Here’s something we can all agree on: Many American newspapers are circling the drain.
There are a multitude of reasons. But much of the blame goes to penny-pinching, short-sighted, unimaginative publishers. Dullards who know how to count beans but know nothing about news reporting. They’ve either laid off or bought out most experienced journalists, leaving many newsrooms in the hands of green reporters and editors with little historical knowledge of the localities they cover and without the courage to sometimes say, “Hold on, something about this story doesn’t feel right.”
On top of that, pressure to get stories online means more errors - hey, they can be corrected later - as news outlets join the arms race to spew digital information.
If you want to know what’s wrong with newspapers, why they sometimes run with rumors and print half-baked truths, it’s because the adults have left the building.
The crusty editors who would bellow at a cub reporter - without worry that they’d damage her fragile psyche or that she’d run to human resources with a complaint - to re-report a story, to ask more questions, to find more documents, to get it right dammit, have died or simply departed.
In their place are overworked people who spend their time in meetings where they cook up mind-numbing gimmicks to generate clicks on their website.
Best tacos in town!
Show us your pets!
If you think this post is cautioning you to be skeptical of what you read in newspapers or what you see on TV news or find on social media, you’re right.
If we learned anything last week it’s that fake news, or at least skewed news, is everywhere.
In the absence of good newspaper reporting, folks turn to online news sources. Often less reliable than that thin printed matter on your front porch.
Take the Buzzfeed “blockbuster” story that threatened to end the Trump presidency.
It was a piece crammed with unnamed sources claiming the president told his former lawyer to lie on his behalf.
The internet was lit. Those on the left were gleeful. They apparently WANT the president to suborn perjury, to commit felonies. Anything to be rid of him.
When Robert Mueller’s spokesman took the extraordinary step of debunking the story the next day, the sense of disappointment from some quarters was palpable.
Then there was the tale of the Catholic school boys with the MAGA hats who supposedly surrounded and threatened an American Indian after a march in Washington. The man, Nathan Phillips, is 64.
Reporters saw 3 minutes and 44 seconds of cellphone video of a smirking kid and a wizened Indian.
That clip told them all they needed to know: The kids were racist, they harassed a peaceful, indigenous fellow. The boys were bigoted Christians, part of the March for Life. The Indian was dignified. The students were brats.
And those hats. How dare they!
As a result, the teens were doxxed, ridiculed, threatened.
Sunday’s New York Times ran a story with this inflammatory headline: “Viral Video Shows Boys In ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder.” (“Mob” was changed to “Surround” in later online versions.)
By late Sunday, though, a new, more nuanced, don’t-sue-us story appeared. One that actually contained something close to actual reporting: “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video Between Native American Man and Catholic Students.”
The second story almost seemed to apologize for jumping to earlier hysterical conclusions, although the NYT never really says they’re sorry:
A fuller and more complicated picture emerged on Sunday of the videotaped encounter between a Native American man and a throng of high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” gear outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, the NYT began.
Interviews and additional video footage suggest that an explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension — set the stage for the viral moment. Early video excerpts from the encounter obscured the larger context, inflaming outrage.
Inflaming outrage. Well done, NYT.
Yep, the longer cellphone videos showed that the kids didn’t mob the American Indian, but that he marched into the crowd of kids while beating a drum in their faces. Almost as if he were trying to provoke them. One of his cohorts yelled that white people should go back to Europe.
It was ugly. There was plenty of blame to go around. Yet, as one observer noted, the media immediately “pig-piled” on the kids.
It was sloppy reporting. Indefensible. Embarrassing.
Reflecting on the lack of curiosity by national newspapers about what really happened in Washington last weekend, the National Review’s Micheal Brendan Dougherty wrote: I’m still chuckling at the New York Times and the Washington Post rushing out misleading and false stories — the latter with three bylines — without doing any original reporting besides a phone call to the Native American Elder, and a survey of reactions on Twitter.
Why am I telling you this?
It’s a lament really. A longing for the days when American newspapers were fair. When they wouldn’t dare print a story without fully reporting it.
When journalists were more concerned with getting it right than fueling a narrative.