The biggest failing of the American news media

March 7, 2010 | By | Reply More

At Huffpo, social scientist Steven Bryant points out what the media needs to do if it wants to become respectable. The key is that “journalism needs to become journalism again”:

The news media – and not the opinion side, but the reporting side – must start reporting which side’s argument is correct… and stop reporting only the argument between the two sides itself. The inability of the media to act as “the umpire” – the referee – between the two sides of our political “reality fight” is as astoundingly detrimental a development in our civic culture as the freedom corporations now have to spend as much as they want to influence policy development and election results . . .

Imagine a future America in which – no matter how artfully one side used language to lie about the other side’s position – our journalists didn’t just interview those making such fanciful claims but called them out for being liars! Imagine how you would feel if that was what you saw on the news!

To those journalists who say “I can’t call people liars when I report on them,” I say “It’s called fact-checking. Try it. You’ll like it.”

Imagine if the evening news didn’t just report the debates going on in Congress – (as if the debates were news just for being debates… news because “people not getting along” has become newsworthy in unto itself)- but reported that “In today’s debate on (fill in the subject of your choice), Senator XXX lied about what would happen if this bill was enacted.”

Of course, to do this, the media would need to hire experienced and intelligent (i.e., relatively expensive) reporters, providing them with fact-checking crews. And viewers would need to invest more energy watching, because the stories are going to often be longer and more contentious, at least at first. Perhaps reporters will be required to warn their guests to get honest or get back on topic. Perhaps some guests won’t, and reporters will need to give them the hook, perhaps right in the middle of broadcasts. But after awhile,wouldn’t there be a big payoff? Wouldn’t the talking heads and political con artists eventually know that they will be exposed, and therefore more often show up ready to discuss what to do about real problems facing the country?

I agree entirely with Bryant, but I suspect that the media know that there is currently no financial incentives for distilling and providing useful information rather than the infotainment and the “conflict pornography” that currently pass as news.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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