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January 18th, 2017

Insight

Some journalistic fumbles

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose

Published Sept. 15, 2016

An old joke about lawyers starts with someone saying divers found 500 of them on the bottom of the ocean. "It's a start," goes the reply.

Now let's turn to journalists. What if you found 500 of them on the bottom of the ocean? That's easy. You had always figured they would devise a means to sink even lower.

After all, they are not lazy, even if their actions are at times questionable. You can't call Sean Hannity lazy, can you? I mean he is boiling over with energy as he gives Donald Trump verbal hugs, reinterprets his fumbles to make them brilliant insights and somehow espies depths where the water is too shallow to dampen the soles of your shoes. Has he signed on as campaign manager yet? Does he love Trump more than Trump's own children do?

I don't mean to be picking on Fox News, which has fine journalists in such people as Brit Hume and Chris Wallace, for instance. It is often more balanced than people suspect and remains a needed antidote to the progressive leanings of the mainstream networks.

Hannity is a commentator and is not bound by the rules of straight-news reporters, but he is still going overboard. I've always figured him for a good, honest, capable guy, but temper it, fellow, temper it.

Right now he is almost outdoing Bill O'Reilly. A while back, the excellent columnist Charles Krauthammer tried to tell the Fox News TV host it was not permissible for Trump to say in a nationally televised debate that he planned to kill the families of Islamic State members. O'Reilly said it was not so awful because Trump was just doing it to win the election. Maybe his next book will be called "Killing Reflectiveness."

"PBS NewsHour" is one of my favorite news shows except that it is right now giving me grief. It is acting little different from all the commercial outlets that devote endless attention to who is or is not ahead in the polls, what the strategy of the day is, and what is working or not working in the campaigns. All of that can be interesting if it is not overdone, but issues of character, competence and policies matter so much more than guesses about outcomes.

The "NewsHour" still does worthy stuff, of course, as do so many other news outlets that then go overboard time and again, as in supposing Trump's talk about President Barack Obama being the "founder" of the Islamic State was meant to be taken literally when he would immediately follow up by saying that Obama made things easier for the terrorist group by withdrawing troops from Iraq.


"Founder" was a metaphor, although not a good one. Trump stumbles about in the use of language. A better metaphor would have been to say Obama "opened the door."

Trump daily shoots himself in the foot, and for the media to shoot him there when he doesn't is not exactly adherence to high standards. Nor is the effort of some to say there are no serious ethical and other implications about the Clinton emails and the Clinton Foundation. Maybe this election year is so crazy that it inspires the condition in all who pay attention.

The latest nuttiness is journalists apparently thinking their kin serving as moderators in a presidential debate should correct the perceived missteps of the candidates. That may be their role in journalistic interviews, but it is not their role as moderators. It is up to the candidates themselves. Cool the self-deification, folks.

Government is only trusted by 19 percent of the people. Journalism does better. It is trusted by 22 percent. There is far more good than bad in an enterprise that overall shines, but let's stick the bad in a bag, OK?

Jay Ambrose
(TNS)

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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