One of my closest friends hates President Obama. The guy almost drools with anger when Obama’s name is mentioned so I avoid discussing politics with him. He is a very smart guy, a former top executive with a major company who holds a post graduate degree from a prestigious university. I have long puzzled why somebody as intelligent as my friend is unable to control his hatred. I have a partial answer. I surmise that he constantly watches Fox “News” since it is on the TV when I go to his home.
By all rights, that should be my channel of choice. I’m a redneck who grew up in the housing projects of Mobile, Alabama — a near-do-well who barely got out of high school, failed every class during one semester at the University of Alabama, got married when I was seventeen, was father of four children before I turned twenty-two, drank myself onto skid row in New Orleans at the age of thirty-five and built a record that seemingly doomed me to a life of trailer trash squalor. By all rights, I should be marching with the Tea Party, or worse yet, the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, I became an ardent liberal.
So what makes me think I’m so smart now? For one thing, I got sober 44 years ago and learned some principles that taught me how to live life on life’s terms and have consideration for other folks. Secondly, I discovered a talent that paved the road to an extraordinarily career as a prize-winning television investigative reporter. During my thirty years of muckraking that began in 1972, I received every important broadcast journalism award — most of them multiple times.
Sadly, before I retired after ten years as CNN’s Senior Investigative Correspondent in a fifty-member Special Assignment Unit, I witnessed first-hand the deterioration of responsible TV journalism. At several levels, network and local news. The worst development I witnessed was the “gotcha” mentality among reporters and a breakdown of the lines between news , commentary and punditry. The downward slide began before there was a Fox “News,” during an when Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other former disc jockeys started gaining a foothold as public affairs experts. Incredibly, listeners believed the outrageous and distorted political views of these characters.
Which brings me to the “Clinton Rules,” a form of reporting that political terrorists are given more credibility by journalists than irrefutable evidence contradicting their partisan attacks. Coming up with the a story becomes more important than coming up with the truth. Skepticism, the best quality of good reporters, degenerates into toxic cynicism. And myths transcend logic.
The “Clinton Rules” exempts journalists from asking relevant questions and providing context that would have exposed a so-called political scandals like the Whitewater hoax in its early stages. The bogus investigation gained its momentum from Oval Office blow-jobs and increased the influence of the extreme right-wing. The lack of journalistic integrity in failing to dig for truth ultimately led to the election of George W. Bush ― widely viewed among the worst Presidents in American history.
The country is gradually recovering from the damage done during Bush’s eight years of bumbling. But the news media has not recovered its legitimacy. The journalism principle of searching for truth has largely been abandoned, as well as the media’s obligation to report news the public needs to know—not what entertains readers, viewers and listeners.
Therefore, it is not surprising that CNN is doing quiz shows featuring anchors instead of covering important news. Nor am I surprised that NBC anchor Brian Williams was caught exaggerating his role in reporting from the battlefields of Iraq. Exaggeration and sensationalism is now the rule of mainstream news. And it is no shock that Bill O’Reilly, a blowhard who has made millions by being an asshole, lied about his role as a “war correspondent.” After all he works for Fox “News,” a Republican propaganda network that places a premium on lying and distortions. And unfortunately Fox is where my good friend, the Obama hater, gets his news.
That’s sad for him, along with millions of people who would rather be stupid than be informed.
For more insight on the death of television news, read my memoir, Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger: An Odyssey of Exposing TV Preachers, Corrupt Politicians, Right-Wing Lunatics…..and Me. Available on Amazon and at Independent bookstores.