September 3, 2008

Journalistic malpractice?

I don't usually take issue with political candidates during a campaign -- at least about the issues -- but Green Party congressional contender Steve Fournier needs to have someone take him on about his call to punish "journalistic malpractice."
Fournier says in a recent blog entry that "no institution has abused its constitutional privilege with the regularity and predictability of the mass news media" because it has "transformed journalism into a form of entertainment" and made decisions about what to cover "on the basis of the size and character of audience they can attract for their advertisers."
Ok, there's some truth in that, but only a little. At a time when every form of mass media from newspapers to tv stations are struggling to make any money at all, are they really supposed to pay even less attention to how to stay in business?
Fournier says that the public is "systematically uninformed, misinformed and disinformed to accommodate news-mongers and the products they hawk alongside their empty reports."
"Sometimes, their disinformation causes grave injury. I saw newsmen cavorting in the streets of New Orleans, reassuring those who’d stayed behind despite warnings to evacuate, while the dikes were bursting blocks away. Newsmen passed on one falsehood after another about Iraq, and they beat the war drum furiously and unabashedly on behalf of their sources," he continued.
"These were acts of journalistic malpractice that have gone unpunished and even unacknowledged. If lawyers and judges began to hold news-mongers liable for the damage they cause, we might start getting reliable reports instead of government disinformation."
So we really want to let the courts decide which stories are good and which are bad? We want judges to hold journalists "liable for the damage they cause?"
I'm trying to imagine the trial.
There are already libel laws to protect the reputation of people and organizations from lies.
But Fournier seems to be arguing that CBS or Fox News or The New York Times ought to pay the tab for what we've lost in Iraq, as if that would be remotely possible.
It strikes me that it's farcical to assume that the court system is a better way to find the truth about the issues of our day than the give-and-take of political discussion can bring about.
If we get hoodwinked, it's not because the mass media tricked us. It's because our elected leaders did.
And we all know how to hold them accountable.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

No comments: