Saturday, November 6, 2010

Whatever Happened to Truth in Journalism?

I was watching Bill Maher last night and he was interviewing Bill O'Reilly. Interesting combination of personalities.

At one point Bill Maher asked O'Reilly about the $200 million that Fox News was reporting President Obama is spending everyday of his trip to India and whether he knew that was true and if knew it wasn't true then why were they reporting it?

Bill O'Reilly - We're not reporting that.

Bill Maher - Sean Hannity did.

Bill O'Reilly - Well he's not news, he's entertainment.

Bill Maher - Well it's still a lie (Ok this is not exactly how he said it but you get my point)

So I Googled that statement. It has 3,130,000 listings on Google. Many of them were this is untrue and ridiculous and way exaggerated. Many others treated it as fact.

What has happened to journalism? I know that Fox News has created a new manipulation standard and a nation of believers of these television talk show personalities who just spout anger and fear. But why are we putting up with it?

Is it as Maher inferred that the Democrats just don't know how to sink that low, lie that well and fight that dirty? Certainly the mid-terms showed that both sides are capable of it.

How have we let "liberal media" become the equivalent of a racial slur? Why are we all so afraid to stick up for what's right - Is it the economy? Is it the job market? Is it the fear of a backlash?

I was a journalist for a long time and I got raked over the coals if I made even a small mistake in a story. We apologized. We corrected it. I got a lecture.

Once in an article for the New York Times about Russian business students at Harvard, I mentioned a company and mis-identified what it did. I wasn't far off but it was enough that it was wrong. It was the one fact in the story that I thought I knew and didn't bother to check. And I had to write a retraction and an explanation with my name on it that was published a week later in the business section. That would never happen today.

Now major news organizations make stuff up and repeat it over and over again until people believe it's true. And tons of media outlets go right along with them.

My son who is 15 and of course knows everything, says that liberal media does the same thing. And there is truth in that - but it's not the same. They don't outright lie and treat it as fact. Bias is one thing. Lies are another and spreading them is worse.

So here's one voice that is speaking up. Let's bring truth in journalism back - or we're going to create a generation of kids who don't even know what it is.

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