Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Fourth Estate

I met the ghost of Walter Cronkite last night outside the ruins of an old newspaper office in New York. He said it was a slow news cycle in the afterlife and he felt nostalgic for his old haunts. He wanted to see how the exploration of Mars was going and how many cities there were on the moon. And he wouldn't turn down a ride in a flying car, either. And how's the quest for world peace going? Are all diseases eradicated and hunger a thing of the past? And hydroponic gardens run on solar power? Food too cheap to meter! Surely they must be at the core of every high rise apartment complex.

Oh, dear, he thought looking at a phalynx of flat screen TVs in a techno junkie store. One was tuned to a national news service. There's war, war, presidential debates to shame a cock fight, and something called Kardashian.This isn't news. It's not even propaganda. Propaganda is at least believable. This is disaster journalism.

So he called on some of his old friends and let them know that they are no longer practicing journalism on planet earth. He told them that old news men never die. They always come back for one more scoop and a chance at the Pulitzer. So he gathered some of them together: Helen, Ed, Chet and David, and the great Edward R. himself. He called them and charged them with reforming the news desks that have gone astray.

Listen, folks. The news media today is in a state of advanced decay. Even NPR now stands for Not Particularly Reliable. All media, news and otherwise, is controlled by six corporations. They might as well be called News, inc. All the news that's fit to sell. No more independent newspapers. No more broadcasters committed to the free press. No more editorial commentaries brazenly challenging the status quo. No more networks treating their news shows as public services. Hell, even the local shoeshine boys spout paper mache opinions preprocessed for them. We've got to change that. Let's each take a newsoom and show them how it's done.

And so they did.

Walter called in the anchors, acolytes, and analysts from his adopted newsroom. Good day, people. I'm here to give you a lesson in old school journalism, the kind that was in vogue when this reporter was on the beat. Journalism is first and foremost about speaking truth to power. Now, power does not generally tolerate the truth spoken to it and sooner or later realizes that, Hey, l'm power! I can just stomp on the truth and substitute my lie whenever I like. Direct confrontations between truth speakers and power wielders never end well for the former. We journalists can sell out our souls and repeat the cozy lie prepackaged and delivered to us wrapped in hundred dollar bills, or we can develop a power of our own. And that power comes in a potent package: The question. Speaking truth to power can be suicidal, but asking questions of power can be disarming. I did not call Senator Twoface a lying sack of corruption. I merely asked him how he could support proposition X during the election year yet vote against it after the election. It's just a question. Surely a question has never hurt anybody.

So. Questions, questions, questions.

History is another big part of our domain. History follows a formula. While it's happening it's hidden. When it's done it's misrepresented. When it's in the past it's no longer relevant. Take the Shaw of Iran. In the 1950's the CIA orchestrated an overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and installed the grandson of the defunct old Shaw as a new Shaw of Iran. It was covered up, denied, lied about and just plain ignored. But now it's old news. No one denies it, but, Hey? That was a long time ago. What's that got to do with modern events? What does it have to do with modern events! If the CIA was knocking over democratic governments and installing rulers out of the Arabian Nights in the 50's, what are they doing today?

History repeats but only if we let it. So here are your assignments.

Gretchen. I want you to do a story on US interference with foreign governments. Syria is a hot topic today but I want you to start off with the Ukraine coup in 2014. The State department has gotten so complacent with their sins they don't even try to cover them up. Whose going to challenge them? We are.

Neil. Putin is the new Hitler, Stalin, Mao casserole with Pol Pot sauce and a side of lies. If the government hates him he must be an obstacle to their global plans. Let's do a segment called, Everyone Hates Vladamir. Find out all you can about him. Where he came from, his KGB experience, his favorite philosopher, how much Stoli he slips into his samovar. There's a man behind the monster. Let's meet him.

Meghan. Who is that guy with the corn husks for hair? Is he for real? Every shot of him is with his mouth wide open and shouting. Is he trying out to be the model of a new decorative sewer vent? Go do some digging. Wear gloves.

Sean. I've got a working title for a segment. Face(s) of Janas: The Two Party System Today. Run with it. Have fun.

Bill. You are a commentator, one of the few people who should be expressing their own opinion on a regular basis. Now, that's fine as long as the viewers understand that. I don't always agree wth your opinion but I don't expect people to always agree with mine. So keep doing what you're doing.

Once a month we are going to run a special segment called Watching the Watchers. I will take one of your segments from the past few months and assign it to one of you. Your job will be to critique it. You will look for alternative conclusions, misrepresentation, non sequiturs, etc.

Some time later there was a knock on the chief editor's door. Mr. Cronkite? Walter. Walter? There are some men from the CIA to see you. Well, send them in. We always have time for government officials.

Hello! Yes, I am the editor in charge. Yes, I received your news briefs. All one hundred of them They are very helpful. I never realized that the CIA was in the reporting business. What's that? No, we chose not to use very much of it, unless you're talking about that segment on government interference in the media called Strongarm Spooks. No, I don't think I'll be changing my editorial style any time soon. I think the staff rather likes posing their own questions and digging for answers. First amendment right to a free press, you know. I've definitely noticed a surge in self worth and pride in their demeanors. It's like a pent up demand for transparency has broken through a packed dung damn. I'm under arrest?! On what charge? What do you mean you can't tell me the charge? The right to know what one is charged with and to face one's accusers goes back to the Magna Carta. No, the Magna Carta is not part of Sharia law! You're taking me where? Isn't that in Cuba?

And that's the way it is.

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