Conservative writer Andrew W. Smith, writing in Canada’s Chronicle Herald, reminds us that newspapers are supposed to give us the full story — not only positive highlights.
Will Rogers famously pleaded that all he knew was what he read in the papers. If all a person knew of Barack Obama’s first 100 days as president was what they read of them in this newspaper, it would seem to be a very charmed young presidency.
The Chronicle Herald recently made space for an urgent Associated Press dispatch from Washington informing readers the Obamas had chosen a Portuguese water dog. Not original reporting, of course, but an AP rephrasing of a White House-arranged scoop in the Washington Post online. … And they wonder why folks aren’t buying the papers like they used to.
Smith is spot on about this: Newspapers are dying a vicious death. Last week’s bloodbath at the Baltimore Sun was a harsh reminder to many of us that the journalistic times are a-changing, and it’s happening much faster than many anticipated. Part of the reason behind print media’s decline is that modern editors seem to put a premium on connecting stories to the ruling populist paradigm. Intelligent readers are tired of it: celebrities interviewed on issues of state, politicians presented as rock stars, and both being presented as equals on the nightly news, for crying out loud, where images of pop star and pol alike are crafted carefully.
The result: The president doesn’t get the full scrutiny he deserves. Readers and viewers don’t get the whole story — or worse, when they do report a piece, the message is massaged to fit the prevailing zeitgeist or the media outlet’s agenda. That goes against everything J-school teaches: Tell the full story and stick to the facts. Of course, we must acknowledge and accept that space and time are restricted. That being the case, however, it is crucial that the people can trust those who get to judge which facts are most noteworthy. Tragically, modern media outlets have given the people little reason to trust them.
This is dangerous, even for Obama supporters: When important stories are given short shrift, We The People suffer. News consumers need more substance from our media, not less. We need as much meaningful information about as many of the administration’s doings as possible. Without the facts, we cannot know what truly is happening in the halls of power or what the repercussions will be for our future. We don’t get an opportunity to keep the president’s feet to the proverbial fire when he strays off-course or breaks a promise. We instead become a fan club, a sycophantic amen corner, or worse, a tolerated but not respected entity expected to go along with the program or be ostracized.
To that end, the columnist does us a mitzvah by sharing his list of stories about “the most powerful man on Earth [mainstream media] deemed unfit to print.” Do read it, progressives: We may not be as maligned as right-wingers right now, but like the GOP, we are not the party in power.
I’ll repeat this: We are not in charge. Obama is a pragmatist, not a progressive. Like the GOP, we on the Left have to remain vigilant and adversarial (when necessary) to ensure that our vision is heard by the White House and that the facts see print.
Progressives need to know the bad news — and the good news. Smith, a conservative, notes a few under-reported stories that progressives would hail as positive developments. Knowing the full story allows us to keep progressive ideals a part of the mix: We must have equality in this country. We need universal health care. We have two wars raging that need to end. We have a massive economic crisis. What we need are facts: What are the administration’s plans and what will be their real cost? What is really going on in the Middle East? We don’t need more stories about Bo Obama, not from the serious newsies, even if particular editors decide otherwise.