James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Make reporters do their jobs

The recent belated, softly worded mea culpas from a handful of newspapers, in which they sort of, kinda, a little bit admit they’ve given Bush and his extreme right backers a free ride in the news pages for several years don’t amount to much.

They do at least signal that a few of today’s “journalists” --I am reluctant to honor many of them with the title, sans quotation marks – recognize either that they’ve bungled their jobs or, worse in the minds of some high-ranking editors, an important segment of the public knows they have fallen down on the job.

Most don’t and won’t recognize any of their own failings, by the way, but a few do and are ashamed, though perhaps not enough ashamed.

Please forgive a bit of preaching, but the partial admissions of failure remind me that there are two things that can be done by people who care about getting the truth to that portion of the public that waits for enlightment to fall into their laps.

One is to keep those letters, emails and telephone calls flowing. Letters to the editor pointing out weak, incomplete and/or biased reporting are important. At least equally effective, and often more effective, are emails, letters and calls to specific editors and writers.

If some reporter has, as so many do, taken the claim of some official, candidate or executive at face value and failed to point out a known truth to the contrary or to give the opposition a chance to rebut, write to the reporter and to her/his boss and tell them you are aware of that failing and find it unacceptable. Be firm, but not abusive. It would be satisfying sometimes to call the writer a mewling toady of the right, but that allows a mewling toady to dismiss you as a crank.

It’s pretty much the rule these days that people calling themselves reporters take official explanations and boiler-plate answers at face value. Their attitude is that if the governor or a state department head or a member of the federal cabinet says a thing ain’t so, then it ain’t so.

The reporters do that because they were raised as nice upper middle class kids whose own parents and the friends of parents are part of the power structure and, of course, are “good people.” They also do it because they’ve been inadequately trained and lack the kind of intelligence and skepticism that looks for flaws, hidden meanings and curtained truths.

They do it, too, because they know their profit-minded bosses don’t want them to “waste time” digging at a story, and because they consciously or semi-consciously censor themselves when dealing with a story that might make the bosses’ friends and the boss unhappy. And, equally as shameful, many a story is half done or not done because “I have to work with those people” – an excuse used by cowardly reporters since “news” first was put to paper and distributed to the public.

Each time you see such a thing, or have reason to believe a story is not complete, it is necessary that you write or call someone to let them know you find their performance unacceptable.

The second thing citizens can do to push the corporate media toward doing the job it now only half does is to use the Internet more effectively. And to me that doesn’t mean liberals talking to liberals, sending each other comments or forwarding reports from the various excellent online information sources.

You know the line “preaching to the choir?”

For a long time I was as timid as most liberals about sending material highly critical of the Bush crowd to “conservative” friends and family members. Like most of you, I didn’t want to offend, or to cause rifts in familial and social circles. Then, about three months ago, I decided that those people needed the information about the lies, missteps and outright antiAmerican actions of the Bushies -- information they were not getting through broadcast outlets nor even from daily newspapers.

However, after some errors in judgement about what to forward, I started sending my conservative friends and family members relatively short pieces (usually) rooted in well-documented facts. They included Daily Mislead reports such as those showing beyond doubt that while the Bush crowd talk about “honoring” our soldiers and veterans, they actually are doing them great harm by seeking to lower combat pay, severely cut veteran benefits and health care and more – all with eight or nine incontrovertible citations.

Any number of online newsletters provide such information. Use it. Send the most highly-documented reports to your conservative, right wing or waffling acquaintances but don’t send pieces that are too heavily colored by distaste or hatred for the Bushies, even if you agree entirely with the sentiments.

Over the past two to three months, I have received hints from three genuine conservatives I know and to whom I have been sending selected pieces, that they are aware of and disapprove of at least some of the evils of the present administration. There is some indication that one or two may, with eyes averted, pull the lever for Kerry, and one or two lifelong, long active Republicans may have decided to forgo their votes for president. Even the latter decision is a good thing for the United States this year.

Folks, talking to other liberals, blowing off steam and trading “ain’t it awfuls” is not enough this year. This is, I am quite sure, the first time I’ve ever used this old and often false claim, but: If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Further, the more you disseminate the facts, and the more people who know them, the more pressure is put on print journalists to do their jobs properly. Even they become embarrassed when it is clear that a broad slice of the population knows about their failures.