I’m a “repeat offender” when it comes to criticizing the national media. There’s so much wrong there that at least some of my anger must have some merit. This time, the whole mess of ‘em are mucking through something that will, eventually, change us all as consumers.
Having been a very small part of it many years ago, I learned a lot and am happy for the opportunity - lucky to have had the experience. Maybe that’s a big part of why I use this space to rant against some of the current practitioners from time to time. “Been there. Done that.” So, when they screw up, it touches a reflexive nerve which brings out the angry reaction. I’ve got one of those reactions going now. But, this time it’s different. Angry AND uncertain.
Not many in today’s media crowd were around in the ‘50's and ‘60's when I was learning the craft. Their early training and mine are a couple of generations apart. Oh, some of the basics are still the same i.e. who, what, where, when, why and how. Still gotta have all that.
Then we - and they as youngsters - went through the Watergate era where the most prized reporting came to those doing “investigative journalism.” Woodward, Bernstein, Mike Wallace et al. Dig out the dirt, confront the bad guys and make major headlines. Or a 10 minute “package” leading the evening’s national TV news. Journalism turned a sharp corner then, and the “who, what, where...” guys largely disappeared. So did a lot of “getting it right” with facts before being the bearer of constantly “breaking news.” Damn, how I hate that phrase!
Now, another “sharp corner” is being turned. Labeling public officials - up to and including the President of the United States - liars. Which - on a daily and often hourly basis - he, and nearly all the appointed minions who “speak” for him, are. Without question.
Most of the “street” reporters in the national media are less than 50-years-old. Such training as they received was much different than us older types had in the ‘50's, ‘60's and ‘70's. That - and Trump”s continuing reprehensible public conduct - has resulted in a very different “code of conduct” between them and news makers.
Case in point: Richard Nixon. I didn’t like Nixon when he was in Congress in the ‘50's. He was a liar then, just as he was in the presidency. He felt persecuted, disrespected, undervalued and cursed with being a perpetual “outsider” in Washington. All of which he carried into the White House years later.
My limited, working contact with him was usually as a weekend reporter or subbing for regular, daily beat reporters. Also had a couple of minor personal occasions to be in his presence. Each time, my innards churned with disrespect. A lot of contemporaries felt the same. But nearly all of us played our different roles professionally and - all in all - until Watergate, respectfully. If not for him, then for the office. But we knew he often lied. Big time.
Now, the next generation of reporters is faced with Donald Trump - the most unqualified, unprepared, unskilled and biggest misfit ever to hold the office of President. To that can be added his penchant for distortion and outright lying on a daily basis. And, his selection and use of people equally unskilled at their jobs who share the same distasteful habit of publically - and often - speaking “truth” as they see fit to create it.
Trump operated in the same dishonest manner for nearly two years of the national campaign. For a long time, he wasn’t openly challenged for his regular, daily “untruths” by a media not used to dealing with an openly confident, perpetual liar at that level.
Then, editors and others in charge of content for broadcasters and print, had to make some decisions. Should they continue to avoid or soft-pedal the daily torrent of lies and, thus, become complicit in passing them on to viewers and readers as fact? Should they employ fact-checkers and give the job of separating truth from fiction to them? Or, should they step outside the boundary of simply reporting and call the torrent of lies what they were? Lies!
Though the media is currently held in very low esteem by much of the American public, I can tell you, from experience, a lot of good scotch and considerable bourbon was consumed, a lot of sleep was lost and a lot of professional soul-searching was done by some very dedicated people. To openly challenge the voices and the blatant lies would forever change the honored - and mostly respected - balance between government officials and media. The relationship would never be the same.
The resulting decision for nearly all media has been to label this administration’s lies for what they are - lies. Not just once in awhile. Not just when the lie is a big one. Not just for spite. Not just for anybody but the President. A lie is a lie is a lie is a lie. Anytime. And anyone.
To my mind, this puts us on a whole new path. Those who persist in lying are going to be called on it - regardless of who they are. At least nationally. And the national media, once simply an institutional reporting source, has become a daily arbiter of fact.
Will this continue when Trump and his minions are gone? No one knows. But, that sweeping difference in one of our most significant national institutional relationships is what exists today.
I’m not comfortable with that. But it is what it is.