That is understandable. After all, not many folks want to dwell on the fact that most of the world does not trust them.
At least that’s what Gallup
says about the state of the American journalism profession today. The survey determined six out of ten Americans (that’s 60 percent for those keeping score at home) have little or no trust in the media to do their jobs fully, accurately, and fairly. But this is nothing new. Gallup has seen a steady decline in trust going back to 2001, the first year of the George W. Bush administration. Coincidence?
Republicans and Independents are the most wary of journalists, 74 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Independents. About 58 percent of Democrats had a fair amount, or a great deal, of trust. But that’s nothing to crow about. What if only 58 percent of your customers trusted your work? How long would you stay in businesses, or, how long would your boss keep you around?
I do not have enough time, space, or energy to go into what has happened to the profession I started in forty years ago. But, I can offer an example of how we have devolved from reporting the news to creating it. And, at times, becoming active participants in the story.
An example of this aired on an Austin, Texas, network affiliate that I will not name to keep them from further embarrassment and ridicule. A 73-year-old homeowner had tied a metal folding chair and flag to a tree in his front yard. This set the hair on fire of a local liberal blogger who implied strongly that the man was a racist and that his act was a thinly disguised symbolic lynching of President Obama.
It apparently also raised the hackles of the management of said TV newsroom, because the folks there ran a big expose’ during their early afternoon newscast.
The breathless anchor proclaimed that they tracked down the display, probably thanks to the blogger who provided the homeowner’s address and telephone number, and were ready to roll the complete, unedited confrontation between the station’s reporter and the homeowner.
Hide the chickens and shoo away grandma, because this was not going to be pretty.
And so began the entire 3-minute and 40 second verbal sparring that turned out to be more of an indictment against the station, its management, and, by association, the journalism profession than proof of racism in the Republican Party as the original blogger contended.
The reporter reprimanded, yes, reprimanded, the homeowner by telling him he should realize an empty chair has racist meanings. Then, the reporter challenged him to explain why he was untying the chair if he didn’t think it was a symbol of lynching.
The reporter wrapped up the story by going live from the newsroom to say the man eventually put his chair in the middle of his lawn and kept it there, along with the American flag.
What she and the wide-eyed anchors did not report was that the man broke no law, that police did not arrested him, that the state filed no charges, and that he did not violate the covenants of his homeowners association.
All he did was ruffle the sensibilities of individuals who believe the Constitution reserves freedom of speech only to their speech, and provide news organizations the opportunity to prove why the American public’s respect for journalism is at an all-time low.
Back when I was teaching, I used to tell my students early in the semester that they should always take their profession seriously and never put themselves above their profession. Journalism, the gathering and reporting of news and information, is one of the most important elements of a free society. It should provide us with the unfiltered information and knowledge we need to make intelligent and thoughtful decisions about our lives and the future of our nation. It should not feed the irrational behavior found on the fringes of society or politics. Or in our newsrooms.