Will the Real Journalists Please Stand Up?

By Ryan Ariel Simon

At the beginning of April, television took a step toward reality when one of the five Sunday morning talk shows agreed to a weekly fact check by politifact.com.

This isn’t ideal; politifact.com is the same organization that fact checked a Saturday Night Live sketch for CNN, but it’s a start.

What this has really done is brought to the fore a decades-old problem in broadcast journalism, and hopefully it will reverse the long trend of entertainment masquerading as public affairs.

If you’ve seen the movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” you might remember the actor David Strathairn portraying legendary American journalist Edward R. Murrow speaking in black and white before a 1958 gathering of the Radio & Television News Directors Association.

Edward R. Murrow spoke into the camera the evening of May 9, 1954

Edward R. Murrow spoke into the camera the evening of May 9, 1954

In that speech over 50 years ago, Murrow warned that corporate executives deciding news content in a drive for ratings would endanger television news.

He reminded “those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures” of the responsibility and influence they had was unprecedented, and advised them to use it wisely.

The title of ‘journalist’ instills credibility; it is assumed they adhere to a code of ethics. When entertainers, or commentators are disguised as reporters, it undermines the credibility of journalists everywhere.

As a reporter and journalist, if I question the accuracy of the facts in a news article I’m writing, I make calls or e-mails to confirm them.

When I prepare for an interview I know damn well I better be informed about the subject. One, I don’t want to embarrass myself. Two, you can’t hold an interviewee’s feet to the fire if you don’t know the subject he or she is discussing.

Watch network or cable television and its clear, their “reporters” have only a rudimentary understanding of the subject, and lack basic professionalism.

I don’t advocate removing these shows, these “reporters” from television, but these shows cannot market themselves as news, or journalism, and deceive trusting viewers.

Known more for his humor, Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” produced “CNN: Leaves it there,” skewering the network for failing to fact-check numerous guests.

Instead of fact-checking, Stewart says most networks use a “balance” consisting of “one crazy bald guy from the right, one from the left, and an anchor helping them come to a golden consensus.”

A report by On the Media, NPR’s media watchdog, “found the vast majority of TV consumer health reports sickening.”

“Blue M&M’s may cure paralysis!” Said one headline. It’s no joke, I swear.

As Jon Stewart says, “Fact checking is the function of news.”

Unfortunately many broadcast journalists are not doing their jobs.

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