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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Media Hall of Shame


CBS News and now Newsweek magazine in the space of several months have duped the public in the name of honest journalism. Poor and slanted reporting happens everyday, but the magnitude of these recent disintegration of responsibility and public trust is enormous.

What is worse, if anything can be worse than the abandonment of one’s solemn duty, is that both CBS News and Newsweek have tried to rationalize their failures in a hopeless and unsuccessful attempt to save face. Newsweek said something to the effect of “Well, there were some mistakes in the story, but it has not been proved that someone somewhere, sometime, somehow didn’t flush the Koran down a toilet, so we are standing by our story.” Dan Rather said essentially the same thing about CBS’s fallacious story on George Bush’s imagined dereliction of duty in the National Guard.

You don’t have to be a media bigwig to know certain basic procedures about covering important events. Among them is that you always – always – double-source your information when your first source wishes to remain anonymous. In the absence of confirmation, the journalist ought to assume his source is wrong. To do otherwise is negligent. In the case of CBS News’ irresponsible reporting, a presidential election hung in the balance.

Newsweek’s reckless reporting poured gasoline on the flames of fundamentalist, fanatical Islamic fascists just looking for an excuse to commit murder and mayhem, and more than a dozen people died.

Dishonorable gaffes in reporting like these feed the growing feeling that the mainstream media has an agenda. In the case of both the shameful CBS News/Rathergate debacle and the more recent colossally deadly Newsweek blunder, it is difficult to fend off charges that the media is anti-George Bush and anti-war. The notion that these eager newshounds are poised on the edge of their keyboards waiting for an opportunity to slam Bush and /or the Iraq war is a compelling one. How else can anyone explain why these supposedly honorable media organizations ran stories that were so disgracefully and contemptibly wrong?

The mainstream media seems incapable of learning from their mistakes. Is this arrogance? Hubris? Complacency?

Yes to all.

2 comments:

JL Pagano said...

One boo boo from Newsweek plus one boo boo from CBS does not outweigh the numerous boo boos involved in the illegal occupation of Iraq. However, I would not expect any less of the Bush administration than to make maximum capital out of these indiscretions; I would probably done the same myself.

James Howard Shott said...

First, we are talking about far more than “one boo boo from Newsweek plus one boo boo from CBS.” There are boo boos aplenty, from multiple sources.

So you call the occupation of Iraq “illegal.” That is a curious term, given that the new and duly elected Iraqi government wants the U.S. there for a while longer.

However, I fail to see how the occupation of Iraq, under whatever circumstances it exists, equates with the abject failure of Newsweek in its primary journalistic duty: To tell the truth.

The fallout of the Newsweek screw-up is serious. It helps to fan the flames of an already active anti-American fervor among the uninformed Arab street (to borrow a trite term from the media). There was no need for an American media outlet to have reported the desecration of the Koran, even if the story were true. If you have paid attention at all, you must be aware of the inordinate measures to which the U.S. has gone to show respect to the religion/culture of its Muslim prisoners, with only a few exceptions.

The Bush administration would be as irresponsible as Newsweek if it did not call Newsweek on its failure. I certainly would have, as you said you also would, but I have the feeling we’d do so for different reasons.

America is still the bright beacon of hope and justice in the world, although many of its edges are substantially frayed. We have rationalized individual freedom to a dangerous point where through our hedonistic over-indulgence we have threatened the very fabric of our society. We have allowed our Constitution to be weakened by judges who do not understand their responsibility is to interpret the Constititution rather than to rewrite it, or who do understand that, but deliberately shirk that responsibility. And we have indulged a media that more and more tells lies and distorts the truth for some selfish political and social ends. Fortunately, the American people, who in large numbers disagree with these destructive trends, are beginning to stand up and demand a return to the long-standing traditions that made this nation great.