Monday, March 14, 2005

Journalism and the Government

Back when I could see my television a little better, I was always suspicious when congressional hearings were televised. The thing that made me so was the small seal of the United States shown next to the tag telling us who was speaking, the topic, etc. I thought, "What is the government seal doing on this? Isn't this a private news network broadcasting these hearings? Or is this the government and what the government only wants us to see?"

And now, the question: Is this the government and what the government only wants us to see? is more pregnant than ever. The government is not a journalistic body. It is an interested party in many news stories, with an agenda to push, a race to run, people to convince, and dissenters to snow on. Yes, the government is in business. And corporations are not journalistic bodies. They have agendas to push, profits to make, shareholders to convince that the profits have been made honestly, and others they must convince that they're following regulations in the process.

So we have one large institution with many departments, and another set of private institutions, all of whom want your credibility. They need your faith, they need you to say, like Yosarian at the end of Catch-22, that they're all good guys. You like them. You're free now, but you like them.
Well, I don't like them. More specifically, I don't like them practicing journalism.
In this recent story, the New York Times has decided to expose the man behind the curtain.

Quote: Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. End quote.

What is interesting about the title of this article, is that there is no mentioning the word "propaganda." Propaganda does not mean lies. Propaganda is any type of writing that is designed to bring you over to the emotional or ideological side of the writer, writing designed to make you sympathize without necessarily persuading you with logic.
One may be truthful and yet propagandize. The problem is that we're talking about the government. What is the function of government?
I believe the function of government is to serve the people. This particular practice serves news organizations by giving them material they would have had to otherwise go out and find themselves. It serves those who have an interest in remaining in government, politicians, because they want you to believe that the government is serving you. The government, they want to assert, is not illegitimate, arrogant, over-powerful and criminal. They want you to believe that the government does, in fact, serve you.

Quote: Federal agencies are forthright with broadcasters about the origin of the news segments they distribute. The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the "reporters" are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration. End quote.

If a reporter works for the government and does not state that he or she does, that reporter is lying. In other words, he or she isn't a reporter, but a propagandist. He or she has taken a side, has an agenda to push, widgets to sell, and an ideology to make you believe. The government, by engaging in this practice does not serve the people. It serves the interest of politicians and perpetuates itself. This is a tyrannical practice, common in dictatorships of every stripe. It is anti-democratic and anti-republican. The practice is essentially, and I mean at its very core, unAmerican.
Welcome to the other side of the looking glass-- and while we're here, we may as well discuss what journalism really is.

News organizations are responsible for this failure of journalism, because their executives on down to their lowliest copy editors should know what journalism is and what it isn't.

A news organ is limited by the number of reporters it has.
Every story is collected by one journalist and/or one photographer, but is ultimately the product of one person.
That person's name is in a by-line, and the story can be accounted to him/her.
The photos are accounted to the photographer, who is mentioned also.
This is called the creation of accountability.
Usually, the journalist does background research on a given topic, gains thereby a beat.
Where a press release has found its way to him/her, the journalist tries to find just what the story asserts, and understands it to the point of being able to write one sentence stating the assertion.
The job of the journalist afterward is to confirm or to discredit through research the assertion of the press release.
The product of the research, to confirm or discredit, becomes the story. This is how journalism is practiced in the era of press releases.
Where there is a given event, again one journalist/one story is the rule.
The journalist gathers all relevant information concerning the event.
The story is written independent of the assertions of quoted people, press releases, etc.
The story, in other words, is the product of the journalist, not the product of any external organization or group.
Journalism is honest, solitary, and cooperative only with editors.
Editorship is solitary, honest, and independent, and as such protects the independence of journalists.

Excellent post. I am so much in agreement with you and what you have said here. It is true that the government should not be in the business of journalism. Journalism is all about bringing forth the truth. The Government wishes to hide truth, so the two are in direct conflict. ~Amadeus
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