"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The sanctimonious media

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Having been in and around the news media for over 40 years as a reporter, political columnist, Washington D.C. correspondent, press secretary, a cabinet agency director of a public affairs office; and, a consultant on communications strategy (critics call it spinmeistering), one would think I might be more tolerant of the media’s shortcomings.

But I’m not.

The critical role the media should play in public discourse is increasingly absent. There are fewer and fewer reporters who really do their homework, read voraciously, or even read their own publications. Objectivity is being lost in a sea of subjectivity and the Republic is suffering mightily.

Despite claims to the contrary, journalism is a craft and an art form. It is not a science and profession subject to professional guidelines and scientific criteria. I once was invited to speak to the Jay Rockey Public Relations Society at Washington State University. (Full disclosure: I once had the privilege and pleasure of working for Jay Rockey in Seattle. A pioneer in the public relations business and a true gentleman, my criticism is not directed at him.)

I started my presentation by saying all those there were making a mistake to major as undergraduates in areas like journalism, public relations, television and radio communications, marketing, etc. These are professional endeavors, or claim to be, and in my view belong in graduate school.

Rather, they should be majoring in a liberal art like history or English literature where they could get grounded in the humanities necessary to help make some sense out of the world’s chaos; that a liberal art could teach them how to think, analyze and communicate critically. The sense of history and literature would provide a needed and necessary perspective.

Needless to say, I wasn’t invited back.

The self-importance many media hold themselves in often just nauseates me. I wince every time I see a vacant talking head without a real clue interviewing a media savvy or media-trained person who easily transforms the interview into a 30 second commercial for themselves.

In particular I loathe the media’s self-absorption and self-righteousness.

A recent example was the various Idaho news organizations and associations that all jumped on the lawsuit to force Idaho’s Correction department to let the selected media observers observe and describe every salacious detail of entire process leading up to an execution.

Half the process wasn’t good enough. The “public” (Did you hear or see any clamor from the public?) had a right to know every detail—-this was an issue of transparency, a Constitutional right, etc., ad nauseum. Not!

Give me a break. Of all the important issues the media could be suing to obtain, the Idaho media unites behind the public’s supposed right to know every detail about a prisoner’s execution.

Let’s see—how about suing for the names of all the companies and individuals given tax breaks from the Idaho Tax Commission during the gubernatorial terms of Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch and Butch Otter cross tabulated with their contributor’s list?

Or how about the property sales, and the amount of the sale, of choice lots at the Valbois Resort virtually given for pennies it is alleged to many prominent /Republicans, both officeholders and others?

Taxpayers and voters in Idaho would be far better served by the media pursuing these subjects.

Not once in all the coverage did I see one word about the doomed prisoner’s right to privacy. Apparently once one is convicted of a capital crime they forfeit all their rights—including the myth of a right to privacy.

You see the media does not really recognize an individual’s right to privacy. If you are deemed by some editor sitting at a desk somewhere to be newsworthy, ipso facto, that makes you a public figure and you’ve forfeited all your rights, not the least of which is the right to be left alone.

Don’t believe me. Just watch and read carefully. Note how anyone who declines to speask to the media is portrayed as likely to be hiding something. After all, the false syllogistic reasoning is that if you have nothing to hide you’ll not mind talking to them.

In many respects in our sytem of checks and balances the media’s freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom to designate who is and isn’t a public figure and what’s newsworthy is an unchecked power.

Add arrogance to their ignorance, this self-righteous and self-absorbed attitude and one can truly begin to worry about the Republic’s future. The media when it acts as a “pack” is every bit as zealous as the most fanatical zealot on any subject anywhere. Extremism in defense of their right is no vice. Just ask them.

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