WHAT CONSTITUTES JOURNALISM?

April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

Provocative article today by David Sirota on the Salon website about the dearth of quality journalism (or even mediocre journalism) being produced today for the cable ‘news’ networks.

As an avid reader of superb journalists such as Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, to name a few, I am in complete overall agreement with Mr.Sirota. That notwithstanding, there are some aspects of his perspective on this issue with which I’m in disagreement.

Mr.Sirota is lamenting the state of cable news in general, yet doesn’t take pains to avoid drawing a false equivalency between Fox and MSNBC by grouping them together as he makes his argument.

MSNBC is as guilty as any network of being a mouthpiece for the corporate state much of the time. The difference is that it is not committed to being partisan irrespective of the facts, as Fox clearly is. Anyone who has watched the network would have witnessed consistent criticism of President Obama for any number of things, from his war commitments through to an abandoning of progressive principles during negotiations on the Affordable Care Act. No such consistent criticism can be found on Fox.

The temptation to see liberal-leaning (though certainly not truly progressive in any tangible sense) networks such as MSNBC as being the mirror image of a radical, far-right and often fact-free entity such as Fox ‘News’ Network is not resisted nearly enough by supposedly impartial media commentators, a problem which also rears its head when we see “unbiased” reporters speak of the ‘gridlock’ in Washington, an assertion which blithely implies an unwillingness on the part of both political parties to compromise and move forward with productive legislation. This, of course, if one is to examine recent history from even a moderate distance, is patently false- millions of progressives, this writer included, have found themselves exasperated at how often the Democrats are more than willing to surrender their supposed ideals in the service of ‘compromise’.

Which brings me to the other problem I have with Sirota’s article, as excellent and worthy as it may be. His abhorrence of the prevalence of “opinion” and the concurrent lack of actual journalism resulting in edifying, constructive journalistic content is valid- yet he doesn’t raise one of the major reasons for the rise in opinion ‘news’: that of the unwillingness of reporters in recent times to challenge political figures, and the policies they promote, in their reporting.

Is a journalist’s job to simply report both sides of an issue, to blandly repeat what prominent figures in our society say? Or is it to analyze the data, to interpret the rhetoric and examine the facts and educate us on what may be the ultimate reality  behind someone’s words, behind a piece of legislation, behind the polemics of a particular issue?

In their terror of being labelled ‘partisan’ or ‘biased’, reporters in supposedly ‘liberal’ media entities such as the New York Times, MSNBC and NPR often ignore the facts in repeating talking points by politicians. They regularly fail to provide crucial perspective on issues- when was the last time a reporter from one of these organizations was willing to examine what Israel has actually offered the Palestinians in past ‘negotiations’ or ‘peace’ deals, to name one example?

It is this lack of factual, interpretative reporting- and what true journalist  does not interpret?- that has contributed to a vacuum which has now been filled by what Mr.Sirota calls ‘opinion’. Keith Olbermann’s Countdown spiked in popularity in 2003 due to its ability to quench the thirst of those who wished to see someone- anyone- actually speak of the Bush administration’s real motives for its unlawful attack on Iraq. Very few ‘reporters’ at that time were willing to be so ‘biased’ as to actually report on the political elephant in the room, that of the administration’s clearly corrupted intent at that time.

I hope that Mr.Sirota’s voice is heard on this issue- his article addresses a enormous, systemic problem that needs more attention. If we’re lucky enough as a society to once again have access to a plenitude of real journalism in our mainstream news outlets, may that journalism not be afraid to offer an interpretation of current events that promotes the greatest possible truth- in other words, let it contain opinion, from people qualified and seasoned to offer it.

Picture: Chris Hedges, one of the great journalists in the United States today.

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§ One Response to WHAT CONSTITUTES JOURNALISM?

  • Manc. says:

    Got to say, I have misgivings here:

    ‘Is a journalist’s job to simply report both sides of an issue, to blandly repeat what prominent figures in our society say? Or is it to analyze the data, to interpret the rhetoric and examine the facts and educate us on what may be the ultimate reality behind someone’s words, behind a piece of legislation, behind the polemics of a particular issue?’

    It’s not the job of the NY Times to ‘educate us on what MAY BE the ultimate reality…’ In fact, that’s what the fuckwits at Fox News would tell us they’re doing. Likewise, those at MSNBC, or any of the ‘opinion’ news outlets. It’s the job of the Times, of NPR, to report the facts as they exist. I want to know what the President said and I’ll draw my own opinion from his words, thank you very much. I’m sick to death of listening to professional spin.

    Of course, we’re always relying on journalistic interpretation. It’s called editing. But what you’re calling for – opinion driven journalism, interpreting data to fit a particular viewpoint – it already exists. In fact, we’re drowning in it. You just have to pick your poison as to which side of the political divide you choose to listen to.

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