Thursday, March 5, 2015

Journalism: The Dying Craft

I first became aware of Bill O’Reilly in the year 2000.  I was ranting to a friend about the many shortcomings of television news, a rant triggered, as I recall, by one or more networks’ flawed coverage of the round of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in autumn of that year.

“Do you ever watch Bill O’Reilly?” my friend asked.  Since I had long since determined that any news operation owned by Rupert Murdock wasn’t worth paying attention to, I told my friend I wasn’t familiar with O’Reilly’s work.

“You should watch him,” my friend said.  “He tells it like it is.”

I buried my misgivings and watched Fox’s rising star several times over the next week.  I was appalled that my friend lent credence to such tripe. The next time my friend mentioned O’Reilly, I remarked that “he isn’t a journalist, he’s an entertainer.”  I’m not sure my friend grasped what I was saying, but the subject never came up between us again.

I am wryly amused by the current flap about O’Reilly’s veracity in describing on the air his attempts to be a newsman for CBS years ago. He “saw” nuns “shot in the back of the head” in El Salvador.  He’d have to have had mystic powers to have done that, since the four American nuns were slain in El Salvador long before he arrived in that country.

Well, O’Reilly said, he meant that he had seen “horrific images” of the dead nuns when he was attempting to report for CBS from that country.

Earlier, he had clearly misrepresented what he had seen and done while he was in Argentina for CBS during the Falklands war.  The magazine Mother Jones  called him on that, and several former colleagues who really are reporters disputed what he said about his own exploits.

The guy is a sham and so are the gaggle of Fox foster children he has spawned.

Real journalists have come to be errant enough in this era of corporate news outlets.  It’s a pity that so many people, like my old friend, have come to rely on whatever it is that Fox peddles as if it were, in fact, news.

I think with particular sadness of my old paper, the New York Times, whose transgressions against truth in the last dozen years or more have been too numerous on too many stories of enormous importance.  Jayson Blair
was the author of more than 70 articles that not merely contained errors; some of them were made up out of whole cloth with datelines from places he had never been.  Judy Miller and Michael Gordon did the nation a far greater disservice with their irresponsible reporting during the run-up to the U.S.invasion of Iraq, reporting as fact unchecked leaks from the likes of Dick Cheney.  Now, David Sanger is on the same path with regard to Iran, and the Times team covering Ukraine is ever more looking equally irresponsible.  At this very moment, the Times continues to “stand by” a story that wrongly reported that Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account while Secretary of State “violated the law.”  It did not and the source of the story maintains that he clearly told that to the Times reporter. For all of these sins, however, the Times is the closest thing to a reliable source of information that can be found among the mainstream media of this country.

What a sorry situation! 

Hang down your heads, journalists; hang down your heads and cry.

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