Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s plain to see just how anemic and irrelevant much of what passes for “news” is these days. In times of crisis, the public needs a robust, independent press willing and able to “speak truth to power.” Problem is, the art and craft of journalism is in crisis.
Neither you nor I have time for a lengthy treatise on the sorry state of the Fourth Estate. After all, it’s spring break. Here, then, are five unmistakable signs of shoddy journalism.
1. Comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and (for the NPR set) Harry Shearer -- not working journalists -- are trusted sources for news, information and analysis. While he may not be a household name like his Comedy Central colleagues, Shearer’s long-running Le Show is arguably the most incisive “news” program on public radio.
"In the mainstream press, popular uprisings across the Middle East are newsworthy. Union-led protests in state capitals across the United States, however, are treated as trivial, unpatriotic and ultimately inconsequential."
For instance, Shearer routinely features damning (and deeply disturbing) reports on the U.S. nuclear power industry -- reports that don’t get much traction in the mainstream media. This regular segment -- “It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s too cheap to meter” -- is all the more relevant in light of the nightmare scenario playing out in Japan.
2. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that American journalism is failing (rather miserably) to provide the public with accurate, reliable journalism. Clinton argued that the Arab satellite news service Al Jazeera, was outperforming the U.S. press corps because it provides “real news.”
“You may not agree with it,” Clinton continued, “but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news, which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."
3. Manufactured controversies fabricated by the likes of James O’Keefe, Andrew Breitbart and Lila Rose are routinely treated as legitimate news. O’Keefe’s latest “sting” of NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller is a case in point.
Without putting too fine a point on it, O’Keefe’s "expose” is a textbook example of a good old-fashioned “hatchet job.” That smear campaigns like this get any traction at all in U.S. newsrooms is evidence enough of a serious decline in journalistic standards.
4. In the mainstream press, popular uprisings across the Middle East are newsworthy. Union-led protests in state capitals across the United States, however, are treated as trivial, unpatriotic and ultimately inconsequential. Unless of course, a few gun-toting tea party activists -- bused in from out of state -- show up to support a naked, rightwing power grab. Now that’s a news story!!
The establishment media, including the New York Times and NPR, have all but dismissed the biggest labor story in years. This isn’t the first time, and it sure as hell won’t be the last, that American news workers were on the wrong side of history.
5. Two words: Charlie Sheen.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.