Welcome to journalism in the 21st Century. The ‘right down-the-middle’ mantra of the last half century is gone. We’re back to journalism practiced by partisans.
Yeah–back to. This is how it used to be.
Here’s a little Wikipedia refresher on William Randolph Hearst. I suspect you’ll be surprised!
As Martin Lee and Norman Solomon noted in their 1990 book Unreliable Sources, Hearst “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.” This approach came to be known as yellow journalism, named after the Yellow Kid, a character in the New York Journal’s color comic strip Hogan’s Alley.
Hearst’s use of yellow journalism techniques in his New York Journal to whip up popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 was also criticized in Upton Sinclair’s 1919 book, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. According to Sinclair, Hearst’s newspaper employees were “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war.” Sinclair also asserted that in the early 20th century Hearst’s newspapers lied “remorselessly about radicals,” excluded “the word Socialist from their columns” and obeyed “a standing order in all Hearst offices that American Socialism shall never be mentioned favorably.” In addition, Sinclair charged that Hearst’s “Universal News Bureau” re-wrote the news of the London morning papers in the Hearst office in New York and then fraudulently sent it out to American afternoon newspapers under the by-lines of imaginary names of non-existent “Hearst correspondents” in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Berlin, etc.
Hearst is just the easiest example of what’s certainly a long list. Rupert Murdoch is a lot less of an outlier than he’s portrayed.
Today Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Times, New York Post and others have positioned themselves and their coverage away from the middle. That puts them increasingly under the microscope as political opponents scour for weakness which can be used to embarrass them.
Jon Stewart has mastered the art. He often shows FNC on both sides of the same argument, depending on the political winds at any given moment. Recently he showed Fox using video from one event as coverage of another more sparsely attended event.
Last week Fox did it again. Sarah Palin video from the presidential campaign was used as B-roll for a book signing appearance. An anchor talked about the “huge crowds.” Oops.
Maybe, even for Fox, enough is enough. Here’s an internal memo passed along by MediaBistro’s FishbowlDC.
Subject: Quality Control We had a mistake on Newsroom today when a wrong book cover went on screen during a guest segment, the kind of thing that can fall through the cracks on any day with any story given the large amount of elements and editorial we run through our broadcasts. Unfortunately, it is the latest in a series of mistakes on FNC in recent months. We have to all improve our performance in terms of ensuring error-free broadcasts. To that end, there was a meeting this afternoon between senior managers and the folks who run the daytime shows in which expectations were reviewed, and the following results were announced: Effective immediately, there is zero tolerance for on-screen errors. Mistakes by any member of the show team that end up on air may result in immediate disciplinary action against those who played significant roles in the “mistake chain,” and those who supervise them. That may include warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination, and this will all obviously play a role in performance reviews. So we now face a great opportunity to review and improve on our workflow and quality control efforts. To make the most of that opportunity, effective immediately, Newsroom is going to “zero base” our newscast production. That means we will start by going to air with only the most essential, basic, and manageable elements. To share a key quote from today’s meeting: “It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on.” We may then build up again slowly as deadlines and workloads allow so that we can be sure we can quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again. Please know that jobs are on the line here. I can not stress that enough. I will review again during our Monday editorial meeting, and in the days and weeks ahead. This experience should make us stronger editorially, and I encourage everyone to invest themselves one hundred and ten percent in this effort.
The memo has a message for all newsrooms of all political persuassions: Content trumps presentation.
If the reason for these most recent screw-ups is a rush to make the broadcast look pretty or flashy the emphasis is wrong. Facts need to be correct before worrying about production values.
This isn’t going to change FNC’s slant. They’ll continue to cover news from a right-of-center perspective. I actually have little problem with that. It just looks like the effort will be made to sell their points from a more factual base.
Of course it’s also possible the memo was leaked to provide easy political cover while nothing changes! We’ll have to wait and see.