The New Yorker ponders journalism’s future, ignores Walter Lippmann in profession’s past

A decent essay from Jill Lepore at The New Yorker. Longish, but worth the read.

However, one point where I strongly differ from Lepore:

For Pressman, the pivotal period for the modern newsroom is what Abramson calls “Halberstam’s Golden Age,” between 1960 and 1980, and its signal feature was the adoption not of a liberal bias but of liberal values: “Interpretation replaced transmission, and adversarialism replaced deference.” In 1960, nine out of every ten articles in the Times about the Presidential election were descriptive; by 1976, more than half were interpretative. This turn was partly a consequence of television—people who simply wanted to find out what happened could watch television, so newspapers had to offer something else—and partly a consequence of McCarthyism. “The rise of McCarthy has compelled newspapers of integrity to develop a form of reporting which puts into context what men like McCarthy have to say,” the radio commentator Elmer Davis said in 1953. Five years later, the Times added “News Analysis” as a story category. “Once upon a time, news stories were like tape recorders,” the Bulletin of the American Society of Newspaper Editors commented in 1963. “No more. A whole generation of events had taught us better—Hitler and Goebbels, Stalin and McCarthy, automation and analog computers and missiles.”

These changes weren’t ideologically driven, Pressman insists, but they had ideological consequences. At the start, leading conservatives approved. “To keep a reporter’s prejudices out of a story is commendable,” Irving Kristol wrote in 1967. “To keep his judgment out of a story is to guarantee that the truth will be emasculated.” After the Times and the Post published the Pentagon Papers, Kristol changed his spots. Journalists, he complained in 1972, were now “engaged in a perpetual confrontation with the social and political order (the ‘establishment,’ as they say).” By 1975, after Watergate, Kristol was insisting that “most journalists today . . . are ‘liberals.’ ” With that, the conservative attack on the press was off and running, all the way to Trumpism—“the failing New York Times,” “CNN is fake news,” the press is “the true enemy of the people”—and, in a revolution-devouring-its-elders sort of way, the shutting down of William Kristol’s Weekly Standard, in December. “The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard . . . is flat broke and out of business,” Trump tweeted. “May it rest in peace!”

Liberal, i.e. left-wing, “bias” and values — I don’t see Lepore’s distinction — were baked into journalism’s professional ethic when Walter Lippmann decided to develop one in the early 20th century. Lippmann pioneered journalism’s turn to objectivity, a methodological process carried out by technocrats, i.e. journalists, that was supposed to resemble science and emulate its epistemological rigor in scrutinizing society instead of the natural world. This is in large part because the masses, for Lippmann, could not be counted on to grasp what was really going on outside “the pictures in their heads” and accordingly make the appropriate electoral decisions.

So, for the liberal ideal of democracy to have a chance, the right public opinion — or range thereof — had to be nurtured and cultivated by a class of objective experts. Self-rule was perhaps only possible if elites gave citizens the information they needed to be truly autonomous. In other words, social reality was too complex, the electorate too incompetent for everyday people to govern themselves without the expertise of journalists.

That’s the theoretical basis in the 1920s that gets you in no small part the news analysis and “interpretative” coverage that Lepore notes occurred in the second half of the century. It’s also a significant factor in how we get a frantic press corps sallying its mighty influence to take down down a Constitutionally-elected president in Donald Trump in 2019.

This type of professional behavior was and is most definitely ideologically motivated. Modern journalism emerged from the moral fervor of American progressivism and its attendant influences. How could it not have similar values and beliefs? How does this not manifest in bias, particularly in these turbulent days?

To put it another way, Trump is the chosen talisman of the recalcitrant American masses who are repudiating the self-important oligarchical status quo within which journalists are a main player. He is an avatar of the populism threatening the neo-liberal order and their vaunted place in it. Thus, the reported narrative about his election and presidency tells of “white supremacy” and authoritarian impulses endangering democratic institutions — especially freedom of the press — empowered by an ascendant fascism percolating from 63 million “deplorable” voters. Hyperbolic and hysterical, this interpretation of the so-called facts, mind you, comes from those who see themselves as the objective caretakers of the “Marketplace of Ideas.” Yet, as evidenced by their histrionics, like in the above-mentioned yarn, these supposed adepts seemingly possess a disqualifying ignorance of the produce, the exchange of which they’re apparently duty-bound to curate. It’s that old Platonic notion of rule by the wise, except legacy news organizations, the self-proclaimed practitioners of objectivity, are increasingly proving themselves to be lacking the humility, temperance, and open-mindedness indicative of what the ancients called wisdom. So forget Lippmann and press theory. Nowadays, one just has to look at a grandstanding Jim Acosta on CNN or read the self-aggrandizing platitude of “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on top of the Washington Post‘s website — the addition of which occurred after Trump’s election — to discern the Fourth Estate’s dogmatism. No journalist is required to glean the truth here.

Shhhsh! They don’t want you to know that! And that patronizing attitude, dear readers, is the point. Such self-serving elitism is ideological. Moreover, it’s not a bug to be worked out of the operating system; thanks to Lippmann, it is a permanent feature of it. Lepore fails to see, let alone admits, this, projecting instead her own partisanship on the right, writing off conservatives as merely grumbling about phantasms of “liberal media bias” spawned by the specter of Spiro Agnew. It’s poor tact in an otherwise trenchant take on the crisis of modern journalism.

Real it all here.


Journalists and Ferguson: An American failure, tragedy and nightmare

I’ve kept quiet about Ferguson, but now it’s time for my silence to come to an end. If you haven’t already heard the grand jury’s decision, Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot the unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, has not been indicted. Rightfully so, I emphatically add. With the conflicting and changing witness accounts and the evidence for his innocence — the facial contusion he received in the altercation, Brown’s DNA found on Wilson’s clothes, gun and car, and the autopsy’s findings — there is no rational case against him.

There certainly is an irrational case out for his blood. Too many feel that Brown, being black and unarmed, and Wilson, being white and a police officer, must mean the Brown’s death was a racially fueled slaying and endemic of a prejudiced criminal justice system. Who helped peddle and perpetuate this falsehood and make race-baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson possible? We ought to hold those responsible, especially because, well, Ferguson has burst into flames again. It’s those oh, so trusted journalists.

And who am I to make such an indictment? Just a member of their despicable ranks, though I’m no longer of a kindred spirit. I haven’t been for some time thanks in large part to travesties like Ferguson that the industry seems to promulgate faster than vermin breeding.

In this post, I will put my experience from reporting, editing and designing news and my soon-to-be degrees (finishing my master’s thesis) from the oldest and best journalism school in the country to some good, patriotic use worthy of the American people. In the old days, they called that journalism. With that expertise, I will comment and lay bare the sins of news media in their coverage of the calamity as best as I’ve observed. I’m not alone in my chastisement of mainstream media either in this regard.

Before I start, I want to make something undoubtedly clear: I don’t deny that racism doesn’t exist or that blacks don’t experience racism or that there are no racist cops. Although all the available evidence shows otherwise, if Wilson had murdered Brown or any law enforcement officer guns down a defenseless black teen, then yes, that person should be prosecuted and face the consequences for such an action. What I do contest, however, is this notion that we are still living in Selma, Alabama, circa 1960, and white racism is so fervent and entrenched in society that it’s the bane of black existence and the reason for their impoverishment.

With that disclaimer out there, it was my mother who informed me that she heard Brown had previously been involved in a robbery on the day of the shooting. We also noticed and discussed that this claim, which turned out to be credible, was not mentioned as the story began to break nationally. Moreover, it wasn’t until about a week later that many news media outlets began to acknowledge the robbery because of the infamous strong-arm surveillance video. Therefore, news media had what was relevant information that newsrooms chose to withhold. It was pertinent enough that it would have provided an alternative reason as to why Wilson had interacted with Brown instead of racist motivations, which were clearly implied in initial coverage. As for verifiability at that point, I see no issue as long as journalists were transparent, i.e., “There are unconfirmed reports that Brown was a suspect in the robbery of a local convenience store earlier today. We are currently following up on any leads to determine what happened in Ferguson, Mo. We’ll let you know when we know more.” It is certainly less speculative than merely reporting that a white cop shot an unarmed, allegedly submissive black teen and licking your lips for the ensuing pandemonium.

Then there’s also the sole use of the words teen or teenager to describe Brown. Not only does this stir up bias against Wilson, it is professionally incorrect. Journalists conform to what’s known as Associated Press style in their presentations of news. They refer to a handbook the AP publishes every year that dictates which words, phrases, names and spellings to use in writing. And according to AP style, anyone 18 and older is supposed to be referred to as a man or woman. And I quote from my 2010 edition Associated Press Stylebook: “youth Applicable to boys and girls from age 13 until 18th birthday. Use man or woman for individuals 18 and older.” Moreover, this rule is not an obscure reference like the entry on what are the Anglicized spellings of specific Chinese cities. It’s well known among professional journalists, as they report the ages of the people they interview for stories all the time. I’ve both taken and graded stylebook quizzes that have tested students on this principle of style. With the epitaph of the “gentle giant” that was about to start college and the running of an outdated photo of a much younger-looking Brown, news media were obviously framing the story as a one-sided narrative of a malicious shooting of a good kid by a white policemen for the crime of being black with little to no verifiable facts about the fatal encounter.

I’ve been taught in school that journalists are supposed to avoid this two-valued orientation, either-or paradigm in their stories. The truth, at least in a journalistic sense, tends to be more complicated than solely reporting he said-she said and parroting back what often are the only two-sided talking points of politicians. Often, there are more than two perspectives on any given issue, and when the investigation and story demands it, these other voices need to be brought into focus. To not do so perpetuates division and tribalism. And with Ferguson, I wonder why we clearly have two distinct, opposing camps with many in one party pledging and executing destructive retribution against all those who they perceive as not an active member of their cause.

With voyeuristic interest, mainstream media watches the riotous fulfillment of this promise in Ferguson, the ones they facilitated with their inaccurate, biased coverage. After all, violence sells. They appear drunk off the Molotov cocktails and high from the smoldering ruins of police cars and buildings, playing-up the devastation while downplaying the sheer lawlessness of the ordeal for days. It really appears that in their minds that this abhorrent behavior is somehow excusable because the underlying sentiment behind it is justified. The innocent Ferguson business owners and employees are victims — those other voices I’ve been talking about — that are having their livelihoods decimated because of the wanton, unruly looting of opportunistic villains more invested in pilfering hair extensions than “justice” for the Brown family and the greater black community. But this is all acceptable for journalists. Hardly containing their approval and glee, all that matters for journalists is the black versus white civil rights narrative, the defiant minority fighting the oppressive criminal justice system that regularly gets away with killing them with impunity. It’s here I must conclude leftist journalists have not only lost their minds but also their souls.

Intellectually speaking, the most prevalent killer of young black men in this country is young black men. Nationally, 94 percent of black homicides are committed by other blacks. Writing for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2012, George Mason economics professor Walter Williams notes:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims. Using the 94-percent figure means that 262,621 were murdered by other blacks.

Though blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it’s 22 times that of whites.

Coupled with being most of the nation’s homicide victims, blacks are most of the victims of violent personal crimes, such as assault and robbery.

The magnitude of this tragic mayhem can be viewed in another light. According to a Tuskegee Institute study, between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched at the hands of whites. Black fatalities during the Korean War (3,075), Vietnam War (7,243) and all wars since 1980 (8,197) come to 18,515, a number that pales in comparison with black loss of life at home.

It’s a tragic commentary to be able to say that young black males have a greater chance of reaching maturity on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan than on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Newark and other cities.

A much larger issue is how might we interpret the deafening silence about the day-to-day murder in black communities compared with the national uproar over the killing(s) of Trayvon Martin (and Michael Brown).

According to Edward Flynn, Milwaukee’s police chief, “Eighty percent of my homicide victims every year are African-American. Eighty percent of our aggravated assault are African-American. Eighty percent of our shooting victims who survive their shooting are African-American.” In his rant, Flynn cuts to heart of the matter with moral precision. If black lives matter — and they definitely do! — then why is there no publicized outrage for these tragedies, which are far more common occurrences than the stereotypical cop shooting a black teen?

Of course, detractors like Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson in his recent debate with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani retort:

First of all, most black people who commit crimes against other black people go to jail. Number two, they are not sworn by the police department as an agent of the state to uphold the law. So in both cases, that’s a false equivalency that the mayor has drawn, which has exacerbated tensions that are deeply imbedded in American culture.

…Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.

Firstly, the claim that blacks are incarcerated for these violent crimes is untrue. According to Chicago magazine, only 132 of the city’s 507 gang-related murders have been solved. Similar problems persist apparently in the country’s other large cities such as New York and Los Angeles. In other words, the goons who are perpetrating these acts are likely not getting caught. In regard to “number two,” it’s Dyson who is drawing the false equivalency. The life of a civilian isn’t supposed to involve violence, while the nature of police work is dangerous. Part of the job description is to confront and detail evil doers who will try to resist and kill the officers. Therefore, at times, lethal force to uphold the law is necessary and justified.

Additionally, as a demographic, blacks are culpable for large swaths of crime. Take this excerpt from Jason L. Riley’s book Please Stop Helping Us in The Washington Times:

Today blacks are about 13 percent of the population and continue to be responsible for an inordinate amount of crime. Between 1976 and 2005 blacks com­mitted more than half of all murders in the United States. The black arrest rate for most offenses — including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes — is still typically two to three times their representation in the population.

Hence, it isn’t unexpected, nevertheless unfortunate, for a cop to occasionally shoot a suspect who happens to be black. Whether or not the officer exerted sound judgment needs to be determined case-by-case. What is surprising for most Americans, again unfortunately, is how infrequent this type of incident is, about as common as the “knockout game,” which never garners national media attention. Bill Whittle argues the following:

According to the FBI, there were 408,217 robberies in 2009. That’s about 1100 a day, or in round numbers, about once a minute, 24 hours a day. That means a thousand times a day the police are called, a thousand times a day arrests are made and in general terms the events leading up to the shots being fired in Ferguson Missouri happen about one thousand times per day.

So if there’s this epidemic of white policemen executing innocent black males, why do we only hear about a case like this every few years? And why do most of those cases – like this one – seem to end up with extenuating circumstances? And why do the few cases that don’t have extenuating circumstances end up with the offending officers in jail? If this is an epidemic – where’s the epidemic? 30,000 commercial flights land safely each day in America. They don’t make the news either.

As Whittle implies, it’s because the likes of MSNBC and CNN would have us to believe that there is a racial outbreak of white cops killing black teens. Statistically, that proposition hardly seems the case. Summarily, “Some identifiable groups . . . commit crime at a rate that is higher than the national rate. Blacks are such a group. That is simply a fact,” wrote former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy in 2005, and many blacks find themselves the victims of such acts.

Too many journalists ignore all of what I have laid out here, and this negligence is unacceptable. In journalism ethics scholarship, there is something called the social responsibility theory of the press, which is rooted in the 1940s Hutchins Commission. This group formulated five principles by which the press ought to operate, two of which are:

  • a truthful, comprehensive account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning
  • projection of a representative picture of the constituent groups in the society

Scholars tend to agree that the commission failed to affect change in the industry and disagree about how well the theory translates to news media. However, studies show journalists and journalism students concur with the ethical content of the principles even when they are expressed in the commission’s language. As I will attest with my educational experience, discussion of journalism ethics are framed in the terms of social responsibility.

So, journalists know better, yet both of the above requirements are being defiled by mainstream news media by blowing out of proportion the killings of Trayvon Martin and Brown as evidence of a prejudiced society out to get blacks. The considerable contrary details and facts surrounding their deaths are obscured without a reference to hard crime data, while partisan speculation takes center stage to prove the overarching narrative. Take this drivel, which thoroughly lacks credibility because there is no attribution and transparency in its presentation. There is no account of who made the video, how CNN got it, no names for the witnessing construction workers (the paper I worked had a strict no anonymous source policy outside of exceptional cases like sexual assault victims), no cross-reference between the streets depicted and where Brown died, no verifiable way in the footage itself to show where it was taken outside of CNN’s assertion it’s in Ferguson and the overall poor visual and audio quality of the footage. As I’ve been taught, I would never feel comfortable running such an incendiary and controversial story without these type of things to back me up.

Furthermore, take for example this misrepresentation of the prosecuting attorney’s Robert McCulloch’s explanation to not indict Wilson as merely a lack of sufficient evidence opposed to his articulation of the positive physical and forensic counter-evidence that supported Wilson’s account in the text underneath the photo gallery. How about NBC’s Brian Williams saying on-air the grand jury “failed” to produce an indictment, as if it was their responsibility. The tactic these last few days has been to question McCulloch’s objectivity and the grand jury as a legal procedure — as if their convened kangaroo court of public opinion that is ready to draw and quarter Wilson is any better — while disregarding all the scientifically collected and verified evidence from the scene. Again, all these distortions and misdirections perpetuates the myth that the criminal justice system is unequivocally against blacks. It is absolutely sickening and impossible to shrug off these mistakes institutionally as honest lapses in human judgment. They are far too many and too concentrated for such graceful appraisal.

Why has journalism become so blatantly unethical, biased and dishonorable? I have no studies to support me here, so the following is all me. Apart from incentive for profit, the majority of journalists tend to be liberals, and the industry is ideologically homogenous. Newsrooms have become ivory tower echo-chambers with only one voice resounding, which is bound to tacitly promote one way of thinking and thereby influence journalistic practice. Many journalists I have worked with are decent, intelligent people but are products of modern liberalism, which conditions people with appeals to emotion. I also have noticed both the lack and expressed depreciation of the abstract critical thinking skills needed to overcome their subjective opinions and biases to not become unwitting cogs in the Left’s propaganda machine. For the most part, I think their errors are not in harmful intent, but I do have suspicions that the media elite, so convinced of their righteousness, knowingly manipulate coverage because they ultimately think they know what’s best for the electorate. To quote a translation of Karl Marx, “The philosophers have only variously interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.”

Conspiracy theories aside, Ferguson is a dark snapshot in history of America showing its absolute worst, as created and captured by journalists. In this time, a man is presumed guilty only based on the color of his skin, legal processes and civil servants are repudiated in favor of mob justice and a community cannibalizes itself perhaps to the point of no recovery. Only the truly depraved can dismiss the senseless and gratuitous destruction of private property and utter rejection of civilized law as not only irrelevant to some imaginary injustice but also extol such disorder as progress while still making money off of it. Journalists moreover have aided the civil rights movement’s transformation into a disgusting parody of itself. That isn’t to say there aren’t racist cops out there, and police brutality against blacks shouldn’t be appropriately and expediently dealt with. But in Ferguson and other places, all that matters to civil rights leaders and their acolytes, journalist or not, is that Wilson is white and Brown was black; indisputable and related facts like petty theft and assault of a police officer have no bearing in their calculations to condemn a man of murder. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed to have a dream that one day people will not be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Oh, how we have pissed on his wise words and his venerable grave.

Behold the good reverend’s nightmare:

Modus Pownens

*No sequential or causal order is meant to be applied for video and photos.