It is no secret that journalism has fallen far in this country. Heck, it is hard to even consider it “journalism.” More like muck-raking, ideologically driven rumors and innuendo, and a rush to judgment in certain cases to push a political ideology. Some of what passes for “journalism” these days doesn’t even rise to the level of tabloid writing, it is so bad.
You know, like the recent BuzzFeed debacle for published the fictitious “Donald Dossier” as fact. Worse, the editor, Ben Smith, then went all over the airwaves trying to justify that horrific example of what passes for journalism these days. Even WaPo criticized Buzzfeed for its idiocy.
Sadly, this isn’t new. Every time there has been a crisis or some kind of attack in this country, the media rushes to judgment sans facts to lay blame on the other side of the political aisle rather than actually seeking out what happened, and who was responsible. Aurora shooting? Tea Party member! Except he wasn’t. Shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords? Inspired by Gov. Palin’s use of a bullseye! Except it wasn’t. And on I could go.
That trend of journalistic malfeasance isn’t just limited to wrongly ascribing crimes to certain groups of people, but to minimize relationships of terrorists to radical Islam. For instance, the Orlando nightclub ISIS terrorist has been referred to as a “killer” and a “shooter” just this week. No acknowledgment that his assault at the club was based on his being a radical Islamist. Nope. Even outlets like Fox refer to him as a “gunman” and “killer” rather than as an Islamic jihadi.
That is how the media shapes the narrative, and it is disconcerting, to put it mildly. The media have the task of informing us of news without the slightest hint of where they stand politically and ideologically. Sadly, we have fallen far, far from that ideal.
There are still a few good, true journalists out there, and Sharyl Attkisson is one of them. Attkisson is responsible for pulling back the curtain on Fast and Furious, Solyndra, and more, whole doggedly pursuing what happened in Benghazi. You might recall that Attkisson also had both her work and personal computers hacked by Obama’s Administration because of her work on Benghazi. This has been confirmed by forensic IT investigators. That should tell you the level of her investigative work and how threatening it is to the Powers-That-Be.
So when Attkisson wrote an open letter to “J Students” after Columbia Journalism Review supported Buzzfeed’s idiotic dossier action, I took notice. If anyone can school these upcoming journalists with authority, it would be Attkisson.
And now to Attkisson’s comments about how real journalists act, and don’t act:
“Release what you can when you have it and see what new leads it generates.”—Vanessa Gezari, Columbia Journalism Review Managing Editor
To Journalism Students: This is not a well-established investigative journalism technique. Quite the opposite.
Responsible journalists don’t “release what you can” to generate leads without verifying what’s verifiable and seeking comment from those implicated. And when fact errors are discovered in the material, it’s a huge red flag. Setting aside good journalism, this fact pattern could be interpreted (in theory) as “reckless disregard for the truth’: enough for even a public figure to prevail in a libel lawsuit.
The biggest flaw I see in CJR’s reasoning is the idea that once allegations are “discussed” by other media and in government, we have to report on it (without verifying the material or contacting those named) or else we’re complicit in sitting on a “potentially gigantic story.”
Such reasoning exhibits a naïveté that fails to recognize what propaganda groups know quite well: One way to get their smears and narratives in the public domain when traditional news won’t bite is to get them published by websites or quasi-news outlets. The “story” then goes viral, pretty soon “everyone” is discussing it, and the mainstream news says, Well, how can we ignore it?
We must resist being used as a tool in such propaganda campaigns, especially in an environment where they’re rampant.
WOW! What a concept! Not allowing yourself to be used as propaganda for certain groups or politicians! Gee, I wonder if these students even know that is POSSIBLE, considering what has passed for “news” these days. Right off the bat, Attkisson is giving them an education they clearly are not getting at Columbia.
Then Attkisson poses the questions that SHOULD have been asked and clearly were not. Again, now these folks are really getting an education:
I can tell you with reasonable certainty that the reputable media attorneys I’ve closely worked with would not have green-lighted these opposition research documents for publication with the known facts. Here are some of the questions they would have asked:
Q: Is the nature of the information potentially libelous, if it turns out to be untrue?
A: Yes. *Reason for caution.
Q: Who is the generator of the information?
A: Paid political operatives who wanted a candidate defeated. *Reason for caution.
Q: Do you have good reason to believe, and evidence that supports, the information is true?
A: We know some of it is not true. *Reason for caution.
Q: What is the motive of those who provided the documents?
A: Likely political. *Reason for caution.
Q: Can you verify all of the information?
A: No. *Reason for caution.
Q: Can you verify any of it?
A: Much of it we haven’t checked. Some of what’s been checked is false. *Reason for caution.
Q: Did you contact all of the people named or identified for their comment?
A: No. *Reason for caution.
Q: Is there a compelling reason to rush the story to publication prior to making the contacts?
A: No. *Reason for caution. […] (Click here to read the rest.)
On every front, Buzzfeed failed, as did the Columbia Journalism Review in supporting this poor excuse for journalism, a reality Attkisson highlights well in her conclusion. Not only can students take a page from Attkisson and her MO, but so could many “journalists” out there today.
There is more to Attkisson’s letter to these students, and I encourage you to read it all. That said, when you are reminded of what journalism can and SHOULD be by witnessing a true journalist at work, it might just make you angry and disgusted at the crap we are so often fed as “news.” Ugh. But it might also make you hopeful that a writer of her stature might just get through to these folks and help them become better journalists. Wouldn’t that be something?
This morning, the incomparable Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist also had an excellent piece on the media and how they are choosing to cover Trump nominees and other relevant Trump stories. Her piece, “4 Recent Examples Show Why No One Trusts Media Coverage Of Trump,” is well worth your time.
That’s it for me. Feel free to share your thoughts on this or whatever else is on your minds today. This is an Open Thread.