Cops kill innocent citizens. Define “innocent.” Black Lives Matter. Don’t all lives matter? Why must “All lives matter” be a divisive statement? When did “Rest in Peace” become cheesy radio promotion copy, instead of the revered and meaningful prayer it once was? It’s true. I heard it on a Dallas radio station after the murder of five officers. The phrase was flanged and aggressive and silly, without any consideration for the grieving families. Why must talking heads yell over one other until viewers are so confused about what is real and what is not, that they turn off their sets in droves?
Like our consumers, I am tired of it. I am voting with my time and, like this election, I’m voting against, not with. As a broadcaster, why do you allow such burnout to happen? Is it your boss, your company, your friends? You?
I carefully watched the social media postings of friends and colleagues as the political primary season heated up. I was vigilant about monitoring comments and observations made by my media pals of both political persuasions. If I ever had questioned the points of extreme difference between the media elite of today and yesterday, I now see them clearly.
Journalists of the past observed an ethical theorem, under which consumers were protected from knowing the personal biases of those who reported. Not so today. Instead, networks celebrate extreme bias and capitalize on divisiveness. They feed on a particular brand’s editorial agenda and perverted lack of professionalism. These 24-hour news cycle mouthpieces more often than not negatively incite our nation, not unite it, nor even tell a story in a fair way. Spinning of facts and weaving of convenient tales engender divisiveness. Yes, my personal but not so scientific research revealed that the new norm is to group people into clusters of similar beliefs and then voraciously attack anyone who differs in opinion. Peer approval seems to be the prize of most political discourse. Without peer approval as the ultimate social prize, the cool kids might sacrifice their star status to choose what is in the best interest of the country. This is the way my otherwise politically polarized friends might take part in modernizing and merging these United States for a common good. Together, we might discover the benefits of real leadership and abandon the false heroes mainstream media creates.
Clearly, those days are far off in the future if ever they become reality. Regardless of the political lean one chooses, the biases one espouses purposely or not, or the aspersions one casts upon others they consider political enemies, we each decide where we belong. Often, our allies are chosen through gang mentality of degradation and fear. We fear being made a social laughing stock unless we join others in their beliefs. Some of us fear our lives may change in other drastic ways if we don’t mind meld to our social group’s views.
Nothing could be further from what we need from our media outlets. We exercise our own cognitive capacities. We must choose for ourselves, absent of the politicized rhetoric and demonizing “expert” conversation. As members of the media, warning bells should sound at the moment when a journalist under your supervision gets too close to a candidate or reports only the “facts” that fit their personal views of the story. Worse still if they bow down to the whim of your owner, GM, PD, or anyone else, or post social media memes that alienate half of the nation and our friends.
Does Ted Cruz’s decision to continue his primary feud against Trump matter to the US’s eventual place in the world? According to national media, the answer is yes. But I will watch the Democrat National Convention as closely as I have watched the GOP. Without regard for the politics or personalities involved, I wonder if we, as viewers, will measure the same level of media rancor and outrage while recalling Hillary Clinton’s “What difference does it matter now?” Benghazi answer before Congress, as they did alleged plagiarism between candidates’ wives?
Plagiarism, like irresponsible handling of classified material, is never acceptable. But who decides what the public hears? Who decides what matters? We do. You do.
As journalists, media managers and consultants, we are responsible for delivering fair reporting. The power to choose the fashion and style in which stories are told is ours. You choose your ultimate position in the food chain of news dissemination, but history will judge harshly all of us as to whether the defining differences, themes, issues and points of importance of Campaign 2016 were presented fairly. Future generations will decide if we informed the masses…our constituents…in a manner free of media bias.
In real terms for today, if we do our job by presenting both the positives and negatives of candidates, issues, police shootings and other news, without bias, the country will be the better for it. There can be no room for pettiness or dereliction of duty in the course of reporting. To allow either will damage the country for decades to come and erode the rights given to us by the First Amendment and guaranteed in American soldiers’ blood.
I contend it begins with how we conduct ourselves personally, in public, and on social media. Let the change toward civility in reporting begin with us. This election has become whether to support the status quo or revolt against it. Neither is inherently right, good, wrong or bad. Let’s begin be eliminating those opinions.
The more that politicians underestimate their constituents, the more that voters reduce politicians to stereotypes of sloth and avarice. The news media is rarely perceived as much better. Let’s reinstate honesty and ethics without regard for personal politics. Truth in reporting stops in its tracks the crippling and continued denigration and distrust of our profession. Freedom of the Press and fair reporting give us one last chance at moral high ground. America’s political house is on fire and you have two pails; One filled with water and the other with gasoline. The bucket you choose to throw will determine no less than the fate of America’s next two generations.