I started out my professional life as a journalist, trained in it, and came to New York City for that purpose.  Specifically, a print journalist since I wasn't pretty or nice enough to get on TV.  My hero's were "investigative reporters," who broke the stories that changed the world, of course.  I wound up with jobs at places like Metalworking News, and Graphic Science Magazine, but that was okay.  At least I got to learn my craft. Later I'd switch to creative writing, which became my life long pursuit.

     I learned enough to understand what "standards" are in the media and "accountability."  It was unthinkable to publish a fact that wasn't checked, even if it was the number of screws a company manufactured. Without an editor's approval nothing was published.  That's one reason it's been so shocking to see what's happened to the media, especially since the advent of cable news and the internet, where there's little if any accountability.  The other bedrock principle of reporting, especially in the murky waters of politics and opinion, is objectivity. I fear that's also taken a terrible beating, to such a point that millions can no longer see it's been lost.

     I don't think it takes a journalist, however, to see that some sources no longer have any pretense of objectively reporting the news.  The days of Edward R. Murrow, John Chancellor, Howard K. Smith, Huntley/Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite are over.  The criteria used to select the news has changed.  Rather than stories that affect everyone, the stories most often told today are the most sensational, appealing to the biases of certain segments of the populace.  It's called "tabloid" journalism, since that's what it was considered in the era that came before--gossip.  

     The new breed of anchors are more like mercenaries hired to see how much money they can make--for themselves and their employers.  What used to be a noble profession has become a run for the bucks.  Some are much worse than others. Any sense of responsibility toward the standards that were once universally accepted no longer apply.  What once united us, a common perception of the world based on shared values, has now become a source of divisiveness.  Stories are deemed "newsworthy" for no other reason than demonizing the other side.  If it hadn't actually happened, it'd be hard to imagine since it destroys credibility.  An attack on one personality becomes the basis for an attack on another, or a justification for whatever lies and deceit they engage in.

     A scholar of the media could precisely specify when and how exactly it happened, noting the step by step transition. The most obvious development was the creation of Rupert Murdoch's Fox "News." It's purpose since the very beginning has been to scare people and they've been very successful at it.  Murdoch introduced the dissemination of facts in the service of commentary, rather than commentary in the service of facts.  Innuendo has taken the place of analysis.  He discovered how to do it in Australia, perfected it in Britain, and didn't waste any time putting together his army in the US.  I really wonder if anything in the last say thirty years equals it for sheer impact, regardless of anyone's personal politics.

     In my take, what happened next is more of the media followed suit by also replacing news with commentary and sensationalist programming, confirming bias, rather than reinforcing the values that show the best in us.  The war was on.  Indeed, some pay more attention than others to fact based reporting, but it supports an ideology and populist sentiments.  The "news" today is more like a sporting event where the fans root for their team. Any semblance of good sportsmanship is long gone--and that has now spread through every nook and cranny of the land.

     Another loss is our knowledge of international news.  Our obsession with ourselves is such that few Americans have any idea what's going on in the world.  We have to turn to other sources, such as the BBC.  It's no wonder xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and isolationism are taking over--the same factors that devastated Europe in the last century.  The chances of history repeating itself are increasing, despite all the technical advances that make communication so much easier. 

    It was only a matter of time before a sufficiently unscrupulous candidate appeared to exploit the warring tribes, like so many others, declare the opposition "fake" and thereby bond himself to his followers. If history credits Trump with anything after the smoke clears that'll be it.  He couldn't have become president otherwise.  The stage was set and he took it over.  Nobody did more to put him in power than Rupert Murdoch. By playing one side against the other, he rallies his troops, receives the admiration he requires, and turns many into believers for whom he can do no wrong, even if that includes allowing a foreign power to interfere in our elections, and sovereignty, and get away with it--a tribute to the power of the media--all the while waving the flag,

     In my discussions with many Fox viewers, they've been most successful in convincing them their survival is at stake.  Somebody is conspiring to get them, even if they don't always know who, or won't admit who they think it is.  They're taught America is no longer a safe place for them.  The normal boundaries of propriety have been breached.  They've been spoon fed a narrative that explains all his excesses--horrific acts of contempt they'd never accept otherwise. That explains their abject loyalty--the bane of moderates and liberals--jealous in their search for the perfect candidate. Since the opposing media is the object of their derision, there's little if any likely hood the national conversation will return to greater civility, rather than less.  It's a reality better accepted than swept into the corner.  The future will be affected no matter who gets onto the stage next.  

     The biggest test for this sinking ship is the midterms.  After two years unlike any seen before, will the alliance created by Trump, Fox, Limbaugh, and similar outlets prevail, or has all the screaming and shouting scared off those who haven't taken sides--said to still be the majority of the electorate?  How much longer will they sit self-righteously above the fray? Due to gerrymandering, a Republican senator represents 2.51 million people, the average Democrat represents 3.65 million.  According to the calculations of Christopher R. Browning, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, writing in the 10/25/18 edition of the New York Review of Books, 

     The fifty senators from the twenty-five least populated states--twenty-nine of them Republicans--represent just 16 per cent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators--enough to block conviction on impeachment charges--represent states with a total of 21 per cent of the American population.   

     It will take a 7 to 11 point margin to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives--a wave of remarkable proportions.  Because it happened to Obama doesn't mean it will happen to Trump.  We know the polls are not of much use at present.  They certainly missed in the presidential.  Voters, no longer trusting our institutions, respond to the pollsters with denial. The attitude seems to be: "since nobody else is telling the truth, why should I?"  Adolescent irresponsibility has become the norm.  The grown-ups, Mr. Cronkite and his peers, are no longer in the house. Nobody has come forward with anything close to their stature to take their place. Americans would probably not pay any attention to them even if they did.


Views: 233

Comment by Ron Powell on October 18, 2018 at 12:05pm

"Americans would probably not pay any attention to them even if they did."

This bears reviewing as often as possible:

Comment by J.P. Hart on October 18, 2018 at 12:37pm

The Media and the Midterms, kind Ben Sen, rates-ranks right up there with the thrill I experienced at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1957 when Andy Pafko made a somersault catch after charging in from deep center field tumbling and coming up with the ball... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!STANDING OVATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by koshersalaami on October 18, 2018 at 3:29pm

Good analysis. 

Comment by Robert B. James on October 18, 2018 at 4:25pm

True that Ben Sen...the same gate keepers that managed access to both parties arbitrate what gets said by whom on the air. If it took Fox and Trump to break the trance most have been lulled into by bad diet, pills, and to little physical activity...well he’ll, Ben...it might be a win for the planet in the long run. Might...or might not. Mid terms could be the start of something better.  

Comment by Maui Surfer on October 18, 2018 at 8:35pm

Ironically, when 60 Minutes premiered on CBS, and then became the most watched show on the groove tube, many though it was doing the citizenry a service, reporting facts and knowledge to the couch potato, how could that be a bad thing? Well, the bean counters saw the profits, and news departments everywhere began their descent into what is now just an Internet click race. If you dig into the management, clicks is all they are interested in, though that is actually passe in Web Marketing overall, they still swear by it. As to cable news, it is just the people like us, the ones on either side who care, though the Right are continually brainwashed and fear-mongered to literally no end, they still watch, but few of the nation are represented. Thank You Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, et al., you managed to take what were once the FCC's Fairness Doctrines and turn them into slot machines.

The best laid Plans of Mice and Men ...

Hard to believe the original Fox Company decades ago produced thoughtful, groundbreaking Far Left media such as the Academy Nominated film Pinky which every Right Wing Dickhead should be tied into a chair and forced to watch.

But, to answer what the Fox of today has really tapped into, you need a real talented Shrink. They formulate question in a fashion that entices the cracker hater to admit what is really on their mind, and, despite no evidence for it, what they are really scared of is REVENGE. They think the Blacks will kill them for Slavery, The Mexicans for stealing their country, while the Canadians will simply knock their teeth out with hockey sticks, well, for fun. Thanks Gordie Howe.

What they are FAR TOO STUPID and prejudiced to know is that the younger generation has already mixed, miscegenation is a law with no teeth and no adherents, THERE IS NO ONE AND NOTHING TO BE SCARED OF, except Sean Hannity's boogieman ... a black, crack using, Mandingo descended, white girl chasing, welfare and food stamp wanting, Ripple drinker.

Comment by Tom Cordle on October 19, 2018 at 5:38pm

"I wasn't pretty or nice enough to get on TV" Reminds me of the crack "he had a face made for radio"

"Without an editor's approval nothing was published." It appears the world is not a better place without gatekeepers

"A scholar of the media could precisely specify when and how exactly it happened, noting the step by step transition. The most obvious development was the creation of Rupert Murdoch's Fox "News." " While I share your disdain for Fux News, I'm compelled to point out that the movie "Network" exposed "infotainment" news way back in 1977.

"The biggest test for this sinking ship is the midterms" I have repeatedly said this is the most important election in this country since 1860. It is not a coincidence that in both times the dominant culture feared a big change was at hand, change involving persons of colot.

Comment by Dicky Neely on October 20, 2018 at 10:28am

A most excellent essay sir. I apreciate your knowledge and experience and the thoughtful points you make here. Well done.

Comment by Ted Frier on October 20, 2018 at 11:45am

If we were all in the middle ages movie "Dragon heart" with Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery as the voice of the dragon, I would call you a "Knight of the Old Code." I was trained as a journalist as well, and I like to think that I behaved in conformance with the Canons of Journalism from the 1940s that formalized the obligations reporters have to accuracy, accountability and fairness. And it still stings when I talk with friends and family who laugh when I talk about "objectivity" because they have been programmed to automatically connect "media" with "bias." 

I suppose that is what you get when you redefine "bias" to mean any report, however accurate, that disadvantages your side.  And so the New York Times is "biased" against Trump when they report -- no, when they document -- that Trump is a liar and a cheat and a papa's boy who always needed dad's money to bail him out from one bad business deal after another.  That is what we are up against -- the systematic obliteration of the very idea of truth disconnected from partisanship and faction. 

I agree with you that "truth" is the most important issue of our times.  Exposing the liars and the cheats and the strategies of those who cleverly bend the facts to deceive not inform -- that is mostly what I think we are trying to do as Knights of this Old Code.  It's painstaking.  It takes a long time to disentangle fact from fiction and fabrication in a way that those living by fiction can understand, let alone accept.  Few spend the time.  Most have countermeasures they are not even aware of, a kind of memory chip uploaded into their brains by Fox News and others, that activate anytime they encounter ideas or arguments that do not compute with the reality they've come to believe.  It's very hard to break through these barriers because they are latched onto powerful emotions and instincts regarding the tribes we all belong to in one way or another and the loyalties to those tribes that count for more than any alternative reality we might encounter in our travels every day. 

But its' imperative we do find a way to break through.  Democracy depends on it.  Popular government without shared values, a shared understanding of what is real, and a widespread agreement there are rules we must follow is nothing more than a numbers. Factions do whatever they can to ensure they have more than anyone else -- whether that means colluding with the Russians to sabotage the other side, or going to extraordinary lengths to prevent the other side's supporters from voting. 

A good example of our tenuous grip on reality is Brett Kavenaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.  So long as Republicans voted along party lines there was never anything the Democrats could do to stop him from becoming a high court justice.  So Republicans got Kavenaugh through by sticking together without any Republican defectors -- and a couple of Democrats in red states who voted "yes" when Kavanaugh's confirmation was no longer in doubt.  Big deal.  Why is it a victory when you control all the rules -- which, by the way, is the way Trump has lived his entire life. 

But somehow the narrative has developed that the lesson of Kavanaugh's confirmation is as a rebuke of Democrats who unfairly maligned the reputation and family of a very good man. 

And if Republicans do manage to hold onto both the House and Senate this will be one of the main reasons why.  That narrative is as deplorable and infuriating  as you think it is.  It dismisses the lengths to which Republicans were willing to go to ensure that Kavanaughs' accusors never had a chance to present the  corroborating evidence a lot of us still believe is out there.  It leaves out the angry rant that Kavanaugh delivered to the judiciary committee -- complete with insults to senators -- leading one former Court justice to declare Kavanaugh was unfit for the Court. Kadeclaring  It leaves out that Trump -- without even uncorroborated evidence -- publicly humiliated a victim of sexual assault and then said it didn't matter whether Dr. Ford was telling the truth or not "because we won."  And they wouldn't have, Trump brags, had he not trashed her without cause. 

So yes, we are living under circumstances that are just as ugly and hateful as we all think it is.  But we do have Trump, and Trump's behavior, to thank for showing us what this nightmare looks like.    

Comment by Ben Sen on October 20, 2018 at 9:18pm

Wow.  What bounty of adroit comments.  Despite the fact it ain't like the old days on Open Salon when we were under attack and got our miserable asses kissed, it's still fun to know some real writers are in the game.  At least we got each other.  Thanks for encouraging me.  And you asked for it.  Why don't more join in?  I ain't got clue.  What do you think?

Comment by Ben Sen on October 21, 2018 at 12:54pm

Tom, if you're still here:  I agree, race takes it to it's logical conclusion, but the true Trumpers rarely think that way.  They're unconscious of it, or just plain lying like they've been trained to do.  Thank you for your close reading.  I'm more concerned expectations are too high for the election, since the "Kavanaugh Show."  I think they're some Trumpers ashamed of themselves and that's why they don't respond to polls.  They don't want people to know how scared they are.



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