein, a liberal, is a respected DC political scientist and an emeritus scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The latest Gallup poll says 47% of voters prefer Republicans and 42% prefer Democrats.
I believe my bullet points are accurate. If the MSM sees it that way, they will not say it. I believe they helped create that latest poll.
Biden’s “handling of the economy” ratings are in the tank, low 40s, the lowest of any Democratic president since the 1970s. They should not be. I am not saying they should be rosy, because inflation is too high.
But inflation is an international issue. Eric Boehlert, editor of “Press Run,” uncovered international economic headlines from Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia and Spain. All proclaimed highest inflation rates in a long time.
Inflation notwithstanding, we have four economic indicators on the plus side: very low unemployment, record first year employment, double digit hourly wage increases (offsetting the inflation hit) and a robust GDP.
I do not expect the MSM to give Biden a free ride, especially when it comes to promises made. Within the limits of his power, is he doing all he can?
Speaking of limits, does the MSM believe that Biden controls the Senate, especially with the elephant in the room called the filibuster? Do they believe he can curb inflation? Do they believe he controls the supply channels? Do they believe he can wipe out worldwide COVID? Do they believe he can fix climate change? Surely they do not. Why then continue to write headlines touting the trouble he is in if he does not?
Here is a recent CNN web site headline: “Democrats appear certain to add another failure to their list of missed deadlines and thwarted goals.” Last week, the top headline on the CNN web site said, “A look at Biden’s first year of false claims.” That is the lead headline a day after the longest presidential press conference in history. Later that same day, this: “This is the worst answer Joe Biden gave at his press conference.” I looked for a headline that said: “This is the best answer Joe Biden gave at his press conference.” I wasted my time.
But the next day, CNN Senior Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, posted an opinion piece with this headline, “Biden is not failing and flailing.” In it she writes, “Everyone take a breath. It’s only been a year.” Then she says, “These headlines could just as easily read, ‘Biden Fails to Fix Every Problem in the World in 365 days.’”
Thank you, Kirsten, for some context.
But then there is this, MSNBC host Chuck Todd recently predicted that Democrats could get a “shellacking” from Republicans in the midterms and predicted that the battle will be “a lot of fun to watch.”
The MSM are often scorekeepers; who’s up, who’s down, who’s winning and who’s losing.
I believe the MSM would love a rematch between Biden and Trump — because like Chuck Todd said, it would be “a lot of fun to watch.”
Here is the point. Our democracy is in peril. With occasional exceptions, the MSM seems not to notice. I am not a historian, but this I know — wherever an autocrat takes power, the press is the first target to be controlled. Surely they know that?
It is a long shot for the Democrats to keep control of both houses and the White House. (Note recent Gallup poll.) The Supremes saw to that with their voting rights rulings. Democrats Manchin and Sinema have locked arms with Republicans and tossed away the voting rights key.
I fear the opposite — Fascism 2.0.
The MSM has more power than 100,000 bloggers like me. It is both a burden and responsibility. But it is time to stop keeping score. It is time for a new MSM paradigm for covering politics, though it must be temporary. It is time to stop being a steno pool. It is time to stop both-sides-ism and equivocation. It is time to stop saying the battle would be “a lot of fun to watch.”
It is time to pick a side.
Be responsible. Be moral. Save our democracy.
I already know the answer.
*If wanting to voice an opinion to the MSM, please do. Newspapers are pretty easy to reach editorially as well as specific editors and writers. It is a much bigger hurdle to reach CNN, MSNBC and other television hosts and pundits. I have found a way into CNN. To my knowledge, Rachel is the only one at MSNBC who has an email address. I regularly contact the Los Angeles Times and CNN, as well as the White House, senators and members of Congress.