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Journalistic Ethics – An Oxymoron

May 11, 2015

The second most boring class I attended in college (and the most boring I actually completed thanks to the red-headed girl who sat in front of me—even though she shot me down when I asked her out. OK, less shot down and more trembling panic on her part; I tried not to take it personally), was Journalistic Ethics.

Interested in writing since I was 10, I figured the class would be a natural and indicate if I was meant to be a reporter. Clearly I wasn’t.

We learned about yellow journalism and W.R. Hearst. We discussed the importance of being utterly factual and unbiased. We decried sensationalism. Lord, it sounded boring.

Little did I know that ethics never made it out of that classroom. Fiction is the stuff of reporting—perhaps based in truth, but never constrained by it.

I am disgusted with journalism today. I have personal knowledge of a dozen instances reported in various papers and news stations. Not one of them got the facts right. In most cases, it was grossly mis-reported.

Free press does not mean fictional press. A free HONEST press is required for America to run properly. The power of the press was supposed to be an extension of the power of the truth.

Today, the power of the press is sharply diluted. Both through unethical and incompetent reporters to the sensationalism and mob mentality of the digi-verse, a juggernaut of misinformation, coupled with a rush to judgment of the average American, is guiding our society.

A caller on a radio program explained how Baltimore Grey was self-inflicting his wounds to claim police brutality. The host readily affirmed it. The next caller charged the police in this situation with systemic brutality. NEITHER CALLER HAD ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THE FACTS. We have no idea if Grey hurt himself or if the police did it. Doesn’t prevent people from rushing to judgment.

Then there’s the constant meme that the majority of prisoners in America are black, as if that’s why they are there. This is just shoddy classification. Is their skin color causative, or is their economic status causative? I suspect that the vast majority of inmates are poor or would be poor without their criminal activities. If this is true, we have a starting place for reform. But we’d rather focus on race.

The reason the press is corrupt is two-fold:

  • Reporting is a business and news sources have to sell media, so they tell their audience what they want to hear.
  • The media buyers are less interested in truth than in outrage. Seduced by scandal, real or imagined, we beg for lurid stories.

In my more cynical days, I project the downfall of America, and it’s never from outside sources but from within our borders, by Americans who don’t get what means it to be American, or just don’t care.

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