How disconcerting would it be if Rush Limbaugh, Randi Rhodes, and Mike Malloy agreed on something? Anything? On Wednesday, July 21, 2012, this columnist was totally flummoxed to hear that all three of those radio personalities were telling their respective audiences that Journalism in America is kaput.
Rush was asserting that the "state owned" media was giving President Obama a pass on criticism and letting a villainous politician get away with dastardly deeds. Rush has started to sarcastically refer to the media as "The Ministry of Truth." Obviously all the teabag party members will get the sly reference to Orwell's novel "1984."
Conversely, Randi Rhodes was very critical of the media for their role as accessories in the Shirley Sherrod brouhaha because they (according to Randi) helped the Republicans take a deceptively edited video and inflated it from a virtual lie up to the major gaffe level news story.
Mike Malloy was charging Fox News in general and Glen Beck in particular of inciting violence on an individual level and attempting to incite race riots.
One of this columnist's (if not the most) favorite metaphors is the parable of the six blind Hindus touching an elephant and drawing some very diverse conclusions based on the information they had available. The first touched the tail and thought an elephant was like a rope. The second ran his hands over the trunk and said that an elephant was very similar to a snake. Three felt the ear and thought elephants were like a leafy tropical plant. The stomach made four compare an elephant to a wall. The guy who felt the leg jumped to the conclusion that elephants were like trees. The last guy touched the tusk and said with certainty that elephants are like swords.
[For a totally irrelevant aside, we must note that this writer's favorite book title is "An Elephant is Soft and Mushy."]
The three radio talkers may not agree on the conclusion to be drawn, but it does seem that on Wednesday July 21, 2010, they were agreed that in the USA Journalism is DOA.
It also seems to this columnist that one of the best reasons to live in Berkeley is that the University of California Berkeley has a journalism school, and that may explain why a goodly number of great books concerning journalism turn up in the Berkeley Public Library's Used Book store (at very affordable prices). Hence, when we decided the topic and commenced to write this column, we quickly skimmed through a recently acquired copy of a paperback book we read (approximately) 50 years ago, "Citizen Hearst" by W. A. Swanberg.
William Randolph Hearst made a big success out of the San Francisco Examiner by striving for sensationalism. Swanberg describes the underlying philosophy of journalism (Bantam Book paperback page 68) thus: "Any issue that did not cause its reader to rise out of his chair and cry, "Great God!' was counted a failure."
To build his audience, Hearst exposed political greed and corruption, which sometimes embarrassed his father who was a U. S. Senator.
Hearst imbued journalism with a tone of sly mischievous rascality that in more recent times was personified by Hunter S. Thompson and not Rupert Murdock.
An incident in Swanberg's book gives a hint of the devil may care attitude Hearst fostered. Examiner employees were prone to overindulging in liquor, and Hearst was very indulgent in forgiving anyone who became inebriated. "One day Hearst met a reporter who was perfectly sober, yet was supposed to be on a spree." On the scamp's assurance that he had honestly intended to get drunk, but lacked the price,' (Ambrose) Bierce recalled, "Mr. Hearst gave him enough money to reestablish his character for veracity and passed on.'" (Ibid page 71)
Would William Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdock be more prone to sending a reporter to the Gulf Region to get arrested in a National Park for snooping on BP?
During George W. Bush's Reign of Terror, wasn't Rush Limbaugh very enthusiastic about shutting up the "pro-liberal" media, but now that a Democrat is in the White House, he seems to be a champion of the free press' right to criticize any and all Presidents, and he seems bent on excoriating the media for not doing so with President Obama. If the sudden reversal was sparked by party loyalty doesn't that contradict Limbaugh's self proclaimed right to be called "America's Anchor Man"?
Is it fair to expect a cheerleading squad to be nonpartisan?
During the Bush regime conservative talk show hosts were always admonishing their audience to avoid any rush to judgment when sensational news was announced. When the torture at Abu Ghraib prison was first reported, didn't the entire roster of conservative radio personalities stress the importance of withholding judgment until someone had been convicted in a court of law? When the Shirley Sherrod scandal erupted, didn't the conservatives respond like a lynch mob?