Dirty Laundry

“We can do “The Innuendo”
We can dance and sing
When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing
We all know that Crap is King
Give us dirty laundry!” –  Don Henley

About a year and a half ago around the time of election season, I decided to “fast” from television news.  I couldn’t stand what I was hearing and seeing and what was being passed for news on the tube.  It was all opinion and no reporting.  It was yelling at the top of people’s lungs and arguing.  I was embarrassed for them all and not a little stressed out because of the tension it was causing among friends and families as a result.  It got me thinking about one of my favorite journalists, Walter Cronkite.  I thought back to the time when I was eight years old.  That was when President Kennedy was assassinated.  I remember his reporting of that awful day.   I recalled that as he announced on air that the president of the United States was dead, I remember he had to stop and collect himself because he was overcome with emotion.  But, he did collect himself.  He reported it and moved on.  That was it.  Straight reporting.  No commentary.  No opinion.  Just news.

Several years ago when I was in undergrad studies our ethics teacher had us join with a journalism class to watch the film, Good Night and Good Luck.  It was about Edward R. Murrow and the early days of television news.  In the discussion afterward, we were asked if we saw any differences in the way news was gathered and reported then and now.  We discussed the ethics of reporting facts and how critically important it was.

Once upon a time, journalists were the prophets of our culture.  They reported the facts after careful investigation and verification.  That kind of ethical reporting helped keep politicians and citizens real.  They helped the rest of us keep abreast of what was happening in our communities, nations and the world.  Once we, the people, had the facts, we were then trusted to make our own informed decision with the information with which we were provided.  Now, I’m not naïve and stuck in nostalgia.  I know very well that not all journalists in all times were ethical.  But, most were.  Most had integrity and cared about reporting what was true.  Again, they did their homework of gathering and verifying facts before going on air or printing them in the paper.  In fact, newspaper owners and editors demanded it.   There were consequences for sloppy and unethical reporting.

I am reminded too, of the film, Absence of Malice.  In this movie, a man’s life unravels because of irresponsible and sloppy investigative work before a news story is published.  This story is an example of one of the worst things that can happen.  However, I see something else happening in our culture that I find far more disturbing in many ways.  This brings me around again to my fast of national television news and why.  What passes for journalism on television is laughable. It has devolved into opinion and not news.  It has turned into distortion of truths (I’ve done enough my own fact-checking to know this is true) and outright hyperbolic manipulation of facts in order to sway the public toward a particular point of view.  Most recently, there was a story that made headlines in which a certain reporter said it wasn’t his job to the check the facts of another outlet.  Really?  This is what we have come to.  The major networks and news agencies are owned by a few very wealthy people.  We are hearing what it is they want us to hear to promote their agenda, not necessarily what is true.  It’s shameful.  What’s worse is that we, the masses are falling for it.  We are being manipulated and persuaded into believing what they would have us believe.   They incite, inflame and work people up in anger of the most unproductive kind.  They laugh all the way to the bank as they make money off of peoples’ fears.

Sometimes in discussions with people I know, if I challenge the “facts” they present that they have gotten from one of these stations, they are incredulous.  Some have become so indoctrinated they can’t see the truth when it’s presented.  When I suggest that what they have heard is biased opinion, not fact, they vehemently disagree.  When I describe what real journalism should look like, they don’t get it.  And then I ask this question:  “Do you know who Walter Cronkite (or some other well-known journalist) was? When they affirm that they do, I ask another question.  “What political party was this person affiliated with?”  More times than not, they don’t have an answer.  And that is the point.  I don’t want to know what political party any journalist is a member of, nor should I know.  It should have no bearing on good reporting of the facts.  There should be no editorializing unless it’s on the editorial page where it belongs.

I am thankful, that there still are many, many ethical journalists out there.  Sadly, their voices and work are dimmed by the cacophony of the pseudo journalists on television.  One has to dig deeply sometimes to find them, but they are there. I am proud to say that my sister is one of them.  I do my best to support their work and encourage others to do the same.

I tried coming back to television news.  Within a week, I was reminded why I parted ways.  It was more offensive than ever.  The time away made it that more glaring.  I highly recommend taking a break.  One’s perspective changes.  It really does.

I remember visiting my grandmother one time many years ago.  I noticed she had a pile of those newspapers that one would find at the supermarket checkout.  You know, the ones that said aliens landed in someone’s backyard and such.  I remember asking her how she could read that stuff because surely she knew it wasn’t true.  And in a serious as all get out tone she said, “Robin, they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true!” I told her that she was naïve and misinformed because people were suing those rags left and right for printing false and libelous stories.  I also remember thinking, “Thank goodness for real journalism.”

Who is the naïve and misinformed one now?

“Well, you can cool it,
You can heat it . . .
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it . . .
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all the unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head begin to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsman say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so” – Frank Zappa

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3 thoughts on “Dirty Laundry

  1. Like you, I grew up listening to Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid. And I can remember wondering how they could cover events that had me heartbroken or angry in the most even of voices and the most steady of tones. But as I got older, I came to appreciate that this was the hallmark of the objective television journalist and that their sense of responsibility and professionalism demanded that their opinions and viewpoints had no place in hard news, except as an editorial. I have not watched television news for years. I find it insulting and manipulative. To find the hard news today, you have to hunt it down and do your own fact checking and be cautious of trusting one source. For me, it’s the only way I get to come to my own conclusions about an event or an issue. Sadly, I believe there are way too many people who are letting the TV talking heads do their thinking for them.

    This is an excellent post, Robin!

  2. Excellent post, you have hit the nail on the head. I just wish reporting could go back in time and return to the “Good Old Day”s. When a fact was a fact and crap was not included in the broadcast. I had a student ask me why we show clips of reporters from the past, since all they are dong is stating the obvious. I replied for exactly that reason so you can see when a reporter reported something worth watching. Fortunately, the student had no response back.

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