A Lesson for Students of Journalism

by lizard

I don’t mean this as an attack on those individuals who chose journalism as a profession, but more as a plea to the yet-to-be-compromised youngsters moving through the institutionalized bowels of their higher education. The fourth estate is fucked, and if you want to make a living reporting the news, you will inevitably be employed to shit on its remnants.

On The Death of the Fourth Estate, Billy O’Connor opens with this:

“Even if your mother says she loves you, check it out,” my professor preached. “Believe nothing you hear or read without verification.”

When I earned my journalism degree from the University of Florida, Mike Foley chiseled those two sentences in my brain.

Non-journalists are also beginning to question print and broadcast news. According to a recent Gallup survey, only 40 percent of Americans believe what they read in newspapers.

The scattered remnants of the fourth estate now flitter across the digital landscape, disembodied bits of data that must be sought out, often to confirm one’s bias. That Gallup poll putting belief in print at about 40 percent signals a growing cynicism over the accuracy of the old-guard media form of information dissemination. And for good reason.

In a more desperate plea, John Pilger opens his piece about War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda with a clutch of rapid-fire questions:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do the New York Times and the Washington Post deceive their readers?

Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what’s called the mainstream media is not information, but power?

These are urgent questions. The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.

Americans should never forget or forgive the role of the New York Times in selling the Iraq war by peddling Bush regime lies. Journalist students should spit on the ground at the mention of the Grey Lady. The mainstream media has grown too monstrous to not revile in the harshest of terms. Millions of people have been slaughtered as a direct result.

Here’s more from Pilger about the current state of the MSM:

The times we live in are so dangerous and so distorted in public perception that propaganda is no longer, as Edward Bernays called it, an “invisible government”. It is the government. It rules directly without fear of contradiction and its principal aim is the conquest of us: our sense of the world, our ability to separate truth from lies.

The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media – a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.

Add to the rubble the Rolling Stone for allowing its UVA rape piece by Sabrina Erdely to hit print without, apparently, enough pre-print scrutiny. From A Note to Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

Honoring her request or not doing your fucking job? Misplaced trust or abandoning journalistic standards?

The media environment journalism students enter after their higher education (probably loaded with debt) is a landscape of compromised principles that directly correlate with the career ladder and the paycheck. The more you make, the more prominent you become, the less you should be trusted.

This lesson comes free of charge. You are welcome.

  1. Good post, but it is the idea that anything has changed in the post-war era that confounds me. I don’t think anyone in the media has yet admitted that Tonkin was a hoax. They didn’t report the facts of the 19583 Guatemala coup until the 1990’s.

    Journalists are bound to make factual errors in reporting, and they can’t be expected to have inside knowledge of everything they report on. That’s all forgivable.

    it is how they behave around power that makes them worthless, in my eyes. But also understandable. Journalists who get too close to power and report accurately on it usually end up on the outside looking in. The worst case I ever encountered, as reported by Alexander Cockburn, was Peter Arnett bravely reporting what he could see from his hotel in Baghdad in 1991 for CNN. The hotel, according to Cockburn, became a military target because of that – that is, they intended to bomb the place, murder him can call it collateral damage.

    That’s an extreme example, but sanctions are always in place for reporters who report. Generally, it is simply failure to advance in the profession. The cream does not rise in that profession.

    • lizard19

      um, you and I are conversing online, on a blog post. that is absolutely a change. I couldn’t share my perspective or draw attention to alternative media sources 30 years ago. and I doubt, if Gallup polled back then, that a mere 40% would believe what they read in newspapers.

    • I agree it is a change. We used to have an “alternative press” however, so information was always accessible. I subscribed to a number of publications performing the same function as Counterpunch does now. But few people did.

      And as I see it now, people are still driven to the usual suspects, NY Times, big networks, even as they access them online, and those major news outlets are still sock puppets for the national security state.

  2. Re: Rolling Stone.

    It seems odd to me that the editor does’t offer a redaction of the story and instead they talk in vague terms of
    ‘misplaced trust” and “discrepancies”.

    Which leads me to believe that they so want the story to be true ideologically that pride prevails or they’re acting with the advice of their attorneys and hunkering down for the civil lawsuit.

  3. steve kelly

    “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”
    Marshall McLuhan

    And who among us is not at least a little bit brainwashed a little bit of the time? http://www.cracked.com/article_16656_6-brainwashing-techniques-theyre-using-you-right-now.html

    Techniques simply exceed human ability to combat the daily barrage of bs. But if you don’t try, you could turn into a smart form of algae.

    • Good article, though the guy is bogged down in partisan politics. He also missed the greatest ridicule device yet invented in this country: If you question official truth, you’re a “conspiracy theorist.” That turns otherwise functioning brains off quicker than thinking of Grandma and Grandpa having sex.

      I am curious if anyone else 1) follows the link and … 2) then reads more than the headline.

    • Steve W

      Yes, a good article indeed.

      #5 has been used ad nauseum to demonize Putin. RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE says Ukraine propaganda expert.

      • mike

        Yo , Steve, would you rather live with Putins justice system or ours, we do have flaws but you equating the two shows you are a dolt. .

        Any reasonable person would come to this conclusion, steve.

        Time to head back to your propaganda, likely infused by your youthful zeal derp fests.

        Communism killed around 100 million people in the last century…that is reality that misguided youth ignore….that pesky history thing.

        • Steve W

          I’d rather live with both. but I would also probably rather live without you, personally. If I had the choice of Vladmir or you as my room-mate, mike, I’d chose Vlad. Do you have your own place?

          Did you hear about the 6 ways I’m being propagandized right now? I think it’s up thread. Check it out.

          I lived the 80s man. Communism is dead. Take my word for it. Relax. Empty your mind and repeat, it’s all going to be ok it’s all going to be ok it’s all going to be ok it’s all going to be ok

          How long have you been posting here abouts?

  4. plainandsimplepress

    Well said! Just held forth on the same subject to my journalism students, many of them wanna-be magazine writers. I’ll post a link to this on their website.

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