May 30, 2004


We citizens have to start thinking of news reporting as being about as reliable as advertising.

Thus ends Den Beste's new post on the media. The other day a new student came into my office to ask about our degree programs. When she said that she was majoring in journalism, I felt myself balk. I actually stuttered as I was handing her information. The old joke is that lawyers are the root of all evil, but these days I extend the prize to journalists. This girl's simple mention of wanting to become one of those loathesome creatures was a shock to my system.

I have said here before how I think that movies are a reflection of our values. What we believe about the world is echoed in our popular entertainment (in fact, this is one of my teaching units in my writing class). In the absolutely fascinating article Den Beste links to, called "Why We Hate the Media", James Fallows makes the same point. Way down at the bottom he talks about the Hollywood portrayal of journalists:

Since the early 1980s, the journalists who have shown up in movies have been portrayed, on average, as more loathsome than the lawyers, politicians, or business moguls who are the traditional bad guys in films about the white-collar world.

He gives many examples from specific movies and then goes on to say

Movies do not necessarily capture reality but they suggest a public mood--in this case, a contrast between the media celebrities' apparent self-satisfaction and the contempt in which its best-known representatives are held by the public. "The news media has a generally positive view of itself in the watchdog role," said the authors of an exhaustive survey of public attitudes toward the press, released in May 1995. But "the outside world strongly faults the news media for its negativism.... The public goes so far as to say that the press gets in the way of society solving its problems, an opinion that is even shared by many leaders." According to the survey, "two out of three members of the public had nothing or nothing good to say about the media." As American institutions in general have lost credibility, few have lost it as fully as the press.

Movies do not propose new values; they simply reflect existing ones. We in the blogosphere have long since lost any respect for journalists. Those like my mom's friend aren't there yet, but hopefully it's a matter of time. If we all reject the way journalism is handled, then perhaps we can see some changes.

In my class this term we spent a full two hours speaking about media bias and statistical manipulation. We used the LT's Story as a starting point, but my soldier students knew firsthand the danger of trusting the media: they have all recently returned from Iraq and have seen how the situation has been misrepresented here at home. I'd be ashamed to point them in the direction of the beginning part of the "Why We Hate the Media" article though.

You have to read the first section, Washing Their Hands of Responsibility: "North Kosan". That is how dangerous I consider the media for my personal life. That hypothetical situation, that could be my husband and his soldiers. And were I ever to find out that a journalist had chosen not to interfere, I would "remain detached" myself as I killed him with my bare hands.

Posted by Sarah at May 30, 2004 09:43 AM

When I was a boy my father once said this about newspapers:

Whenever they write about something that I know about, they get it wrong.

It certainly hasn’t gotten any better since.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at May 30, 2004 02:10 PM

I remember the TV coverage of a man being shot at outside a courthouse. Dozens of reporters and cameramen were filming it as it happened, but not one attempted to intervene.

Posted by: Mike at May 30, 2004 06:55 PM


I can say that's true about linguistics, and I've heard from specialists in other fields that the media doesn't get their stuff right either. This doesn't necessarily mean the media are evil - merely that reporters can't be omniscient. Doesn't mean they couldn't do a better job, though. It's sad that amateur bloggers can outfactcheck professionals.


What a shining example of "objectivity"!

Posted by: Amritas at May 31, 2004 02:13 AM

I remember an English writing course I had in high school - back in the late 70's. The teacher must have been anti-journalistic. I recall his lesson on connotation and denotation. He used the examples of criminals being arrested.

If the journalist liked the police, the headline would read:
"Police nab thugs"

If the journalist didn't like the police, the headline would read:
"Cops nab youths"

Pretty simple. Pretty applicable.

Posted by: _Jon at June 1, 2004 11:26 PM

"Why We Hate the Media" has now come true in real life.


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