Grandiloquent Twerps

<p>No, not you. I'm referring to journalists, and the op-ed linked below: "Journalism's Moral Failure." It's a rant by retired army Col. Ralph Peters. It's not a particularly brilliant rant (if you want brilliant rants, read James Lileks and Mark Steyn), but his central theme struck a chord with me.
A specter is haunting journalism: the specter of Watergate. Three decades ago, two young reporters became the story and crippled American journalism. Budding yuppies who avoided inconvenient service to the state needed heroes they could call their own. And they got them.</p>

<p>Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on-screen. It was as if Mike Bloomberg was portrayed by Brad Pitt. Overnight, journalism became an upwardly mobile profession — and our country is much the worse for it. In place of the old healthy skepticism, we have arrogant cynicism. The highest echelons of the media and government became preserves for America's most-privileged. An Ivy League degree was the ticket to a reporting job on a major daily. And incest produced the usual ugly results. "Mainstream" newspapers lost touch with American workers because the new breed of journalists didn't know any workers.</p>

<p>After journalists became matinee idols, every bright young reporter had a new career goal. Forget honest, get-at-the-facts reporting. Henceforth the crowning ambition in the field was to bring down a president — especially one who wasn't "our kind." Failing that, turning the tide of a foreign conflict against Washington would do. "Serious" journalists became scandal-mongers in drag.</p>

<p>The other product of the Woodward-Bernstein cult was the rise of the self-adoring conviction that journalists were above patriotism, the law and common decency. Today's Joe McCarthys aren't on Capitol Hill — they're in the newsroom. In lieu of Edward R. Murrow, we have Hedda Hopper masquerading as Joan of Arc.

As I said, not the most elegant of rants, but as one who was there--a journalism/communications major in the mid-70s--it really rang true, to me. Woodward and Bernstein created such a cult of celebrity around news reporting that it was truly changed, perhaps even paving the way for the 24-hour news culture that we have now. The idea that reporters can and should be part of the story--even that they should drive the story--came from that era. Even though I ended up spending the first ten years of my career in print/TV journalism, a year and a half in J-school, surrounded by a bunch of Geraldo types (male and female--the grandiloquent twerps to whom I referred), convinced me to become a history major.
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<p>I agrre with the rant but, ironically, Woodward seems to be able to know the difference between a real scandal (Watergate) and and a trumped up, political hatchet job (Plame-gate). All the other reporters, eager to be the next Woodward don't know the difference (or likely do, but don't care).</p>

<p>I, too, agree with the rant, but have always felt there was a great difference between Woodward/Bernstein and the Washington Post of the time and the way "journalism" is practiced now. If my memory serves, much time and effort was spent by W&B and their editor seeking double sources, confirmations, etc. etc. before anything was published. Long editorial meetings - of substance - preceded decisions to break the story or any new aspect of the story.</p>

<p>Now, the 24-hour-journalism-as-cult-"reporter"-as-celebrity seems to have dispensed with the inconveniences of fact-checking, source-checking, second sources, etc. etc. </p>

<p>I stand ready to be roundly corrected by those more in the know, but that's my impression.</p>

<p>jmmom - wow, do I agree with that assessment!</p>

<p>As with most rants, this one's perspective is awfully narrow. Seems to me that the state of journalism today is the logical outgrowth of a money-driven, media-drenched culture; in this sense, the grandiloquent twerps might just be a product of our own making. But that involves a kind of tough moral accounting that ranting--a self-serving indulgence--precludes.</p>

<p>Oh, I don't seems to me that our history shows that we've always been money-driven. Media-drenched is relatively new, particularly the role of celebrity-journalists.</p>

<p>I don't think you can blame the decline of journalism on money and the star-syndrome. Circulations were declining even before Watergate, and circulation is what pays for research and investigative reporting. </p>

<p>My father and brother were both journalists of the non-star variety (although my father did get a few Pulitzer Prizes). Investigative reporting costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. In this day of the 30-second story--ala CNN--it's hard to justify that. And the rise of national newspaper chains (Gannett, etc.) makes it even harder to justify local investigative reporting. </p>

<p>Do you buy your <em>local</em> newspaper? I skim three or four newspapers a day (I pay for the NYT, WSJ, Seattle PI--and read others online)... but I find the local papers have the same stories (mostly by the same people) as the national paper and routinely contemplate dropping the PI. I certainly haven't seen much investigation, even of things like school costs that would be assumed to be of interest to most of us!</p>

<p>And I'm supposed to take seriously a "think" [sic] piece in the New York Post. That's a joke, right?.</p>

<p>You're not "supposed" to do anything. You can sneer, or you can say something intelligent. Your choice.</p>

<p>In this case sneering is the same thing as saying something intelligent.</p>

<p>Well said. nyaa-nyaa.</p>

<p>Welcome back, TSDad.</p>

<p>I think DMD77 and perhaps Driver skirt the core of the problem: driven by both cultural trends and the monomaniacal push of the corporate bean counters for ever increasing profits, "News" has been increasingly conflated with "entertainment" to the point where I don't think 80 percent of the country--and virtually the entire regular audience of Faux News--can tell the difference.</p>

<p>I've traveled around the country a bit and the Los Angeles TIMES is one of the better papers in the country. But it's been going downhill since its acquisition by the Tribune Company. They've just announced layoffs for 85 editorial positions. Not because the paper isn't making money but because the bean counters opine that it's not making <em>enough</em> money. Newspapers need to make a profit but beyond that there is--or should be--a sense of responsibility to the public that outweighs grubbing the extra dollar. Nor is the LAT alone. About a decade ago, the publisher of the Santa Monica newspaper shut it down. It wasn't bankrupt or anything. It just wasn't making <em>enough</em> money. Its absence created a hole that several start-ups tried to fill, none very successfully though I think the one daily may make it eventually...after a 10-15 year gap in the community.</p>

"News" has been increasingly conflated with "entertainment" to the point where I don't think 80 percent of the country--and virtually the entire regular audience of Faux News--can tell the difference.

Or cares.</p>

<p>.. 10 characters</p>

<p>JMMom, I also put some blame on MTV et alia for what it's done to attention spans.</p>

<p>And then we have the "new improved" method of news delivery with talking head in center of screen, crawl on totally different subject(s) along the bottom, screen-within-screen in one or two corners with additional info etc. etc. Grrr! My "attention span" is overloaded.</p>

<p>While I became a CNN fan during Gulf War #1, I can barely tolerate the 24-hour news "services" anymore. As well, being on the Gulf Coast as an evacuee during Katrina was very telling. The difference between the get-it-quick-who-cares-if-we-get-it-right "reporting" of the 24-hr gang versus the careful fact-checking and source-checking of the local stations (presumably with far fewer resources) was very noticeable.</p>

<p>TheDad: newspapers have always been entertainment, but the competition is enormous when there are so many ways to be informed and/or entertained. I get my news from radio, TV (rarely), the internet, email, AND the newspaper. I'm a newspaper junkie, and still I mostly skim the two or three really big stories in the national papers, since I've heard a lot about them by the time I get to the paper. </p>

<p>You mention that the LA Times, which I agree is not a bad paper, was bought by the Tribune Co. and is therefore slashing its staff. I mentioned the national newspaper chains in passing--that's certainly an example of how they are damaging the local papers.</p>

<p>But I was thinking about the original hypothesis, that journalists are "stars" these days. I'm not sure that's valid. I can't name more than a few journalists--as opposed to opinion columnists, which is NOT the same thing--and those I can are mostly radio reporters out of Iraq, like Anne Garrels. The rise of the TV reporter who stands in front of the camera in a distant land reading copy prepared for him by someone else should not be mistaken for star journalism.</p>

<p>Okay, I'll stipulate to that. There's certainly a difference between a "news reader" and a "reporter" and I doubt many people could name some of the latter. And if you make a distinction between "reporter" and "Op-Ed writer," it becomes even worse. </p>

<p>JMMom, I traveled a similar path with CNN. Scarcely watch it any more, especially since they seem increasingly determined to compete with Faux News by emulating them. The shows of Judy Woodruff and Aaron Brown simply evaporated and even "Inside Politics" got to the point where "balance" was achieved by letting each side say ridiculous things without diligently cross-examining and calling them on the idiocies. In essence, it became a stage for parallel sound bites, not unlike many of the so-called Presidential "debates."</p>

<p>Hmm...looking at this post I can tell I'm going to have to go to Office Depot and pick up a couple of new boxes of quote marks.</p>

And if you make a distinction between "reporter" and "Op-Ed writer," it becomes even worse.

I wish more "reporters" would make a distinction between "reporter" and "Op-Ed writer." Pick up a box of quote marks for me, too.</p>

<p>I have often found myself sondering what goes on in Journalism school these days. Besides a focus on quality writing, I'm assuming there's still a focus on properly "getting" the story, source verification, etc. etc. (not a journalist so I don't know the proper terminology). Is whatever is taught there immediately undone when the young journalist arrives in the newsroom to be "trained" in the new improved "don't bother" methods? Or does it slowly leak away? Or is proper reporting not even part of the education anymore with the focus on method and speed of getting the Scoop (accuracy be damned/we'll figure that out later)? </p>

<p>Luckily, my box of quote marks is the auto-refill kind.</p>

<p>Why should journalism be different than any other part of the's all about me!</p>