Affable journalism: When did the middle of the road become safe?

Photo by Arjun Kartha

OPINION – Everyone likely has at least one teacher they will remember forever. That one person who can be attributed with having a lasting impact on us and shaping much of what we will be and do in the ensuing years of our lives.

For me that teacher was Paul Coffman, my U.S. History teacher at Newbury Park High School.

The first day of class he informed us that due to budget cuts we would not be receiving text books for the class that semester. You can imagine we were devastated.

However, having been a teacher for almost twenty years by this point, Mr. Coffman was hardly ill-prepared. He was almost smirking when he let us know that he had been collecting text books over the years and pointed to the table in the back of the room. There had to be fifty of them, and we would be using them throughout the course.

The classroom’s glee then turned into a somewhat morbid curiosity.

It is what he did next that will remain etched in my memory forever.

He selected two books from the pile and brought them to the front of the room, and placed them on the lip of the chalk board with the titles in plain view.

One was titled, “A History of the United States,” the other, “The History of the United States.”

You probably see where this is going. I did.

Mr. Coffman pushed his glasses up onto his wrinkled forehead and rubbed his eyes while asking us what we thought was going on. I did.

And something was going on – we were getting a lesson in critical thinking.

These were text books – the gospel truth of history as approved by the Conejo Unified School District. Yet their titles gave way to a disconcerting reality. One book, by the nature of its title, purported to be merely a version of history, while the other book proclaimed its historical accuracy.

A portion of the semester was spent diving into comparative analysis of the two books, and as sure as water is wet, there were notable differences in the telling of the history of the same events.

There is an old saying about there being two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle there lays the truth.

There is also the old adage about the most effective deception being the one that is closest to the truth.

I think these elements make a compelling argument for why the media now has become such a circus act.

It became almost obsessed with the notion that the truth was relative and subjective because of the fact that despite any one thing that happened, there would always be more than one side to the story.

And rather than taking a side, which leaves one permeable and subject to scrutiny, the media decided to take the most treacherous road of all: the middle, leaving it permeable and subject to scrutiny.

Refusing to risk upsetting anyone, the modern news outlet now reports in talkingihead fashion. Any one issue is taken up by two to three opposing figures who all spout their version of events covered in the news and supposedly this makes for an environment where the viewer or reader is able to make an informed decision.

But does this really work?

Richard Dawkins said:  ‎”It’s important to realize that when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.”

And herein lies what I think to be at the center of the problem for the media and its reputation. It lost its veracity and compunction to get at the truth and became an outlet for the somber and apathetic public to go to and hear what they wanted to hear instead of what was really happening.

While on the outside it might appear to the various media sources the job is getting done because ratings of approval and advertisement dollars say so. The fact is we are not respected by the general public because of our lack of convictions. Liked maybe, but not respected and surely not trusted.

My admonition to those who would see this changed is simple. Demand from us in the media that we be committed to putting up the truth. Some of us are listening and will bring it. You will be better for it.

See you out there.

“There will always be a band of brothers and sisters who will relentlessly try to get to the under-layer of what is going on and put up the truth.”~Bob Woodward (paraphrased).

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a columnist for St. George News and blogs as The Amateur Broad Thinker. The opinions stated in this article are solely his own and not those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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1 Comment

  • Dorothy February 15, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    My Hyland your insight into what has happened to journalism and how it happened is spot on. I have to confess that I found your article because I was goggling Paul (Shorty) Coffman, who was my first boyfriend back at UCLA in the late 60’s. He was an amazing man and a brilliant teacher. It warms my heart to know that he was your inspiration to become the award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker that you are. Having found you I will now take a closer look at your body of work. All the best to you and your family. Dorothy Steinbeck

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