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Jewish World Review / July 6, 1998 / 12 Tamuz, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas News unfit to
print (or broadcast)

THOSE WITH A CONSERVATIVE WORLDVIEW will not be shocked at the recent reports of lying by some elements of the mainstream press. For years conservatives have complained about the declining quality and one-sidedness of much that passes for modern journalism. Now, in addition to perceived political bias, comes an outbreak of gross factual errors that could have been avoided had traditional journalistic norms been observed.

A joint CNN-Time magazine effort about U.S. soldiers nerve-gassing American defectors in Laos appears to have been concocted to serve the political and career objectives of some of its creators. CNN on Thursday (July 2) retracts the story and takes sole responsibility for the broadcast and print versions of the story. A Boston Globe columnist is fired for fabricating stories and quotes. The New Republic terminates a "hot young writer" for similarly making up parts of 27 articles. The Cincinnati Enquirer dismisses a reporter who wrote a story about the company that sells Chiquita bananas, saying it practiced "deceitful, unethical and unlawful conduct." The newspaper agrees to pay the company $10 million and publishes a front-page apology.

There have been several explanations for these and other press shortcomings. Among them is the desire to be first and to get noticed in the increasingly noisy and diverse media field. On that score, I recall something former NBC White House correspondent Ray Scherer once said to me: "I try to be first with the story, but not at the expense of being wrong." It appears that this principle no longer applies.

The standards once held by most journalists have changed dramatically. When I started out as a copyboy at NBC News in Washington in 1961, I was told that to get on the air I would need newspaper or wire-service experience. At the very least I would have to learn the business from the bottom-up. Later at a local station, I covered city hall, the police beat and school board meetings. I made small mistakes in out-of-the-way places. My "teachers" were the best in the business. I watched them and learned. I had editors who took seriously their responsibility of fact-checking. There were written and unwritten codes of professional behavior.

Today, anybody with a pretty face (and some whose faces are not so pretty but who can generate ratings) can go on the air and read what someone else has written. Newspapers compete for their share of a dwindling audience and sometimes exhibit the bad character traits of their electronic cousins. In television, field reporters now take with them producers and other staff who mostly put stories together. At NBC in the '60s, reporters had to write and produce their own stuff. Then, journalism was thought of as a craft. Now, it's a profession or, worse, a business.

There's another reason for these recent outrages. Most of the big media subscribe to certain prejudices. They include, but are not limited to, biases about big corporations (they are evil), white people (they are racists until proved otherwise), males (they are sexists), Republicans (they are shills for big business and insensitive to the poor), the seriously religious (they are ignorant) and America (a bad country that does bad things to innocent people). One finds traces of these prejudices in much mainstream reporting and in several of the recent stories about unethical behavior by journalists.

When the media speak of "diversity," they are not talking about diversity of opinion, only different faces and genders delivering the same one-sided viewpoint. Listen closely to the way interviewers question someone whose opinions they like. Then observe the way they question someone whose opinions they don't like. The tone is completely different. Their body language also reflects their viewpoints.

Whenever the big media face charges of bias or other shortcomings, they are quick to absolve themselves of wrongdoing. There are many ways to lie or "shade the truth" in the news profession. The most extreme cases can get you fired. The less extreme can win you an award.


6/30/98: Smoke gets in their eyes
6/25/98: Sugar and Spice Girls
6/19/98: William Perry opposed
technology transfers to China
6/19/98: The Clinton hare vs.the Starr tortoise
6/17/98: The President's rocky road to China
6/15/98: Let the children go
6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.