I grew up in the Walter Cronkite-era of journalism. It was a profession that involved schooling, apprenticeship, mentoring, and more. It was a profession dedicated to uncovering the truth. To quote Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb) from the TV show Dragnet “just the facts, ma’am.”
Media Today – TV, Print, Online. The standard structure for most nightly newscasts was: news (international, national, local), human interest, sports, weather. After the weather, perhaps the news anchor or a TV station executive would come on and deliver an opinion or observation; and it was clearly marked by a super (words on the screen) that said “Commentary.” For print it was the same basic structure with “commentary” distinctly inside the Editorial pages (editorials, op-ed, and letters to the editor).
In journalism, strict rules and standards for corroboration, objectivity, honesty (to name a few) were followed. That were overseen by the Editor-in-Chief (think Perry White at the Daily Planet).
Today, with the unending need for content, anyone with an internet connection is a “journalist.” Many with no oversight or integrity and hidden agendas. Some not so hidden. Just watch, for example, Yonit Levy (Israel television news anchor), as one example, as she aggressively interviews any elected official from the right while throwing softball questions and smiles to those on the left.
It used to be said that most of America got its news from Johnny Carson, and later on Jay Leno, during their Tonight Show monologues. They made fun of everybody and when it came to politicians, they made fun of their foibles not their policies. It was entertainment. Today’s late-night hosts are overwhelming more (left leaning) political than entertainment. With no “truth in journalism” editorial oversight.
The cable news networks, from CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, are called 24-hour news networks. This is a misnomer. Although, they all provide news programs, they also provide news magazine formatted shows that can be mistaken for news programs, minus the objectivity. The line between news and opinion has disappeared.
When I was teaching on my college campus I would a suggest an experiment to my Communication major students each semester: Go to any event (demonstration, rally, etc.) on any charged political issue; look around; then review the news feeds covering the event. Those news organizations aligned with whatever the cause, will say thousands attended, while those news organizations anti whatever the cause, will say it was poorly attended with only a few stragglers. And you, my students, will know they are both lying as you were there, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. The lesson here: In order for you to decide, you are on your own to learn the truth.
Watching and reading news from multiple sources to get a better picture of events today, I feel I am living on two planets. Just compare CNN to FOX as one glaring example. Choice of stories not covered and covered. And, of course, how they are covered. And more importantly how and what is presented to us individually on our newsfeeds.
Media Journalism is now cloudy, at best. You are on your own
Filter Bubble. Internet personalization has been going on for more than a decade. But it is happening in such a hidden and gradual way that we, the consumers, often do not realize it.
We may believe that the internet is a level playing field. One would think that if anyone of us puts in the same search we will get the same results. We subscribe to a news feed (Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) and we all will see what the editors put up as the news.
In 2011, Eli Pariser gave a Ted Talk (click here to view) on his book Filter Bubble. In it he mentions two experiences. One event is where he noticed a major change in his Facebook news feed (he realized that his previous mix of friends on his FB feed only showed liberal friends and his conservative friends had disappeared) and the other event is when he asked friends to web search the word “Egypt” and shows two shockingly different, mutually exclusive, search results: one friend got travel related results and the other received news about the Arab Spring. In addition, Pariser makes a great point about editors and journalistic ethics at time stamp 5:51. The whole short video is still very relevant today.
A year later (November 20, 2012), The New York Times ran a long article by Jeffery Rosen called Who Do Online Advertisers Think You Are? Towards the end of the article Rosen talks about the personalization of news. He explains, as you click on stories, the algorithms recognize your interest and show you more. What this actually does is narrow your focus rather than broaden your contextual world awareness. He even quotes from Pariser’s aforementioned book, Filter Bubble, “Personalization can lead you down a road to a kind of informational determinism in which what you’ve clicked on in the past determines what you see next — a Web history you’re doomed to repeat. You can get stuck in a static, ever-narrowing version of yourself — an endless you-loop.”
As an aside, regardless of your political leaning, we should not forget to ask: when was big business (rather than government) given the responsibility of policing the inalienable right of one’s free speech (hate speech not included)? Obviously, I am referring to Facebook and YouTube suspending accounts (and then, in some cases, re-instating them) for vague reasons and without explanation (there are just too many incidents to list here). Let’s not forget Apple and Google banning the Parler.com app from their app stores and Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) removing Parler from their hosting services because they all disagreed with its content. They have become judge, jury and executioner.
We turn to news organizations to gather a full spectrum of information and facts in order to learn and understand the truth, so that we may decide for ourselves. This has become subtlety misleading as bias, opinion, and uncorroborated claims are inserted into “news” programs and feeds.
In other words, to find impartial truth and, you are on your own.
Corrections and Retractions. It feels like more corrections and retractions are being issued by major news outlets. Just look at The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, and CNN, for example. Unfortunately, these errors are noted in small “Corrections” areas or a short mumbled on-air apology. However, once lies are let loose, they are near impossible to pull back. News stories need to get their facts correct from the start. Context and truth matter. Hence, journalistic ethics. (More on that below.)
It used to be that the Press was sacrosanct. After all, freedom of the press is granted in the First Amendment to the United States’ Constitution.
For me, it was a sad and shocking day when The New York Times, a newspaper of record, in an unprecedented move, changed its headline from “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism” to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns.” It came after President Donald Trump addressed the nation after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that killed nine and 22 people, respectively. The New York Times changed the headline because according to USA Today “the original headline didn’t sit well with a number of Democrats.” (USA Today, August 6, 2019) Where was the independent backbone of The New York Times?
Words have consequences. Words wrapped in the guise of legitimacy of the Press have even greater consequences. When we look at the state of Journalism as it applies to the State of Israel and Jews around the world it becomes dangerous and harmful. Actual causal results can be clearly seen after all the recent anti-Israel press that came out during and after the May 2021 “hostilities” between Hamas and Israel, Jews around the world were being attacked for just being Jews as reported on CBS and CNN.
According to HonestReporting (whose mission is to ensure truth, integrity and fairness in journalism and the media) many examples are provided, but here are just two examples of misleading biased headlines from the general media reporting on Israel from their website: 1. In one day, Palestinians stabbed Israelis in three separate attacks. A New York Times headline of 22 November 2015 (“1 Israeli and 3 Palestinians Killed in Attacks in West Bank” subsequently changed to “Israeli Woman and 3 Palestinian Attackers Killed in West Bank”) demonstrated a lack of context so bad, it actually created a moral equivalence between the terrorists and their victims. 2. This Daily Mail 27 July 2016 headline (“Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian in revenge for killing rabbi father-of-10 in the West Bank” subsequently changed to “Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian gunman who killed Rabbi father-of-10 in the West Bank”) is an example of distortion of facts. You have to read the article to learn that Mohamed Fakih was killed in a shootout he instigated along with cohorts from his Hamas cell.
These few examples are indicative of what has been, and what continues to happen, in a biased media environment against Israel. Current examples abound but in this link is a 15 August 2021 op-ed in Arutz Sheva with the headline “Past time for ‘Telling The Truth’ about Palestinian lies” that speaks to the heart of this journalistic issue.
Professional journalism has died. You are sadly on your own.
Perpetuating the Big Lie. According to Wikipedia: The big lie (German: große Lüge) is a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the truth, used especially as a propaganda technique. The German expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, to describe the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
The Big Lie is being over employed today by anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist organizations, NGO’s/NPO’s (non-government organizations/non-profit organizations) as they consistently put out statements and press releases that are blatantly false and misleading, to say the least. See Jewish News Syndicate 16 August 2021 article “Human Rights Watch’s latest false report” as just one recent example.
A recent revealing StandWithUs video literally shows actual Hamas clips, over and over again, making vile statements and graphically violating international law (including training child soldiers) that gets very little to no play in the media. Wouldn’t showing both sides be a basic job of a journalist?
The sad thing is that so-called professional reporters receive these untruths issued by propagandists and don’t bother to corroborate or even question obvious inconsistencies.
While I stressed honesty and integrity when teaching my college courses (and in life), those guidelines have disappeared from journalism. In a compressed 24-hour news cycle, reporters are not doing their due diligence and editors are not enforcing the rules of Journalism. Those rules, according to the Society of Professional Journalists are: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.
Of course, we can consider that journalists and editors have bought into the Big Lie and are now part of the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist messaging rather than living up to the ethical conduct of their profession.
When the professional journalists have left the building, boy, you are really on your own.
Universities used to be a place to seek knowledge. When I teach the writing of Press Releases as part of my Communications Message Design course, I point out that reporters are overworked and under deadlines. Therefore, to get published, one needs to write a Press Release in the style of that media which enables the reporter to only do some minor editing and then slap his/her name on the piece and then move onto the next story. Even though my students may become Marketing Communication professionals, I stress that they must adhere to the ethics and rules of Journalism in their writings. Unfortunately, my union, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, did not.
After nearly two decades of teaching at Rutgers University (the State University of New Jersey), I resigned from my union this July. On June 12, 2021, my ex-union put out a statement/press release that was blatantly racist and anti-Semitic. In follow-up email correspondence the union insisted they were a “broad-based union, not a left-wing solidarity organization.” However, if my ex-union had just minimally checked out the organization that sent the “urgent call” that my ex-union dutifully responded to, they would see that (1) the About section of said organization describes itself as a “socialist” network and (2) their newsletter is actually called “What’s Left.”
When confronted with this fact, and the many others I brought to their attention, they did not deny any of my facts, but deflected the actual issues raised by sending links to various articles which reported that many other academic unions and other groups promoted the same racist and anti-Semitic messages.
My reply was simple. As my mother would often admonish me when I was young: Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right. And my ex-union calls themselves academics.
If even academics, let alone journalists, are not committed to upholding their own professional ethics (“Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent”), then we (Israel and Jews), are most certainly on our own.