In examining the character of the media, most Americans would agree that for any news organizations to have a financial stake in the outcome of the news or to act as a surrogate for any political party or any political candidate is a greater threat to the foundation of our democracy than weapons of mass destruction is to our security. We are protected from foreign threats by a powerful and sophisticated military weapon defense system, but what is our protection from our own news media.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states that “deliberate distortion” of information “is never permissible.” It further states that a journalist should “Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”
Based on the standards of ethics set forth by the SPJ, Americans would agree that we bear witness every day to violations of journalistic ethics in the media. Whether it is news headlines or news teases, most of them misrepresent or, in the case of Fox News, blatantly distort the content that follows or the facts of the story.
This month NBC released “out of context” President Obama’s use of the phrase “whose ass to kick.” By airing the phrase without context, NBC deliberately distorted or misrepresented how the phrase was used and the intended or unintended consequence of doing so was more piled on criticism of Obama by his critics. SPJ’s Code of Ethics states that a journalist should “Never distort the content of news photos or video.”
Routinely the media generates controversy where there is none. The scene we see play out every day on cable news is that of a commentator analyzing hard news stories acting in the capacity of a journalist. The news turns into an editorial that serves as a prelude to questioning a panel of pundits. These pundits contaminate facts with, sometimes, venomous analyses, prejudicial interpretations, and foregone conclusions.
Loaded questions hurled at pundits in rapid succession sparks a fierce, fiery debate. Tempers flare, voices are elevated, and insults thrown. The producer then selects the most divisive inflammatory comment generated from these fake debates and exploits it.
Once the negativity is unleashed on the public, the news organization conducts a poll, supposedly to get a snapshot of how Americans view the controversial issue they manufactured. Their main reason is to determine if they have been successful at shaping public opinion. If the poll comes out in their favor, they further exploit and sensationalize the story to keep the viewers hooked. If not, they try a different angle or move on to a different story. More like mind control than journalistic integrity as defined by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics.
It is debatable how much of what the media considers news has to do with the public's need to know or right to know. Americans would disagree with CNN and MSNBC that a black man in an old rap video that the networks concluded resembles a young Barack Obama is news. Neither is the public’s need to know is satisfied in airing an unsubstantiated version of a story that causes irrevocable harm to the subject.
Quoted in “Sports Illustrated” [7/22/98], Earl Warren, 14th Chief Justice of the United States and 30th Governor of California, said, “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people's accomplishments; the front page nothing but man's failures.”
Producing the news is more like a sport’s competition laced with elements of theater and storytelling than simply taking the news of the day and accurately and objectively conveying it to the public. While each network is in a race to the top, to be the biggest cash cow for their parent company, the credibility and trustworthiness of the news media is at its lowest level in decades. Sixty percent of Americans say the news media is politically biased and 63% polled say news stories are often inaccurate.
Americans turned a blind eye when corporations started taking over news organizations. Networks started employing controversial personalities to drum up interest in the news by exploiting divisions in political parties, in race relations, and social issues. Thereby, advocacy/opinion journalism masquerading as hard news was unleashed on the public.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states “Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other. Journalists should encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media; admit mistakes and correct them promptly, and abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.”
© 2010 Shar’Ron Maxx Mahaffey. All rights reserved.
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