OPINION – The latest round of Media Gotcha has placed Fox News guy Bill O’Reilly in the crosshairs.
Funny, but I remember when the name of the game was reporting the news, not making it.
It was bound to happen, you know, that a broadcaster from the right side of the aisle was thrust under the hot, white lights and beaten with a truncheon. It’s how it goes in the media wars these days: you claim one of ours, we claim one of yours.
It’s pathetic on a number of levels, the first and utmost being that it takes a once-noble profession and cheapens it with incredulous reporting, out-and-out lies, and a loss of credibility that smears the entire media.
It used to be there was one hard and fast rule when I was coming up. If you lie, you die. No suspensions, no second chance, you were finished. A reporter who fabricated a quote, a reporter who misrepresented a story, a reporter who did not check his facts was canned.
There is no room for commentary, opinion, persuasion in a news piece, pure and simple. Columnists are allowed the room to bloviate, to persuade, to cajole, to be hypercritical, but when it comes to news reports, the bottom line is that they have to be factual.
However, these days, as corporate America takes stronger hold of the news outlets across the country, there is another factor that comes into play and that is curbing the product to fit the needs of a niche audience.
Now, that niche can be either conservative or liberal; rural or urban; young or old; black or white. It can be rich or poor; foreign or domestic; local or national. What matters most? Ratings, whether in subscriptions to print media, which are disappearing at a rate that beleaguered corporate bigshots refused to believe would happen a scant 10 years ago; the number of hits to an online news site; or the number of viewers or listeners to a news broadcast on radio – what’s left of it, that is – or television.
According to some corporate outfits, news agencies no longer have reporters, instead calling them “content providers,” whose job is to fill space between ads and garner high numbers of readers, viewers, or listeners.
To be honest, I always cared about subscription rates and online readership, but not because of the dollars involved, which I never have seen many of, but because, at one time, it was a gauge of public credibility. The more readers, the more people viewed you as a credible source, otherwise they, obviously, wouldn’t come back to reading you.
Yes, to be sure, there are many who have reporters and columnists they love to hate, and that is fine, too because it still means you are making people think, to a certain extent.
But, they won’t come back to a liar, which is why NBC must ultimately fire Brian Williams and Fox must ultimately dispose of Bill O’Reilly.
But, they won’t.
NBC, I guarantee, is already contemplating how to rehabilitate Williams and the ratings numbers he will score if he returns to the air with a heartfelt mea culpa, which will happen unless there is more buried in his personal Pandora’s box.
O’Reilly will continue to pile up numbers as well as he goes toe-to-toe with his detractors, assuring Fox some pretty good ratings.
It’s how we are, what we’ve become, and it is not good.
As somebody who has strung words together professionally for 47 years now – I got my first pro byline at 15 – I have seen the news profession go from one of the most trusted professions in the world to one of the least.
While we have plenty Brian Williamses and Bill O’Reillys in the business, we unfortunately have no Walter Cronkites – once described as the most trusted man in America.
Look, we all knew that Cronkite was a crusty old man with a heart of gold. We knew, from his reportage of the John F. Kennedy assassination to the moon launches, that he had a soft heart. But, we also knew he was telling us the truth. That’s why, when during the height of the Vietnam War he said “this war is unwinnable,” even Washington, D.C. took notice.
He was a straight shooter.
He had guts.
He had credibility.
Corporate media has none of that these days, chewing up and spitting out young, talented news people who come into the business wanting to make a difference and leave with disappointment, their passion extinguished by bean counters who have never written a headline in their life, but are adept at making promises they cannot keep.
The advent of the Internet has made it even worse, because now, anybody with a computer and a website can post the most salacious, fallacious, drivel and find an audience.
To keep up, the people who deliver the news must seem braver than they really are, must convince their audience they were “right there in the thick of it” even if they weren’t, make themselves more “sellable” to the public.
The real newsies, however – and, I am proud to say, I work with a bunch of them – tend to seek anonymity; not make a lot of friends because tomorrow, those friends may be at the center of the latest scandal or legal wrangling; and must always be suspicious of people who suddenly wish to become their newest best friend.
Some learn the lesson, while others are too easily inebriated by the celebrity their position offers as they make the talk show rounds or, on the local level, are courted by the powers that be in government, business, the community.
From the days of the old town crier, the news hasn’t changed.
However, the character of the people who deliver the news has.
And not for the better, whether they are from the left, right, middle, or, especially, corporate boardrooms.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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