Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Crisis In American Media

Many liberals and conservatives have been complaining about the
quality of choices they have for elected office these days, but I suspect
their complaints are often misplaced.

As the current hubbub over Herman Cain illustrates one more time
and exquisitely, the greater crisis in American public life at the present
time is an acute failure of the media to live up to the standards under
which a free press can not only thrive, but contribute positively to our
American way of life as the principle of a free press was intended to do.

In the case of Mr. Cain, which still is flaming in the print and broadcast
media, we have a manufactured "scandal" that, even to this moment,
has no substance, no specifics nor details of any wrongdoing, nor any
names or testimony of any accusers. One or two political consultants,
with obvious axes to grind, have come forward to say they were present
at alleged instants of "harassment," but even though they are not bound
by any settlement agreements, they can't tell us what the details are.
The main criticism of Mr. Cain, especially from the conservative side,
is that he has not responded "effectively" or "like a president" to the
charges leveled against him.

Assuming for the moment that the American legal principle is valid, that
is, one is innocent until proven guilty, let me ask: How is a candidate for
office to act if presumably false charges are made against him in the hellish
cauldron of our national media? Experienced politicians such as the late
Ted Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, and others from both parties
apparently knew how to do this, even though they were accused, and guilty,
of far worse offenses. Yes, Mr. Cain has seemed to make contradictory
comments as the "scandal" revelations unfolded, and continue to unfold,
but an explanation for this could equally be that he was trying honestly to
recall the alleged incidents as it could be that he was trying to cover
something up.

Sexual harassment of women, and men, is wrong. It is also illegal. But
there are proper venues to deal with this matter. The media has every
right to report this, but the only acceptable standard for reporting this
is to publish facts, names and specific allegations. A responsible
newspaper, magazine, radio or television station does not report
rumor, gossip or any unsubtantiated news. Isn't is curious that, here we
are, after more than a week of reportage of this "scandal," and we still
have no details, no specific charges, no names of victims, no credible
first-hand accounts of any wrongdoing by Mr. Cain.

Perhaps Mr. Cain is indeed guilty as charged. Then he will receive the
opprobrium and consequences merited by the offenses. And the media
will rightly report those consequences. The time to report this will be
when names can be named, charges can be detailed, and facts can be
substantiated. This is not a game of canasta or mah-jongg. This is a
campaign for president of the United States. Yes, we have a right to
know as much as we can about the candidates, but we also have the
right to have accurate and unbiased information.

John F. Kennedy had a fatal disease the entire time he was president
of the United States; he was also a serial adulterer; and by today's
standards, a gross harasser of women. Much of this was known
while he was alive, but not a word of it was reported the major TV
networks, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Then and
today, he is regarded as an iconic hero by these media outlets.

There is a reason why the media today is regarded so poorly by the
public. You simply can't believe what you read or hear any more in
the Old Media (and in other media, too).

There are opinion journalists, of which I am one, and there are news
reporters. It is understood that opinion journalists are only expressing
an opinion. Many news reporters today think they, too, are opinion
journalists, and that they need to slant or adjust the facts to fit their
own bias. The worst offenders of this are not some unknown small
town reporters, most of whom I think still do their job honestly and
well. The worst offenders are some of the biggest names in journalism
who work for the biggest media outlets, and are encouraged to distort
the news. Thus, it is not only the reporters who are at fault. The editors,
producers, and media owners share responsibility for this sad state of
media affairs.

Historically, both conservative and liberal media have been guilty of
egregious bias. Today perhaps, much more of it takes place on the
liberal side in the Old Media, but no one should pretend that
conservatives are free from bias. And there are reporters, both liberal
and conservative, who yet maintain high standards. Alas, there are
fewer and fewer of them.

Today, the careful reader and consumer of media must take every news
report, every opinion poll, every account, with many grains of salt. That
includes not only news reports, but editorial and news opinion as well.
That includes me, and every one of us in the news business. Media
abuses today are a sorry state of media affairs, but it's, at least for the
time being, a reality.

If these were affluent, peaceful, and secure times, perhaps it would not
matter as much, it would not be so serious. But these are very dangerous,
unsettled and unpredictable times, and every citizen, and every voter,
needs accurate and reliable information to form their own opinions and
make their own judgments. A lot is at stake in the months ahead.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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