Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Dan Rather vs Sinclair

I hate to break it to all the people enraged by Sinclair Media anchors reading a script criticizing “fake stories”: the lowest common denominator in news reporting was reached by television (and radio) decades ago. Sinclair is merely the laziest version of an intellectual void called broadcast news; it is broadcast, but it merely summarizes what a few people decide should be told as news.

You will never see news that embarrasses an advertiser, or seriously calls into question capitalism or even the Constitution. All the biases of society are affirmed: non-whites are criminals a priori, whites make mistakes; women are emotional, men are rational; and so on.

I have been an economic journalist focusing on unemployment and poverty for more than three decades. I have fired and hired reporters. I have edited news.

A journalist is not someone who reads a collection of facts in front of a camera from a script someone else has written. Anyone can do that in bed with the newspaper. 

A journalist is someone who goes out and finds news, then reports on it, by finding a balanced variety of sources to provide as even-handed a story of what happened in the time allotted before the deadline. Ben Bradlee, a man whose personal ethics and privilege were questionable but whose journalism was not, called journalism "the first rough draft of history." That's what it is.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, to name the two most famous investigative reporters of our time, spent hundreds of hours finding, obtaining, then poring through excruciatingly boring documents to find the chain of corruption that unseated Nixon. That's reporting!

In contrast, most broadcast news reporters are generally airheads. They have one go-to question they parrot at every news conference: "What do you feel about [topic or event]?" I shall never forget the dumb blonde at a press conference who, cameraman in tow, asked an economist how he felt about the unemployment rate. Who cared what the guy felt? Joblessness is not about the feelings of economists. This is why their nickname is "twinkies" (blond on the outside, fluffy on the inside).

Many network news anchors may have once been reporters. Although if they were broadcast reporters, they were really in show biz from the start. You don't really think radio and television actually goes out to find out anything, do you?

Dan Rather was a small-town wire service stringer for almost 8 years. It may not have been famous or groundbreaking work, but that was legitimate journalism. Then he became a sports newscaster. Imagine the investigative reporting involved in saying who passes the ball to whom! After that, he was almost continuously an on-the-air TV figure who got lucky and was in the right places at the right time. At best, he read the news script and edited two or three words of it before airing. That's not journalism.

The actual reality of television and radio news is that they are, at best, headline services that provide shapeless, emotion-stirring stimuli read by people with mellifluous voices and handsome faces and makeup. In the seconds you hear one TV news lead with generalities aimed to make you happy, sad or angry, you could read at least three detailed print paragraphs with lots of actual and necessary facts needed to think and make decisions.

Print journalism is dying because Americans don't want to read and think. They want fluffy entertainment that requires no thought and all the hard thinking done for them and spoon fed by telegenic actors who look serious but don't really know what they are talking about.