While reading the Washington Post this week, I noted the use of the word “improbably” preceding a statement about a Russian official claiming the Russians were using blanks in their weapons.
It made me think of the statement that my mentor/teacher Frank Jordan made to me years ago during one of our rambling and enlightening lunch conversations at Alexander’s.
“I spent my life worshiping at the altar of objectivity,” he said, “when I should have been worshiping at the altar of fairness.”
The use of the word objectivity (or lack thereof) is a popular cudgel for right-wing pundits and others who attack anyone in the journalism world who doesn’t share their fake news approach or lunatic opinions to attack responsible reporting as not being quote-unquote objective.
There’s no such thing as objectivity, only facts, and fairness.
The use of the word improbably would have been roundly criticized in a different world, but we cannot afford to objectify what’s true and untrue in a world of, as we say in the islands, wildly prevalent “untruths.”
There is also no such thing as untruth, only lies.
While it would be unwise for journalists to call someone a liar in news reporting, thankfully, they are in a position to use the word “improbably” or the statement “he claimed” when they know damn well that the subject of their reporting is lying.
And this report from the Washington Post on Saturday while chilling, also moved my passionate response to the quality of the reporting on the Ukraine up another notch.
Here’s a particular sentence from Saturday’s news story that made me want to start a pep rally for these reporters, many of whom are putting their lives in danger to keep us informed about what’s really going on so far away from America.
“President Vladimir Putin signed a measure into law criminalizing news coverage that accurately portrays the country’s bloody incursion into Ukraine as an ‘invasion.'”
So, while trustworthy Western news outlets are using subtle but accurate language that portrays the truths about the Russian invasion, the chilling article in the post describes yet another attack on journalism. It’s called censorship. And while it’s easy to demonize Vladimir Putin, we are not far from that in our own country.
Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” television program reported a story that has been on the pages of the major newspapers recently about Alden Enterprises buying up and gutting newspapers across the country. It’s the first time I’ve seen it on television, probably because I don’t watch television news except for “60 Minutes” and “PBS News Hour” – both thanks to my Firestick. The third segment was about the disappearance of journalism. There are startling and disturbing statistics about what has happened in our field due to avarice and greed, which goes hand-in-hand with major newspapers being owned by corporations who are beholden to their stockholders, not their readers or the country which we blithely refer to as a democracy – while censoring books in Tennessee about the Holocaust.
In 2009, journalist Mark Bowden, the author of the best-selling book “Black Hawk Down,” the true story of ninety-nine Americans caught in a brutal battle in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, spoke at Prior-Jolleck Hall at Antilles School on St. Thomas.
His presentation was about the demise of printed newspapers and the potential ramifications.
Bowden spent much of the discussion suggesting that the rise of Internet newspapers was the cause of the downfall of journalism as publications across the world and especially across the United States were falling apart in the wake of the new medium. As a freshman Internet publisher, I questioned his easy answer to the mounting erosion, particularly small community prize-winning publications of journalism back then even. There was a subtle omission in what he had to say, which in many ways was legitimate relative to things like Craigslist, which allowed people to do for free what they used to be required to do in classified ads in newspapers, not for free.
After the lecture, I was able to speak to him personally while walking to his car.
“Wouldn’t you say that the proliferation of large corporations owning newspapers also has something to do with the downfall?” I asked after making clear that I was one of those Internet newspaper usurpers. “Wouldn’t you say that the bottom line is replacing what was once an honorable and noble undertaking regardless of profitability?”
Bowden admitted the corporate takeover of the newsrooms, with its bottom line mentality, was certainly part of the steady erosion of community news.
Back then, as now, when corporations own decisions about the cost of truth, what is truly important can easily get lost in the bottom line.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning friend of mine told me today that students coming out of journalism school are starting at salaries of $35-$40,000 a year.
Not unlike being a schoolteacher, I’ve always considered being a journalist was not a decision based upon salary. But, the reality is people need to have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Meanwhile, billionaires buy newspapers and gut them in the interest of profit.
We are teetering on the abyss of conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about everything from human-caused climate change, election stealing to the origin of Covid-19. If we are not swiftly jerked back away from it, with the fourth estate our lasso, we are most certainly doomed.
Journalism has never mattered more.